It’s harder to create than destroy; that’s what they always say.
Empires that took centuries to build have burned in a single day. Reputations built up by years of do-gooding can be torn asunder by one false move.
However, things are not the same in football. Creation and destruction happen simultaneously. They are reactions to each other. One player is always trying to create, and their opposite number to destroy.
And while the destroyers often prevail over the creators, it’s the latter that tend to get all the plaudits. Creators can fail for 89 minutes, have one moment of brilliance, and come away from the game as a genius. In contrast, those charged with destruction can do the majority of things right, make one slip, and be labeled a fool.
This injustice is reflected in the stats. Fabio Cannavaro was the last defender to win the World Player of the Year award in 2006. Not too bad, you may think. 2006 was only nine years ago, and in that time, we’ve witnessed the rise of FC Barcelona and a refocus on flair over force. We’ve also seen two new types of goalscorers in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who’ve changed the idea of what’s possible in the modern game.
However, before Cannavaro, you have to go back to 1976 and Franz Beckenbauer to find the last defender to be named World Player of the Year. This seems essentially unfair. Football is as much about defending as it attacking. It’s quite literally 50/50.
John Terry may feel hard done by in his omission from the shortlist for PFA Player of the Year. The defender has been in fine form all season, and his partnership with Gary Cahill has been the basis upon which Chelsea’s title challenge has been founded. The player has rarely done his job anything less than excellently, and yet is destined to see his hard work go unrecognised.
The caveat that is often attached to praise for Terry’s performances this season has been that Mourinho’s style has suited the Englishman. Since his return to management at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho has instilled a counter-attacking approach in which the team defends deep and soaks up pressure, before hitting the opposition on the break.
And while it is certainly true that defending deep suits Terry – pace has never been the defender’s strong suit – for a counter-attacking approach to work, you also have to be able to defend well. Since the turn of the year, when Jose Mourinho made an explicit change to defend first and attack second, Chelsea have been incredibly strong at the back.
The Blues have the best defensive record in the League with 26 goals conceded. This is far superior to next best-placed Everton, who have conceded 34. This record is even more impressive following Mourinho’s change of style, with Chelsea only conceding 7 league goals in 2014.
While the new manager’s system of deep defending certainly suits Terry more than the high-line that Andre Villas-Boas attempted to employ so disastrously two years ago, it seems unfair to use this as a reason to discredit the defender’s performances. The player can only do his best in the system he’s been asked to play in. And at 33, Terry has been in arguably the best form of his whole career.
One would have to forgive Terry for wondering ‘what more can I do?’, but then the Englishman shouldn’t take it personally. He’s not the first player to be stricken with the curse of the defender, and he won’t be the last.
It’s just a fact of life that the wonder of creation is always going to be far greater than that of destruction. We can’t forget it because we just can’t understand it.
Defensive systems can be analysed and explained, but moments of individual genius will always remain a mystery to us.