Continuing on from our inaugural Football Positions Explained series which began with the mighty goalkeeper, it’s time to look at the men in front of the keeper – defenders.
We’ll start with the centre-back.
The primary purpose of the centre-back (historically called a centre-half – more on that in a bit) is to stop opponents from scoring – specifically the opposition striker(s) – and to bring the ball out of their penalty area.
As the name suggests, the centre-back occupies the central position of a defensive formation, and are typically the tallest players in the team. Good centre-backs are also strong, good in the air and have excellent timing and tackling skills. They’re often thought of as the last line of defense (outside of the keeper), and as such need to read the game well to thwart an advancing opponent with a last-ditch tackle.
As the role has advanced over the years, centre-backs have gone from a clear-it-at-all costs mentality to being able to calmly play the ball out of danger in order to retain possession, vs giving the opponent the ball back with another chance to attack.
And, thanks to their height and aerial-prowess, they are great options for attacking set pieces. Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos has scored close to 100 goals in his Los Blancos career, most of them coming from free-kicks and corners.
Notable centre-backs throughout history include Virgil Van Dijk, Giorgio Chiellini, Gerard Pique, Ronald Koeman, Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, and Franco Baresi (don’t worry, we didn’t forget about Mr. Beckenbauer – stay tuned for the next installment in the series…).
So, why is the position sometimes referred to as “centre-half”? In the late 19th century, most teams used a 2-3-5 formation, with the row of three players known as half-backs. With the evolution of formations, the central player of the half-backs (the centre-half) dropped back into a defensive position, taking the name with them.