MODERN DAY MEDIA, ESPECIALLY IN ENGLAND, has had a negative impact on the way central defenders are perceived. Gone are the days when a team was applauded for being defensively sound; instead of praise these teams are lambasted for their anti-football ways. It’s not anti-football – far from it – it’s tactical football at its finest. Media, pundits and fans alike have been brainwashed into believing goals are the be all and end all.
Chelsea ‘parking the bus’ is seen as a negative and it infuriates fans, but why? Football, as I’ve said before in features for These Football Times, is like a game of chess. If you have a winning tactic, why change it? Isn’t it up to the opposition manager to force José Mourinho into breaking his habit? Does the frustration from the fans stem from the fact that they know how the Chelsea manager will line up and yet their manager can’t figure out how to defeat him? Do pundits and media criticise him because they’re the ones who push the ‘Premier League is the greatest league, look at all the goals’ tagline, which José seems to disprove time and time again?
It’s this mentality that leads to fans asking why teams will pay copious amount of money for a player that doesn’t score goals. Something I’ve seen on social media more times than I’d like to admit lately is the rumours of John Stones being courted by reigning Premier league champions Chelsea. The 21-year-old has made 46 appearances for Everton in the past two seasons, scoring once, and played a big part in Everton having the third best defence in the league in 2013-14.
Everton supposedly rejected a bid of £25 million for Stones, and this has caused a split in opinion. Some fans think it’s silly money and the club should accept, whereas other seem to think Everton should hold out for more. This is a centre back with over 40 Premier League appearances to his name by the age of 21, who averaged 90 per cent pass success rate in a team that struggled last season, He’s confident on the ball which is a must for all modern day defenders and he’s only picked up two bookings during his Everton career. If Chelsea sign Stones he’s going to be moulded by Mourinho, Gary Cahill and John Terry into one of the best defenders in the league, if not the world, for the next decade. Anything under £30 million for him should be considered a bargain.
With the way the market is going it’ll be hard to find a player with potential for less than £30 million in the coming years. Chelsea are switched on and aware of this, hence the desire to strike now. With John Stones being young, home-grown and the complete opposite of many of his English peers, his value will continue to rise.
When pricing up defenders you also have to factor in the demand for these players. The market is scarce when it comes to young centre backs capable of playing at the highest level, especially British ones. You only have to look at James Chester, who moved from Hull City to West Brom this summer for a fee of £8 million; he’s already 26. Steven Caulker has recently moved to Southampton on loan and, at the age of 23, his moves to various clubs have already amassed £16 million in transfer fees. Are these two the benchmarks for when pricing up home-grown talent? Gone are the days of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Tony Adams. John Stones moving to Chelsea could be a positive for the national team in the long term.
English clubs have also shown an interest in two other highly rated centre backs, both from Italy. Alessio Romangoli and Daniele Rugani are going to be the centre back pairing for Italy in years to come, I’ve no doubt in my mind. They’re what Italy have been waiting for since the days of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta. Romangoli, who recently moved to Milan, was subject to a £22 million bid from Serie A rivals Napoli which was eventually gazumped by the Rossoneri. Rugani, who is owned by Juventus but on loan at Empoli, was rumoured to be interesting Arsenal, who had a £16 million rejected. These two and Stones are highly rated for a reason.
It’s an obvious statement but one many fans overlook these days. If you concede less goals you don’t need to score as many to win. The less pressure on your attack the better, right? In the 2014-15 season, Chelsea only conceded two or more on four occasions; that means in the other 34 games in theory Chelsea only needed to score two goals to win the game. That’s the impact a good defence can have on a team. Compare this to Liverpool who had a spell in 2013-14 in which they scored 13 goals for six points in six games. By Chelsea standards, that would be enough for 15-18 points.
It also seems to me that prices for defenders are only just coming in line with other modern day positions. Lilian Thuram went from Parma to Juventus in 2001 when he was aged 29 for £36.5 million. The following year Rio Ferdinand, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro all made big money moves: Ferdinand to Manchester United for £30 million, Nesta to AC Milan for £27 million and Cannavaro to Inter for £20 million.
Ricardo Carvalho moved from Porto to Chelsea in 2004 for £20 million and three years later Porto sold another centre back, Pepe, to Real Madrid for £26 million. In 2011 Chelsea signed David Luiz from Benfica for £26 million before selling him on for £50 million only three years later. More recently, we’ve seen PSG splash out on Thiago Silva for £37 million and the talented youngster Marquinhos for £27 million. A good centre back is hard to find so teams will pay big for them. The Marquinhos deal set the precedent when at 19 he moved for nearly £30 million.
Do you think any of these teams regret paying this money for these players? Thuram, along with Buffon, was part of the best defence in world football. Ferdinand was at Manchester United for 12 years, part of a solid defence and was amongst the top 10 defenders in the world for nearly a decade. Nesta was at Milan for a decade, forming a key part of their famous defence which helped them reach three Champions League finals. Cannavaro was sold after two years but Inter made their money back on him. Carvalho was part of a Chelsea defence that conceded the fewest amount of goals in Premier League history and Pepe has been part of the Madrid defence for eight seasons now and has assisted them in winning almost every trophy imaginable.
These are the fees we should expect for these talented defenders, especially when the likes of Erik Lamela is going for £30 million, Juan Iturbe £25 million, Raheem Sterling £49 million. Defenders are just as important as these types of players.
I know pundits and fans want goals and that Pep Guardiola been innovative with his choice of centre back; it seems to have planted a seed in the heads of viewers who now think of centre backs as a null position, that central midfielders and full-backs could do just an effective a job. Perhaps in a Guardiola system, yes, but everywhere else, teams need proper central defenders. And they need to be prepared to pay big for them.
By Sam McGuire. Follow @SamMcGuire90