It goes without saying that soccer has changed a lot over the last decade, it really has evolved to a point where attacking football is now sometimes viewed as the newest and best form of defense. That point is purely evident by taking a look at the most successful club and international teams over the past decade, Spain, and FC Barcelona.
Both teams employed a Tika-Taka system that kept possession of the ball and gradually tired out their opponents to a point of submission (leaving very little for their own team’s defenders to do aside from passing the ball forward to their midfielders). All that being said, it seems Tika-Taka may have ran it’s course as evidenced by Spain’s failure to defend against the blistering pace of Brazil’s counter attack at the confederations cup, and Bayern’s humbling loss to Real’s similarly rough and tumble yet somehow systematic counter-attack in the Champions league semi-finals this year. Furthermore, both losses have pointed out something more interesting than the supposed death of tike-taka: The death of the pure defender, a player so sound that he alone can stonewall a counter-attack (or any attack) through brash ingenuity.
The pure central defender is hard to find these days amongst those considered to be some of the best at that position… Vincent Kompany, Pique, Thiago Silva, Ramos, David Luiz, Koscielny (Dislaimer: Yes I know two are Spanish, and two are Brazilian, and perhaps Hummels is pushing slightly) are all very technically sound, and, in some ways, lack that killer defensive instinct inherent to central defenders that dominated the game throughout the 2000’s… Puyol, Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini, Thuram, Sol Campbell, Lucio, Walter Samuel…
In short, I miss all of those players a lot, and not because they are legends, but because they all represent an era that now almost seems ancient to the modern footballer, and football fan… and that hurts. (But, because football is so enigmatic decade to decade, I think we’ll see a new reliance on defense, and a new generation of pure defenders… or at least I hope).
Going out on a limb here, I’m going to make the claim that had a healthy (and young) Puyol been on Spain’s 2013 Confederations cup squad, they would have beat Brazil… Here’s why: Puyol’s brilliance is derived from many qualities, but one quality that stands out far more than the others is his ability to purely and instinctively defend (without any desire or want to attack). And, purely relying on his defensive instinct, he saved both Barcelona and Spain on countless occasions with his last ditch tackles, positional awareness, and most of all, brash ingenuity.
Aside from Terry, Vidic (who are old and practically done), Georgio Chillieni and I hate to say it, but maybe even Pepe (when he’s focused and decides to be ultra-defensive and doesn’t flail around on the ground as if he’s on fire after being nudged ever so slightly by another player), I’m unsure if I can name many other players as purely defensive as the aforementioned ones that ruled the 2000’s… and this brings me to another discussion… Who should Barcelona buy to plant next to Pique in the center of their defense? It’s a perplexing question because I’m of the belief that they need someone purely defensive, although there really aren’t many players that fit that mold anymore (as is the point of this article). But, I can say that I wouldn’t try to sign David Luiz because they need someone more defensive-minded.
A couple of candidates that I would suggest, Holger Badstuber, Matts Hummels, Eliaquim Mangala, Marquinhos (If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments section)