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Why defenders are getting rare

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It has been increasingly brought into the debating spheres of the football universe that the number of youngsters willing to trod the path of a referee is decreasing. In Chile, an initiative has even been set-up to counteract against this trend to train prisoners to become football referees in which eventually they will become professional referees, working their way up from the prison matches to the official league matches. However, not only the number of new referees is declining, but also the number of new world class defenders. Even countries traditionally breeding world class defenders such as Italy are not seeing many new defenders coming out of their production lines. While many pundits are aware of this upcoming drought of world class defenders gracing the world’s premier football turfs, not many people have gone great lengths in trying to pinpoint the exact causes of why this trend is unfolding, since football is the world’s game, and that defenders are simply an indispensable part of the game. The reasons why there seems to be a decrease in the number of defenders in the game is solely revolving on one fact, and that is the fact that the defensive roles are those which are criminally undervalued and overlooked.

Firstly, we have to realize that the defensive duties are thankless tasks within the football game, especially at the very top level in the premier clubs such as Real Madrid. When a defender makes a game saving tackle to deny a striker from scoring a certain goal, and perhaps performing a crucial last ditch clearance to prevent a goal, not many praises are heaped towards the defender, it just seems that the defender is only performing an ordinary short pass to a colleague. However, if they make just a small blunder, let alone committing bigger mistakes such as scoring an unnecessary own goal, they will be castigated and condemned by the media and pundits alike, and when this happens, even the strongest of personalities is likely to wilt under such incessant pressure. Just like how referees are under extreme pressure and even receiving death threats when they make decisions which do not go well to the fans of the team not favored by the decision, defenders are also in a lose-lose situation in which when they perform well, they do not get the rewards they deserve, and when they perform just below par, they are treated as if they have just committed treason. This is one possible reason why there are not many new truly world class defenders emerging, in contrast with the emergence of so many, almost too many attacking midfielders around the world.

Also, this is compounded by the fact that it is only natural that in football, goals are seen as an accurate yardstick to determine how good a player is, and thus how big his reputation is in world football. This is evident in personal awards such as the Player of the Year awards and/or Balon d’or in which the winner is always a striker or an attacking midfielder. Top Defender awards are rare in the leagues around the world with the exception of the Italian Serie A, even in that league, people care much more about the Capocanonniere (top scorer award) than the Top Defender award. This simply substantiate the fact that defenders do not get their deserved appreciation.

Secondly, the transfer policies of top clubs around the world simply means that the value of attacking players continue to rise sharply for each transfer window passed. One could just look at how the highest ever transfer fee in football was broken in one fell swoop last season when Real Madrid signed Kaka from AC Milan for 65 million Euros, breaking the previous record for Zinedine Zidane’s transfer from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001, and then that record was broken yet again a week later when the same team signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for a staggering 80 million Euros. A closer look at the three record breakers would reveal that all of them are attacking players. As for the defenders, the record stands at 30 million Euros paid for Rio Ferdinand by Manchester United in 2001. Also, still in Madrid, for this season, one is certainly looking forward to seeing the likes of Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Ronaldo, and Angel di Maria in action rather than Ricardo Carvalho, Raul Albiol, and Alvaro Arbeloa. FC Barcelona also buy expensive attackers such as the 70 million pounds plus Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as 40 million pounds for David Villa this season. In England, the richest club in the world, Manchester City is also well known for splashing exorbitant amount of cash around for attacking players.

Thirdly, besides commanding much lower transfer fees, defensive players also earn much lower salaries compared to their more attacking counterparts. Once again, using Real Madrid as an example, one could see how in 2003, they refused to grant Claude Makelele a better salary as they felt that defensive players do not deserve to earn much unlike the attacking players. The rest is history as Makelele was unhappy with that decision and promptly transferring to Chelsea, with the London side enjoying arguably its golden era while Real Madrid went to a prolonged period of trophy drought.

However, while it seems that truly top defenders are getting rare, it might just be a hypothetical conclusion rather than the real situation. It is true that defenders seem to be under the shadows of the attacking players but it might simply because they do not get enough spotlight to be spotted week in week out. A look at the Youtube website and/or any football highlights programme would reveal that there is no compilation for defensive players, even great ones such as Carles Puyol and Paolo Maldini. What people get to see are the compliations of the likes of Zindine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kaka, et al.

Also, a look at those compilations would reveal those players in full attacking flight, without regards of the little defensive duties that those players have, even if they are attacking players. Those compilations feature those players getting past countless of defenders and score wonderful goals that left the goalkeeper fumbling for air. In other words, while these compilations as well as the highlights make those attackers look good, it makes the defenders and goalkeepers look really bad and even silly. Even world class goalkeepers and defenders would look silly such as for example when it shows how Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo waltz past defenders such as Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol while scoring against the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas.

All in all, while defenders do not seem to be getting the credits they deserve, and that budding soccer players aspire to be the next Maradona, Zidane, Kaka, Messi, Ronaldo, not the next Paolo Maldini, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Fabio Cannavaro, the defensive side of the game might have just gotten its belated tribute, and that is in the form of how football tactics worldwide have evolved to be more and more defensive. The attractive and attacking 4-4-2 is rapidly being phased out for a more conservative and defensive 4-5-1, with the 4-2-3-1 variant being the most widely used now, especially by the top teams, it is ironic to see that while many youngsters are aspiring to become attackers, a team only needs one striker at any one time, while they need 10 players to defend. Food for thought, perhaps?

Written by cp

07/09/2010 at 19:49

Posted in Football

Tagged with ,

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