As the different formations used in soccer have been manipulated and re-created, much of the responsibilities of each position have remained the same – for the most part. This holds especially true for the central defender.
The central defender is always the last line of defense (aside from the goalie) and is always the foundation of a successful team – the brain of a proper functioning system.
Here are 5 tips to becoming a successful central defender:
1. Be an army general. Army generals not only motivate and lead their troops, but army generals dictate what the troops should do. Since the central defender can see the entire field, he/she should always be talking and always be pulling strings. It is not about yelling orders; it is about making sure the proper pieces are in their proper place. In order to be effective at this exercise, you must understand what the role of each individual player is, while understanding the individual characteristics of each player. Be the eyes and ears for your entire team.
2. Be absolutely certain that, at all times, you are the last line of defense. Worrying about the opposing player is enough of a task; you should not have to worry about your teammates being behind you. There are two ways this is achieved, practice and communication. As mentioned above, constant communication needs to be maintained between you and the rest of the team. Understand that you cannot dictate an entire team. It is important that players learn to watch you. Most importantly, it is important the remainder of the defense constantly look at you for the reference line…if you move, so do they.
3. Make absolutely certain that your line of defense is not far away from the midfielders. The midfielders are your window of opportunity. If you keep a close, and constant, space in respect to the midfielders, you will have a stronger defensive core, but more importantly, once you obtain possession of the ball, the game will flow as the pass to the midfielders will be a quick and easy one. Do not become a playmaker – that is the midfielder’s job. Once the ball is one, pass it on to the midfielders and allow them to work their specialty: playmaking.
4. Control the speed of the game. Once the ball is at your feet and you have possession, dictate the pace of the game. Understand what scenario you are in. Most often, you want to begin to spread the ball out to the wings or up the middle and slowly move up the field creating a flow comfortable for your whole team. Let the ball do the running, not your players. Assure everyone is spread out and the midfielders and moving fluently and opening up space. Balls in the air to your forwards or to open spaces can be made, but short accurate passes are much more effective and much safer too.
5. Do not drift away from your position. Just like every other player on the filed, stay in your position – cover your area and fulfill your responsibilities. If you begin covering your player and another player – you are sure to make a mistake. Or if you begin trying to do too much, you are sure to break down. Stay in your position and assure everyone else is in their position. If you begin to drift from your position, you begin to lose that solidarity on defense. Now, no one has a reference point for a last line and the system will be exposed. If you try to do too much or too little, you are not doing anyone a favor.
So remember, be the army general, be the eyes and ears of your entire team. Make sure no one is behind you – not the opponent and especially not your teammates. Always keep close proximity to your midfielders as this will help you on the defensive and offensive end. Control the speed of the game; create a flow your team is comfortable with. If necessary, speed the game up, or slow it down. Finally, hold true to your responsibilities – do not allow yourself to lose the structure of your defense and your team