Why do defenders make the best captains? Perhaps the position lends itself to natural masters of men surveying their domain, and plotting their team’s next moves like a chess grand master. Defenders tend to be older than the average age of their squad, and with age comes wisdom and the deliberation of a natural, or learned, leader.
Our pick of defenders this season have exemplified the very best of the dark arts, at a time when it is barely ever appreciated anymore. Defenders tasked with hoofing the ball out of play, and breaking up the most intricate of passes, are the inevitable villains of the piece, unless of course they’re donning a kit of your colors.
John Terry (Chelsea)
Effectively consigned to the trash heap a couple of seasons ago, England’s Bravest John Terry has come rushing back to the forefront of public imagination, with several virtuoso performances at the back for Jose Mourinho’s Blues. As Chelsea excelled on the attacking front at the start of the season, the defense often struggled to keep up. But as mid-season came along, and Chelsea’s lead at the top of the table looked perilous, the team reverted to usual form. And they turned collectively to one man – their captain, leader and legend.
Not only has Terry virtually been the last man standing game after game for the Blues, he’s also a seasoned veteran at providing another goal outlet for a team blessed with attacking skill and intent. Having claimed the title of most goals scored by a defender in Premier League history, Terry proceeded to prove he hadn’t forgotten his truest instincts at the back. Jose Mourinho, not necessarily one to go overboard with effusive praise, stopped Terry after the Arsenal game to tell him it was the greatest performance he’d ever seen from him. The 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur was also courtesy a man-of-the-match level performance from the Blues captain. Jamie Carragher hailed as him the best central defender in the Premier League era, and it will take an incredible genius to unseat him.
Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
Shakira’s boyfriend he may be, but Pique knows a thing or two about setting the stage alight himself. After a disappointing season last time around, having to watch Real Madrid lift La Decima and see his icon Carles Puyol hang up his boots, Pique approached this season like a man on a mission, with vengeance in his eyes. Known for his ability to get under the skin of his opponents both on field, and off it, Pique plays routinely with a passion most others reserve only for the biggest of stages.
That Barcelona has a plethora of options up front is no secret, but with a suspect defensive line, it was up to Pique to marshal the team’s resources into making history this season. Prolific up front, and miserly at the back, Pique ensured Barcelona wrote its name in history becoming the only team to have completed the ‘triple’ twice. Move over American Pharoah, the Catalans are here.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
The truest mark of a defender’s genius is how poorly the team performs in his absence. By that measure, Chiellini is a god. Juventus made a good account of themselves against Barcelona in the Champions League finals, with both teams vying for an unprecedented triple. But without Chiellini guiding them on, there was never really going to be a chance for the Italian champions.
There are few sights as inspiring as a footballer trudging back on to the pitch, with a limb wrapped in bandages. Chiellini would probably smirk at those displays bravado. He played on in the Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid no less, winning 2-1, despite nursing a heavily bandaged head courtesy an accidental clashing of heads with Welshman Gareth Bale while also contending with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Chicharito. Heroes are remembered not only for their consistency and reliability, but also for iconic moments such as these.
The footballing world was poorer for Chiellini’s absence in the Champions League, deprived as Juventus were. Andrea Barzagli may have been a respectable replacement, but without Chiellini, Barzagli was no longer the third of an imperious back three. He was taking someone’s place, and against a team like Barcelona that was never going to be enough. Would Chiellini have blown a fuse and sent a Barcelona player sprawling on the grass? That’s possible, but his initiative, defensive solidity and chutzpah would have more than made up for it.
Which of these players do you think was the best defender all of last season?