The evolution of the ‘modern’ centre back

David Luiz’s introduction to the Premiership has been very interesting. He has good technique and can play the ball comfortably out of defence, he also has a good touch. He is fast and a great reader of the game. He is strong but not a massive unit. This description, I feel, is representative of the evolution of the ‘modern’ centre back.

Luiz could in essence play anywhere on the pitch, and with Chelsea lacking some craft and guile in the middle of the park, there is even a case for him to play in midfield! Ridiculous this may be, the case of Luiz highlights the change in the archetypal central defender. Just look at this clip of David Luiz to see what I am on about…

[youtube mnNjH9vNz68]

It is clear that to an extent the ‘modern’ centre-back has already undergone evolution, for example England captain Rio Ferdinand is a very different player to the likes of Jack Charlton or Terry Butcher. I think we are at the dawn of another new era that will see the ball winning centre back make way to the ball playing one. I think technique will become more important, and a preference for light-footed tackling will take over from physical hassling. Of course a centre-back will still need to be strong, but it will be technique first, power second. The future of European defences will be in the shape of Pique, not Puyol.

Ten years ago a full back needed to be good positionally, have good stamina and be a good tackler. These days he needs to be quick and strong offensively. Yesteryear’s Nigel Winterburn has been replaced by today’s Glen Johnson, Rafael or Gael Clichy. The point I am making, is that even today, after all the years of football, the game is still changing. It is interesting to watch it happen. I believe the centre back is the next position to go under considerable evolution.

The change is understandable, as improvements in facilities have been matched by a change in the way teams play. Pitches have become so good that you can dribble cleanly and quickly even if you are not the most technically gifted. When pitches were bad the ball would spend less time on the deck and you needed to be big and strong. Now we are seeing the next generation of players develop.

With a team like Barcelona, not only being so dominant, but playing such a particular brand of passing-to-feet football, it is no wonder that they have an effect on the rest of European football. But, it shows how on the button Arsene Wenger is in terms of the direction football is moving. He may not have dominated Europe but his teams have played a certain way. He has refused to buy an ‘old-fashioned’ centre half for the last 5 years, receiving criticism in the process. Although Wenger may not have been revolutionary, he was slightly ahead of his time. Sir Alex Ferguson showed this when he brought Nemanja Vidic to Manchester United, I can’t imagine Wenger ever bringing a player of that type to the Emirates.

Coaches expect more from a defender now than just stopping the attack. The last two defensive additions to the top sides have been Laurent Koscielny and David Luiz. Koscielny may be more raw, but is of the same mould as Luiz, he is technically gifted. I would not be surprised if in the future, the days of the hard-man, ‘bruiser’ centre-back are numbered. The likes of Richard Dunne, Jamie Carragher and Robert Huth might become a thing of the past.

It might not have caught on fully yet, but the changes are there for all to see. As the top sides evolve, so will those lower than them in the Premier League table. There will always be anomalies, (Vidic is one of the best in the world), but I think as a whole, the trend may become more apparent. There may still be a place for the old fashioned centre half, but I think as football progresses in the next ten years, the likes of a warrior defender will become increasingly rare.

David Luiz represents a shift in the ‘modern’ centre back and is typical of a type of defender that is about to become more fashionable in the English game.

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