Six players – Diego Costa, Philippe Coutinho, David De Gea, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane and Alexis Sanchez – are nominated for this year’s PFA Player of the Year award.
It is indeed heartening to see two goalkeepers – Thibaut Courtois and De Gea – were included on the six-man shortlist for the young player of the Year award, as the goalkeeping position is too often neglected.
What is of concern is that there isn’t a single defender in either of the two categories. It only cements the suggestion that there aren’t many (any?) world class defenders in the Premier League.
Chelsea have conceded the fewest goals in the league, but in their case the back five (adding the impressive Thibaut Courtois) have functioned as an impeccable unit which makes it difficult to pinpoint any individual out of John Terry, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic for acclaim. In case of Ronald Koeman’s Southampton, the defenders are well protected by the hardworking and ever-excellent midfield duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama.
Manchester United’s defence has been severely criticised this season and yet they hold a better defensive record than Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Vincent Kompany has been outstanding in the past but the Belgian defender has struggled badly this season. And it is all the more alarming when you pay £40m odd for a so-called-talented defender, Eliaquim Mangala, who turns out to be one of the worst signings of the season.
From 2004-2010, when Premier League clubs were dominating Europe, we’ve had some top class defenders in the Premier League. John Terry (featured in FIFA Pro XI for five consecutive years since 2005) and Ricardo Carvalho formed a formidable central defensive partnership for Chelsea; Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (United went on a record 14 consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League) were outstanding for Manchester United and likewise Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure did a good job for Arsenal.
Nowadays football has become more tactical where defenders are expected to build up the attack from the back. The emphasis on possession based football has encouraged the coaches/managers to seek for defenders who are comfortable on the ball. Traditional qualities like tackling are discouraged. Instead defenders are encouraged to make more interceptions. Defenders need to be more intelligent and they are required to develop the art of passing rather than having traditional defensive skills like clearances and hoofing the ball away for safety.
With the game becoming more technical, the traditional art of defending are gradually being replaced with newer methods in accordance with the demands of the modern game.
But, one has to understand, the game of football was never innocent. Not even at the time of its inception. Today we have the technical discourse of “death-by-football” or “tiki-taka” and its inbuilt rhetoric; yesterday it was embedded in another discourse with its own rhetoric, logic and dynamics. We need not make the mistake of supposing that yesterdays were simpler than how things stand today. Truth is every age works within the orbit of its own system.
Having said that, we need to accept that Premier League clubs are not producing enough quality defenders compared to other leagues. There aren’t enough talented home-grown players that are world class, which is probably why there has been an emphasis for all the top teams to target top defenders from other leagues for this summer.