Carrying on from our latest Football Positions Explained piece on the centre-back, it’s time to look at another defensive stalwart – the sweeper, more exotically known as libero.
While the sweeper may be sparingly used (if at all) in football today, the position was once one of crucial importance, and some of the best players in the history of the game spent their careers defining the role.
As the name suggests, the job of a sweeper is to clean up any opposition attack, should they manage to break the main defensive line. Because of the nature of their job, a sweeper’s position is much more fluid than the rigidity of other defenders on a backline, hence the Italian name for the position – libero (free).
As with the centre-back, the sweeper needs to have excellent timing and an even better reading of the game.
Libero & Catenaccio
The libero was heavily used in Italian football in the 1960s as part of the catenaccio (or ‘chain’) style of play. Catenaccio translates to “door-bolt” – an appropriate term for the tactic, which emphasized a highly organised defensive approach to the game.
But with the introduction of the modern offside rule, the use of a sweeper became less popular as team’s elected to hold a defensive line in order to catch player offside – not to mention the evolution of the defender, who is expected to launch and even contribute to attacking football in the modern game.
Former Germany captain and World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer is typically acknowledged as being the inventor of the libero, and the best player in the position. However, when it comes to the origins of the sweeper role specifically, other prominent names that preceded Becker include Armando Picchi and Velibor Vasović.