More than a few eyebrows were raised as David Luiz was selected at center-back as part of the FIFPro World XI at the Balon d’Or event last week. People were shocked to see Luiz ahead of better center-backs, including the likes of Mats Hummels, Thiago Silva, and Diego Godin. In truth, this shouldn’t even be a question. Hummels is still inconsistent at times, Silva has seen a drop in form since the start of the 2014-2015 season, while Godin is arguably playing at his very best. Just seeing a center-back like Luiz as part of the World XI shows the decrease in quality center-backs in this day and age. Looking back a decade ago, to 2005, there were so many superb center-backs on show. The likes of Alessandro Nesta, John Terry, Carles Puyol and Fabio Cannavaro were all superb leaders at the back. In this day and age, these leaders are becoming a rarity.
Yet, if there is one defender who is no-nonsense and defends like those in the past, it is Diego Godin. Godin epitomizes Atletico: a major part of a tough, structured and organized side, both with and without possession of the ball. Godin has truly shown the traits of the successful Atletico side as a superb defender, as he is ready to defend at all costs and ready to play dirty, fighting at all costs for victory. Some might say that he is “nasty”. In truth, defenders may need to be a bit nasty. Players like Carlos Puyol were hardly the softest of players. While Puyol was not a brute to play against, he could be rough when needed to. This fighting spirit, a never-say-die attitude made defenders like Puyol who they were. They were warriors ready to win at any cost. On the other hand, David Luiz failed to inspire his team and saw capitulation in the famous 7-1 loss against Germany in the summer’s World Cup. Luiz’s selection shows how much more worth is given to a player who can score a 30-yard free-kick as compared to a game-winning tackle. A center-back’s first job is to defend, and that is what Godin does. While he is not perfect (as Luciano Vietto showed earlier this season), mistakes from him are few and far between. His consistency in the past two seasons has shown why he is the best in the world at this moment.
Generally playing as the left-sided center-back at Atletico, Godin has played in a high-line of defense for Atletico. When playing deeper, when Atletico defend deep, Godin has been equally as superb for his side. For Uruguay at the World Cup, Godin played as part of three center-backs and still looked solid. Alongside Suarez, Godin led his side into the Round of 16. And with the departure of the likes of Filipe Luis, Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa, Godin has become even more important for Atletico. He has even played a role in replacing goals, as the Uruguayan defender has been superb at attacking set-pieces for his side, proving to be a menace for opponents in La Liga. His superb form this season has already showed why he should, in all likelihood, be part of next year’s FIFPro XI.
After scoring the vital goal which saw Real Madrid finally capture La Decima, Sergio Ramos was thrown into the pot for winning the Balon d’Or. Ramos’ goals and attacking play overshadowed his defending, as the Netherlands (and more specifically, Arjen Robben) showed at the World Cup. This is not to say that Ramos is not a great defender. He is, but it must also be remembered that Godin has also scored a number of important goals in the past year. Godin’s goals have also shown how key he is for Atletico and Uruguay. Godin scored the header that saw Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 and send them to the second round of the World Cup. He also scored the goal that won Atletico the La Liga title. Also, Godin’s goal in the Champions League final was three minutes away from clinching a European triumph.
To omit a player like Godin from a list of the two best center-backs in Europe is truly a disgrace. In an age lacking true, superb center-backs, Godin remains an exception. Whether leading his side defensively or scoring important goals, Godin has shown exactly the type of defenders the world needs. His leadership skills cannot be denied either, as he has helped shape Gimenez, his Uruguay and Atletico young, center-back partner, and has also worn the captain’s armband for Atletico in Gabi’s absences this season. While the footballing world 20 years from now may not remember Godin as the best center-back of 2014 due to his omission, the true community of football lovers today must pay him credit. He has been fantastic for Atletico and in an age of few fantastic center-backs on show, Godin is currently the best.
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