“If we score, we might win. If they never score, we can't lose.” The rudimentary act of achieving a positive result in any football match has been aptly inked by Christie Rampone. With all the limelight on the forwards, scoring screamers and dishing out sublime finishes, defenders are often trapped in the zone of least appreciation.
Back in 2006, Fabio Cannavaro won the Ballon d'Or as the first defender since Matthias Sammer, who won it ten years ago. It’s hard to comprehend this fact especially when they are the ones who are burdened with the responsibility of accomplishing a mission with no margin of error whatsoever.
However, a more insightful understanding of defenders not winning enough individual accolades etches out the phenomenon of center-backs pairing doing a commanding job at the back and perfectly complementing each other to protect the wall. While one may do the dirty part, the other would initiate the creativity and that’s why great teams achieve monumental success with a rugged pair at the heart of the defense.
The art of defending has evolved to a greater dimension these days with center-backs being more creative in initiating an attack, in addition to their defensive responsibilities. Managers in this era tend to include such players who possess defensive attributes with an eye on the open-play being uncompromised. Hence, the efficiency of a center-back pair largely depends on how one complements the other's attributes with his own set of skills. Right from engineering an offside trap to cleaning up the back the two central figures must act in synchronization.
Although the art of defending has taken a downhill path over the decades, we have witnessed some enthralling center-back pairs in the 21st century. Here are five such pairings in the last two decades that have put the strikers at bay in innumerable threatening situations.
#1 Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta
If there is ever an iconic duo the world has ever witnessed, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta stand apart on top of the list. Maldini, whose prime lasted for almost two decades, started his career way before this century but had Nesta in the twilight of his career. Together they formed a formidable pair at the back, perpetuating the European giant status for Milan in the early part of this century.
Maldini was all about a strong character on the field who perceived tackling as a technical mistake but on the other hand, Nesta was the most artistic tackler the football world has ever seen. Even the fiercest attack would acknowledge the hard challenge of getting past these two.
Although the duo didn’t feature in Italy’s 2006 world cup campaign, they went on to win the champions league twice in 2002/03 and 2006/07. In the 2002-03 season, Milan conceded just one more goal than eventual champions Juventus. However, in the final of the Champions League, Juventus couldn't find a way to score past them in 120 minutes. Their art of defending was simply impeccable.
Their dominance in the early 2000s is potent enough to be considered as one of the greatest center-back pairings in this century.