The abundance of statistics, which have flooded the game in recent years has perhaps changed the way we define a player’s contribution to the team. A defender’s contribution isn’t measured on the number of tackles made but instead by something called the CBI Index, or the amount of Crosses, Blocks and Interceptions a player makes during the game. Study these statistics and I’m sure you’ll be amazed by how few tackles a centre-half makes on average in a game. With these facts the role of the centre-half is being redefined and they are no longer seen as big burly men whose sole job is to intimidate the opposing forward line but instead they are required to be as comfortable on the ball as the centre-forwards they mark.
This is why players such as David Luiz and John Stones can command such high transfer values, because they are ball-playing defenders yet for all the money spent on these types of players there has to be a word of caution. It may be desirable for a team to play the ball out from the back, ball retention is the name of the game today, but, and it is a big but, defenders still need to be able to defend. And if this isn’t part of their natural game? Well they need a partner who can do what defenders have always been able to do, defend.
It is therefore no surprise when you think about a club’s stalwart defenders, Adams at Arsenal, Bruce or Vidic at Manchester United and of course our own Shawcross, that they are defenders who first and foremost are defenders. David Luiz may have his admirers but in recent years both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have both been willing to cash in on him and I fear that John Stones won’t spend more than a few years at the Etihad Stadium.
Watching the Boy’s training sessions, I find myself applauding the coaches for the hours they spend working on their charges’ passing but at the same time I find myself frustrated by how little time they spend on the less glamorous, yet just as important, aspects of the game. Young players now spend less time playing “jumpers for goalposts” or “Wembley” than we did growing up and a result the natural development of the fundamentals of the game are having to be taught instead of being learned by doing. True, the football of today may be more pleasing on the eye but how many times have you watched your team concede a goal because the defenders tried to keep possession rather than just putting it into row Z?
Modern youth football has always been about aping the latest trends in the game and today is no exception but if you are youngster who dreams of making it and especially if you are defender a word of caution. The latest trends are that, trends, and by the time you are old enough ball playing defenders and sweeper keepers may just be a thing of the past. Football keeps us addicted by constantly evolving but even within this evolution some things remain the same, attackers try to score goals and defenders do whatever it takes to stop them.