Podcasts, forums, opinion articles and talk shows almost always clash over the standards of todays defending. Are attackers simply much better than they were a decade ago when Italian Serie A sides were disappointed to let one goal in. Do attackers get the benefit of the doubt for big decisions? Or are defenders simply getting worse? Many would argue that defending has simply changed; no longer are tackles from behind allowed. The modern defender must rely on speed, power, ariel presence. But most importantly with the possession based football that has emerged over the past 5 years, be able to distribute from the back outwards.
These five talents from all corners of the globe demonstrate all of the key areas needed to become a top centre-back on a regular basis. Although, only time will tell if they will have glittering careers like Maldini, Nesta and Cannavaro before them, but their first steps to stardom have been impressive ones.
Eder Alvarez Balanta – River Plate
Balanta will be a familiar name to many, a player that almost always pops up on this type of list. But that is because he has yet to fulfil his massive potential. At only 22 years of age the 6″1 Colombian seems to have been around for a number of years and was tipped to have a bright future in the very opening stages of his career, but injuries have curtailed his progression. He has been on the treatment table so much that he has only made 51 senior appearances for River and 6 at international level for Colombia. Despite his extensive injury list, Balanta is blessed with pace, power and skill – so much so that he drew early comparisons to Colombian legend Daniel Passarella. Couple that with ariel prowess and fine balance Balanta seems destined for the top – if only he could stay injury free.
Jeison Murillo – Internazionale
Another Colombian, Murillo recently secured the first big money move of his career joining Roberto Mancini’s Internazionale for €8m. Murillo comes from similar stock to Balanta – fast, powerful and with delicate feet he impressed greatly for Granada last season despite the Andalusian’s finishing in 17th position. Although there lies a streak of naivety in Murillo’s game current Colombia coach Jose Peckerman has unmatched trust in his ability and used him extensively in this years Copa America. Murillo impressed so much that he was voted into the Team of the Tournament and scooped the aware for the Best Young Player at the tournament. What may be even sweeter was his game winning goal against Brazil in their 2-0 win.
Eric Bertrand Bailly – Villarreal
A €5,7m transfer from Espanyol last January, Bailly has transformed himself into an ever present for the side from Vila-Real. As El Submarino Amarillo have raced up to the heights of La Liga, the Ivorian has impressed with his speed, strength and will to win. Made his tournament, and international, debut at this year’s African Nations Cup and impressed, shoring up an area of the Ivorian team that was deemed to be the weakest. Although Bailly has gained many plaudits, he remains somewhat of a diamond in the rough – his decisions and distribution need work for him to become a top-level central defender.
Jairo Riedewald – Ajax Amsterdam
Another Dutch player with Surinamese heritage, Riedewald was capped in the senior side at a mere 18 years of age after impressing for Holland’s most successful club. As far as comparisons go, Riedewald has been compared to some greats; Koeman and Rijkaard most notably. Many see the youngster captaining the national team in the future. But first, steps must be taken to hone his game at club level. Although impressive in many areas, Riedewald’s earliest forays into the professional game before the departures of Nicolas Moisander and Stefano Denswil shifted him into a central position – as such his ariel game is nowhere near as good as his distribution. As with any Ajax bred defender, Riedewald is exceptional with both feet and can start attacks from his base at the heart of Ajax’s central pairing.
Niklas Süle – Hoffenheim
In a time where the Bundesliga is producing a magnificent crop of defenders, Süle is surely one to look out for. At 6″4 there are not many players who appear as intimidating as the young German, but what many people underestimate about Süle is his footballing brain. Aggressive defending something that the Bundesliga has become known for since it’s revamped fast-flowing counter attacking style came to prominence with the rise of Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern, but Süle’s reading of the game is magnificent. His anticipation is second to none, and he often tops the charts for interceptions per game, averaging at 2.2 last season. As good with his feet as he is with his head, Süle is one of the more complete ‘modern’ defenders and like Jairo Riedewald, is more than adept at distributing from the back. Surely destined for the top with his impressive performances.
About the Author – Ben Jarman
Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.