With over 100 goals scored already in this tournament, the 2014 World Cup has not been an exhibition for great centerback play. With the game quicker, fitter, more athletic and open than it has ever been before, gone are the days where your central defenders can sit ensconced in front of their goalkeeper and worry about maintaining sound positioning.
It’s like the game of basketball has fully been implemented into soccer, as the back and forth nature of the orange ball sport seem to have unintentionally brought its characteristics of full two way play stretch beyond just box to box midfielders.
While the movement of attacking players has become faster and more sophisticated, the challenges for the modern day centerback have become quite daunting, especially with full backs becoming the new wide players with the job of providing width for their team as important as their original primary tasks of defending.
The current alterations of offensive ingenuity in the game have to make viewers, most importantly those who savor cagey tactical defensive battles, to accept the fact that even a decent offense will get at least one or two chances in a match no matter how “elite” a centerback is. That has been in full evidence in this tournament so far and make the “world class centerback” almost as extinct as a flat midfield four or a Madonna hit song.
A long European campaign further exposed Sergio Ramos and Gerald Pique’s partnership in a forgettable early egress for the world champions Spain. Gary Cahill, coming off a fine season at Chelsea, was culprit of leaving Mario Balotelli open for Italy’s second goal against England and allowed Luis Suarez to get behind him on what proved to be the goal that ended the Three Lions’ tournament.
Italy’s Georgio Chiellini has had the misfortunate of playing on the outside in the first match and then fell asleep on Bryan Ruiz’s game winner for Costa Rica’s famous win. And even the likes of Vincent Kompany and Thiago Silva have been exposed to some unflattering moments in the tournament, with the Belgian captain absent on Aleksandr Kokorin’s blown header for Russia on Sunday while the PSG force failed to clear Eyong Enoh short pass to Joel Matip for Cameroon’s only goal in Brazil.
The quest to locate the next great centerback who can overcome the modern struggles of the game may not even be located by clicking on Google search. But this World Cup has featured three young central defenders who have the growing pedigree to maybe showcase that elite centerback can still be an actual thing in the 21st century.
Raphael Varane, Kenneth Omeruo, and Jose Gimenez are so young that they could compete back in Brazil if they wanted to in 2016 when the Summer Olympic football tournament takes place. And all three of them have become integral parts in their country’s participation this June.
The more well known and oldest of the three, Varane’s role with France this Cup look set to be the #3 centerback behind Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho, similar to how he was the understudy this season at Madrid to Ramos and Pepe. But Didier Deschamps has thought differently and has chosen Varane to be his right footed central defender instead of having two left footers in front of Hugo Lloris. Most were certainly surprised that Deschamps had chosen Varane over Koscielny after the terrific season the Arsenal man had.