Top class football is fantastic but every team needs to have battle-hardened defenders.
Right now, the best defenders (and attackers for that matter) are from South America.
The recent Copa America, won for the first time ever by Chile, was ample demonstration that defenders can win tournaments as much as attackers. The key message was that the successful teams had harnessed an effective balance between attack and defense.
The tournament received minimal coverage in New Zealand but was well worth following.
Argentina, led by the irrepressible Lionel Messi was probably the best team at the tournament from a purely technical standpoint. However, even with Messi and a strike force that included the mercurial Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Argentina struggled to break down an incredibly committed Uruguay 1-0 in group play.
Nobody demonstrates the value of defending more in world football than the Uruguayan centre back Diego Godin. An overwhelming desire to win challenges and disrupt the opposition by making any form of contact with the ball is paramount in his defensive play.
Not only does Godin win the ball he also has the ability to launch transitions for his team – turning defense into attack.
This South American balance of equal importance on play both with and without the ball is the reason why the continent is producing so many good players at both ends of the pitch. It is not a coincidence that a country like Uruguay is producing great strikers (Luis Suarez) and defensive players (Godin, Jose Giminez, Arevalo Rios). The same can be said of each of the four semifinalists – Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is of the view that South America is the major producer of attacking talent by citing Suarez, Messi, Aguero, Neymar, Costa in a recent Wall Street Journal article. But this talent development also builds defensive capability in teammates and opponents.
Wenger puts talent development in the attacking positions down to the value of street football, unstructured play, and playing older children.
“In street football, when you are a ten year old, you play with 15 year olds so you have to be shrewd, you have to show that you are good. You have to fight to win impossible balls.”
Gary Neville, the famed Manchester United defender is of a similar view. He believes that defending has become something of a lost art with too much coaching of youth focusing on technical play as opposed to the fundamentals of winning the ball either individually or as a defensive unit and then using it effectively.
That is perhaps the core take out of the Copa America from a youth development perspective – establishing the balance between defensive play and the transition to attack is essential.
It is easy in a world of highlights and spectacular goals to focus on the final outcome. However, the effectiveness of defending and then transitioning into attack has never been more important in football.
The individuals and teams that do it well are able to exploit opponents who are committed to an attacking position and take the initiative.
For this reason, at Top Flight Football Academy great importance is placed on players being able to win the ball and then transition quickly to create attacking opportunities.
Defense is the first stage of attack. Because without the ability to win the ball effectively a team cannot threaten the opponent.
By linking the desire of a Godin with the intent to use the ball effectively in possession every young player can become a valued member of a team.
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