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Why traditional centre-backs are struggling in the modern era
Dec 10, 2021, 3:21:00 AM

Why traditional centre-backs are struggling in the modern era

Football is usually seen as a forward-thinking sport. As time goes on, the sport continues to evolve and roles change including the traditional centre-backs. Let’s talk about them and how they have evolved over the years.

Traditional centre-backs are still present in the football world but they are quickly becoming obsolete. When you think about the traditional centre-backs, you can look at the likes of Carles Puyol, Lúcio, and many more. They are still effective but the sport’s pace is increasing and these players are struggling to keep up.

Central defenders are shouldering more responsibilities in the modern era because the pace is at an all-time high. The game has evolved to the point where teams love the versatility and if some centre-backs are still stuck in the old ways, they will lose their footing in the modern game. They need to adapt so they can stand out as star players for their club and/or country.

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The pace is making centre-backs more active

In the modern game, Puyol and Lúcio would’ve been different players because they had to play a different style than what they were used to. Now, the pace is more important than any other quality because everyone is athletic. If the player is speedy, you can expect them to have a solid place in the squad.

Physicality will still be important but modern forwards can’t be bullied anymore. They either have elite dribbling skills to trick their defenders or they are as strong as the defenders guarding them. Look at a modern player like Erling Haaland who is just as tall as the defenders who are marking him. Defenders struggle against him because he is just as physical and they do not have a size advantage over players like him.

Now, if CBs want to keep up, they need to be both strong and speedy. Back in the day, they could get away with playing a more conservative style that made them stick to one area of the pitch and make ambitious tackles. They can still do that now, but it is too risky for them because forwards know those tricks now.

With active dribblers, defenders will have to be more active with both their movement and their communication. If they are stuck in the old playstyle, they will get lost in the modern style because almost every player will run circles around them.

When talking about the modern CB, a prime example of a solid player is Manchester City’s defensive stalwart, Rúben Dias and Madrid’s David Alaba. He is not only an imposing figure but he is also a speedy player who can keep up and stop any forward he plays against.

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Centre-backs are now integral to the offence

With more active defenders, CBs are expected to contribute to the offence. They need to be more accurate passers than the traditional CBs because they will typically have the ball when teams are playing from the back. You can think of players like Dias and Alaba as good examples of this modern CB because they are also integral to their team’s offence.

With this kind of versatility, CBs have evolved similarly to the forward roles. Players at the front are now tracking back because the modern style is more geared towards pressing. If they pressure the ball handlers, they will have an easier time on offence because they will have a free route to the goal.

If a player is a slow CB who can’t make the right pass, they will not thrive in the modern era.

CBs are also good choices to become team captains because they have a good perspective of the squad. They see the pitch better and how their teammates move around and execute the set plays. They are more vocal than most players because they need to set an example for the rest of the team by leading from a good vantage point.

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Full-backs are attacking now which means CB’s need to step up

If you’ve watched a modern football game, you can see that full-backs are being turned into secondary wingers now. They are not the traditional wide defenders that most fans are used to. They have improved to the point where they can both defend and attack in one quick motion.

If the strikers and wingers can be further forward, the full-backs will have to step up as the new playmakers. This has changed the modern game because more full-backs are drawing attention and the game is fun this way. They are also being challenged more because not only do they have defensive tasks but they also have to make the right plays when needed.

Players like Achraf Hakimi and Reece James have changed the dynamics of all defenders. Even Alaba was once a left-back who transitioned into the CB role because he loved defending more than any task on the pitch. With this growth, players are becoming more versatile which is better in the long run.

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The rulebook has changed and they have to adapt

In the modern era, the rulebook has tightened up which has led to players struggling to adjust. They can’t make ambitious tackles because they might injure the opponent.

The modern CB is more conservative but they also have a bigger footprint on the match. Players have to adjust to this modern style and the rulebook is enforcing that. Some raw prospects will get used to these rulebook changes and they will become world-class players.

Some pundits have talked about a decline in centre-backs’ quality. That is not true because modern CBs will only improve as time goes on and they will be stronger when they get used to the rulebook changes and the style it enforces.

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Words: Cholo Martin

Image: PA