Today, a guest post by our resident soccer expert, Nathan Ronco:
Around the globe, the current state of football (soccer) has been characterized by flashy goals, super clubs, and inconceivable amounts of money. Regarding flashy goals, the demand for such instances has only been heightened with the advent of social media and untapped markets, cultures, and nations who are new to the sport (i.e. the United States).
Furthermore, modern football demands speed and individual skill, for all positions. With the current state of the game, even central and wide defenders must possess the same level of technical/fundamental skills as many attacking players. With ball-playing defenders, the true art of defending has lost much of its grit in recent years and veterans of the game have been quick to draw attention to this “issue.”
One of my calcio (soccer) idols, the Italian Ciro Ferrara, is one of those veterans who have expressed their concerns about the art of defending losing its identity, so to speak. Now, Ciro Ferrara was one of the best, if not THE best, central defenders of all time and you’ve probably never heard of the man (if you are new to the sport or do not watch Italian calcio).
Ciro was born in Napoli in 1967 and rose through the youth ranks at his hometown club, S.S.C Napoli. During his tenure with Napoli, he won two Scudetti (League Championships), one Coppa Italia, and one UEFA Cup. From Napoli, Ciro earned a move to Juventus F.C. where he became an intricate part of Marcelo Lippi’s formidable squad for the betterment of 10 years, winning trophy after trophy; thus cementing his name into Italian defending folklore. Ferrara might not have been astoundingly flashy with the ball at his feet nor was he an incredibly intimidating center-back (due to his kind nature).
He did, however, possess a plethora of other skills that molded him into a legend of the game as a whole. For instance, like any Italian calciatore, Ciro was a physical, yet elegant ball winner. He was comfortable winning the ball on his feet, in the air, or in a sliding tackle. However, Ciro was especially gifted with an uncanny ability to read the game with composure and patience. Having the vision to anticipate an attacking player’s movement and runs were his forte. Ciro Ferrara was able to boss attacking players simply by intercepting passes and winning tackles right from under their noses, in a very sly manner to boot (pun intended). A notable example being an away match in 1997/98 against Inter Milan in which Ciro was able to neutralize many attacking players through his vision, including O’ Fenomeno Ronaldo. Ferrara’s development as a player can be credited as the reason for such a skilled eye for the game. Ciro was a product of a man-marking defensive system that dominated Italian calcio for years until a more zonal marking system was adopted.
This ability to read the game and stifle attacking plays is a trait many feel today’s defenders lack. Tactics and composure are just as important to becoming a great player as are skill and speed. Ciro Ferrara was one of the greatest because he was able to outsmart his opponents, rather than overpower them. The ability to outsmart an opponent when defending is a dying skill that should not be overlooked by coaches and players alike. Being able to read the game and outsmart attacking players like Ciro Ferrara is essential to, not only Italian calcio but for the sport as a whole.
Nowadays, there are too many defenders who rely on sheer athleticism rather than using their wits. Although Ciro was physically imposing, he could easily win the ball by anticipation or patience. This is why, in my opinion, Ciro Ferrara is one the best defenders* of any nation, club, or generation PERIOD. So, to those of you who have never heard of the great Ciro, do yourself a favor and make a quick google search.
(Photo Cred: Slowfoot )