In the 60s, La Grande Inter or The Great Inter under Helenio Herrera had popularized the defensive style of play called catenaccio which emphasizing more on the counter-attack. Herrera also saw the introduction of the world first overlapping full-back in Facchetti who become one of the key players for Inter success during this time. Inspired by this, Franz Beckenbauer had revolutionized the sweeper position to become a ball playing center back who can be a leader in the back and at some time starting the attack from the back. Beckenbauer and with the emergence of Ajax Amsterdam and the heartbreaking failure of Holland in 1974 which introduced the Total Football where every player is comfortable on the ball had led to the uprising of the ball-playing center back during these eras.
However, the ball-playing center back had been seen a decline in the early ’90s as manager prefer the old school defender who is robust and efficient when comes to defending. At the end of 2000, the ball-playing center back had come back thanks to Guardiola Barcelona’s possession football and dominating style of play that is called by the Spanish press as “ death by thousand passes”. In his Barcelona team, the defense is the start of the attack and the attacker is the first line of defense. He had introduced and popularized back the high pressing game, possession football, false no 9 and also the ball-playing center back. Since then many team and manager had prioritized the ball-playing center back as the key player in the team that they managed.
The ball-playing center back had been given utmost importance in the modern era as the Guardiola Barcelona had shown on how to utilize their abilities to the greater effect. For the modern era, Napoli had Kalidou Koulibaly as their ball-playing center back, Liverpool has Virgil Van Dijk, Manchester United has Harry Maguire, Real Madrid had Raphael Varane and is no over-exaggeration to say that most of them had a ball playing center back as one of the key players.
Why the ball-playing center back had been on the uprise since the day of Guardiola Barcelona? Now many teams had some view as the Guardiola Barcelona that the defense is the start of attack hence the ball-playing defender is able to play from the back to start the attack via bringing the ball to the play or hitting a long ball. In the Klopp Liverpool team, Van Dijk will often be seen hitting a long ball to Sadio Mane to launch a quick attack and Harry Maguire also will do the same thing.
The ball-playing center back also must be press resistance to overcome the opponent high pressing which had been implemented by most of the team now. Again this style had been popularized from the Guardiola Barcelona which is always seen as starting the attack from the defense which short passes from the goalkeeper to the center back. During this time, the opponent will implement a high pressing to disrupt the passing and also to gain a big space to attack when the team loses possession. A ball-playing center back whom skills and abilities on the ball will be efficient during this time to pass through the opponent high pressing or to hit a long back to exploit the gap created by the opponent high pressing.
A ball-playing defender can be seen as an elegant and skillful defender as instead of stopping the forward and passing the ball to their attacker, they can start the attack by bringing the ball out and this type of player usually will be very good on their long ball as the can hit a long ball efficiently and at the sometimes they can score goals too. Another aspect of the ball-playing defender which is often overlooked by the media and it is an important aspect that made the manager view them as one of the key players is usually due to their ability to remain calm in any situation in the football field and at the some, they will be seen as one of the leaders in the defense. Most of the ball-playing center back may have a different skill set in terms of their abilities on the ball but one thing that is similar to most of them is the leadership in the defense part. When Klopp had bought Virgil Van Dijk for a world record of 75 million, it had raised an eyebrow but sooner he had become the key player for the Liverpool defense by being a leader and also as the start of the attack in the Liverpool team.
Some key aspect had led to Manchester United bought Harry Maguire for 80 million breaking the world record as Maguire has the ability to be a leader and also as a ball-playing center back to restore Manchester United to their glory days by bringing back the defensive stability that is lacking since Sir Alex Ferguson retirement. For now, Maguire’s investment is seen to be worth and well paid as he had seemed to bring the intended defensive stabilizes for United.
However, one thing that is missing in the current modern era defense is the center back who had great abilities in the set pieces. For Argentina in the ’70s, they are Daniel Pasarelle who is known as the Kaiser of Argentina due to the ability as a ball-playing defender and scoring goals from set prices and in the Johan Cyruff Dream Team the set pieces are taken by Ronald Koeman whom also a center back. As per now, Ronald Koeman has the record for the most goal scored by a defender overtaking Passarella.
With the rise of the ball-playing defender, the defender who had a great ability in the set pieces also can come back on the game too. This ball-playing defender, however, does not lead to the decline of the old school defender as the manager also likes to part a ball-playing defender which someone who is old school defender to form a great partnership in the heart of the defense. The ball-playing center back does not and will not replace the old school defender who also is a crucial key player for the team.
The ball-playing center back had been on the uprise since the day of the all-dominating Guardiola Barcelona which can be seen as a good thing as it will add another dimension and key abilities to the team. The ball-playing center-back will be here until another team comes and playing an effective way without depending on the ball-playing center back. For now, the ball-playing defender is one of the key players that is crucial for modern football managers.