Centre-back – Regular and Ball-playing
The alternate term for a centre-back, centre-half is no longer applicable in current formations that involve 3 to 5 defenders. In fact, the term centre-half came into existence decades ago when a very attacking 2-3-5 formation was used where the “3” were referred to as the half-backs. As formations evolved, the central player from the “3” moved further back and took the name along as well.
Generally, every team’s formation currently employs two or three centre-backs positioned in front of the goalkeeper and their prime responsibility is to prevent the opposite team’s strikers and attackers from getting inside the penalty box and score goals. As a result, height, strength and positioning are key attributes of a centre-half.
This gives them an advantage in set-piece situations where the aerial capability of the defender can lead to a goal for the attacking team. Some of the famous centre-backs of the past decade include Chelsea’s John Terry, Barcelona’s Carles Puyol and AC Milan’s Alessandro Nesta.
Another variant of centre-backs called the ball-playing centre-backs exist wherein they possess the ability to play forward passes and can make attacking contributions with their feet apart from defending as well. The best practitioners of this art are Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, Bayern Munich’s Mats Hummels and Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci.
A role that is obsolete in the current scheme of things, the sweeper role or libero (Italian word meaning free) was a key part of the catenaccio system used to great effect in the 1960s in Italy. In this highly defensive system, a libero was positioned closer to the goalkeeper than the centre-backs and was tasked with mopping up loose balls, holding off opposition attacks if the front lines are beaten and help the team out wherever necessary.
However, the entry of the offside rule into football rendered the position pointless as defenders have to stay in line, else they run the risk of allowing the opposition run onside. Bayern Munich and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is credited to be the greatest libero of all time.