Why the number of quality centre-backs has dipped

Defensive frailties are rife amongst some of the best clubs in Europe but recruiting top central defenders is proving difficult given that there aren't many on offer.
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | Europe
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With over three weeks remaining, the current transfer window has witnessed plenty of high-profile transfers in attack. Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Stevan Jovetic and Mario Gomez are just some of the elite forwards who have been on the move this summer. With the likes of Luiz Suarez and Wayne Rooney plotting exit strategies as well, it’s evident that strikers have been the popular buys and will probably continue to be.

In stark contrast, we haven’t seen a lot of quality defenders making big moves, centre-backs in particular. It comes as a bit of a surprise when you consider that even some of the best teams in Europe have looked vulnerable in defense.

Manchester United and Barcelona are prime examples in that regard. So why hasn’t there been a mad scramble for centre-backs like there have been for strikers? Well to begin with, there simply aren’t many around.

Ramos and Pique the best centre-backs in the world?

The 2012 FIFA XI team featured a centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. The duo may be World and European champions with Spain and they may even be at the very top in today’s game but being the world’s best centre-backs (technically speaking), how do they match up against legends from the last decade like Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in their prime?

Even the likes of Jamie Carragher, Roberto Ayala and Sol Campbell were perhaps better ‘defenders’ than Pique and Ramos. Rewind to the 90’s and the duo wouldn’t hold a candle to the likes of Franco Baresi, Marcel Desailly, Alessandro Costacurta and Jaap Stam. Pique and Ramos are great players in their own right but when it comes to the art of defending with special emphasis on reading the game, organization and discipline, they are miles away from the aforementioned maestros.

Legends like Baresi would scoff at the defending today

The fact is that they don’t face much competition in today’s game. There are only a handful of excellent central defenders around. Thiago Silva stands among them and is widely regarded as the most complete centre-back in the world. Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels is another such individual. The problem is, they’re a dying breed.

Central defenders of true class are a rare commodity in the modern game and the €31 million Paris Saint-Germain spent to prise Marquinhos away from AS Roma is a testament to that. Despite being only 19 and having endured just one full season in Europe, the lack of alternatives saw the Brazilian sold at a steep price as he became the fifth most expensive defender of all-time.

Marquinhos was heavily over-priced

It’s also the reason why Barcelona desperately pursued Thiago Silva only to be flat-out denied by PSG who have since extended the Brazilian’s contract. Silva was made the second most expensive defender when the Parisians snapped him up from AC Milan and remains a coveted centre-back not only for his exceptional defending but also his ability with the ball at his feet.

Like Marquinhos, Raphael Varane has also demonstrated potential to match the attributes of the PSG centre-back. However, there aren’t many defenders of that kind who defend as well as distribute and that leads to clubs having to choose centre-backs who are either technically gifted or dependable in defense and with the obsession with passing and attacking football at present, the former is the popular choice.

That’s precisely why Barcelona turned their attention to Chelsea’s David Luiz after failing to land Silva. Centre-backs who are capable of carrying the ball out of defense, initiating attacks and scoring goals are valued above those who simply battle to protect their goal. Fans would rather see a defender maneuver an opening in tight spaces despite the risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas than have him putting safety first and knocking it out of play.

No room in the big sides for hard-nosed defenders

Take Ryan Shawcross for example. In terms of defending his lines, he is one of the best in the Premier League. He’s strong in a tackle, dominating in the air, he reads danger and he puts his body on the line. However, the Stoke City defender is of little interest to the top six in the league because he’s not particularly blessed with skill on the ball.

The lack of good centre-backs is frightening and perhaps the emphasis on attack in the modern game is to blame. Whatever the reason, it’s time clubs made breeding complete central defenders a priority before that particular type of player is lost forever along with the very art of defending.


Is there a lack of quality centre-backs? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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