Congratulations! You’ve just landed a job talking about a game you don’t understand. Use these clichés liberally to pretend like you know what you’re doing
Clichés are very useful for regularly appearing football pundits who have little to no knowledge of the modern game. Take television’s Glenn Hoddle, the man who believed prior to last summer’s World Cup that England’s best XI had Gerrard and Lampard in a double pivot. Actually it probably wasn’t even a double pivot, I think it was Four Four fucking Two. Pundits like Hoddle rely on clichés to sound like they know what they’re talking about and use them liberally across the footballing encyclopedia from transfer assumptions to formational prejudices.
So I’ve started to expose these clichés (and the pundits who peddle them) with the only position on the field that seems to do any defending nowadays: The center back.
1. The Veterans
Good examples: Martin Demichelis, Per Mertesacker
They’re experienced. They’ve played in all sorts of big matches. They’ve matched up against the best and held their own. They are slow as fuck.
If you ever hear the word “experienced” when someone describes a central defender, just take it as a synonym for moving like a doped up sloth. Especially in the top leagues across Europe, this breed are good defenders, diligently marking their opponents and being a dominant force in the air. They bring steel to a shaky backline, but you also worry that unless you have two midfielders shielding them you will concede constantly. Open space on the pitch is viewed as the worst possible situation for this archetype. These defenders have the signature move of chopping down a sprightly winger, only to get off with a yellow card because they know the ref from the millions of games they’ve played.
Pundits will praise The Veteran’s experience and ability, and encourage the opposing side to run at the oaf to exploit his speed—clearly a concept far beyond the comprehension of us mortals watching back at home.
2. Athleticism Abound, Not Much Else
Good examples: Chris Smalling, Younes Kaboul
Speed records are smashed, gym equipment is broken, and crafty strikers are left free to nod home a floated cross. They can jump 40 inches high and are actually the fastest player at your club according to teammates, but none of that matters when the opposing striker is standing all alone at the far post. As a result of their excessive physicality they will put in the most crunching tackles, and are generally a good bet for two red cards a season.
Like all West African forwards they will be primarily described as “powerful.” Any commentator worth his salt will mention that they are fast enough to keep up with anyone that dares challenge him to a through ball. However there aren’t many of those commentators about, so instead they will continue to assume every attacker is automatically faster.
You also hate their virtual being. On FIFA they have a knack of haunting you repeatedly when trying to fulfill your dream of winning the Champions League. This hate then carries over to watching a proper game, but it’s sweetened by the fact that they’ve already let Kevin Nolan drift by them twice for a brace.
3. David Luiz(s)
Good examples: Um, pretty obvious. I’ll put Vlad Chiricheș here as well
There’s little to be said about David Luiz, but we’ll say it anyway. (Gary Neville says it better here.) He is technically superior to the majority of defenders; he can pass, bring the ball out himself, and even score (one in 50) free kicks.
Luiz brought his sweet, sweet spongy afro-style to the Premier League, where it was immediately criticized. A skilled central defender appears to be quite the vulgar sight for many a traditional viewers of British football, especially one as flamboyant as the Brazilian. The David Luiz(s) provides the older British viewer, who grew up watching big bastards hoof the ball away, reason to point and scold.
This type of center back suffers from the same disease that nearly all other archetypes do, OSTBS (Occasional Shit The Bed Syndrome). A rash rush out of the line and suddenly it’s a 4 on 3 counterattack. One too many seconds looking to pick out a pass, and suddenly the striker is through on goal. However, over time a good reputation can be built, and David Luiz gradually did this at Chelsea, despite a few very notable mistakes.
4. Fat Bastards
Good examples: Steve McNulty, countless Sunday League players
This group of players frequently dwells in the lower leagues of football. It’s disheartening that the new wave of British and international fans invading the game will only see the sanitized product that makes up the Premier League. The top tier has its money, global appeal, and center backs who don’t look like they double as a nightclub bouncer.
Those new fans will never get to appreciate the experience of watching a player with a figure like an apple shove puny wingers around at their mercy. It’s one of the 7 Footballing Wonders of the World to watch someone who can handle six pukka pies and a couple pints before puffing around a pitch for an hour and a half. We hardly ever see this bunch on TV. Every Premier League team should be obliged to fill a quota of having one big ‘unit’ of a player on their roster. Leicester have theirs, a certain Mr. Gary Taylor Fletcher.
Pundits feast on the Fat Bastards. Some descriptive phrases for consideration: “eating up the ground” and “a real appetite for this match.” Underused, I feel.
5. The Spanish Ones
Good examples: Gerard Piqué, Mats Hummels
The Spanish Ones don’t have to be Spanish, it’s more that every single bloody Spanish defender plays this way. They always can pass the ball out, they always want to pass the ball out, and they always will pass the ball out. They are also often soft against physical strikers.
Watch any Championship side sign an Arsenal defender—let’s say Miquel—on loan, and the guy sitting in front of you at the ground will inevitably say that he “don’t like the looks of him.” Miquel is one of those players that is obliged to be signed on loan by nearly every second tier club, similar to Michael Keane and a couple of years ago Andros Townsend.
There’s some crossover between this and The Veterans because generally The Spanish Ones are perceived as being slow. (I think we automatically categorize defenders into three sections regarding their speed: Fast, average and “experienced.”) However, when watching them, you trust their ability on the ball, and you don’t constantly pray to stave off the effects of OSTBS. It’s the modern way to play like this—tiki-taka and all that La Masia crap.
6. The Ones Who Think They’re Spanish
Good examples: Souleymane ‘Sol’ Bamba, Dejan Lovren
Sol Bamba, formerly of my beloved Leicester City, was somewhat affectionately named ‘Bombscare’ by Hibernian fans. The Ivorian could tackle and block shots all game, but in possession he’d make you cringe harder than Bobby Moore watching David Luiz vs Germany. Poor Sol believed he could spray the ball to Paul Gallagher on the wing and clip it over the top to Jermaine Beckford. Even if he could do that, Beckford was a lazy shit who wouldn’t be making that run anyway, but Sol didn’t have that kind of ability so it’s irrelevant.
When a relatively uncoordinated 6″3 man is throwing stepovers on the edge of his own box it’s never good for the heart. These defenders should carry a label that warns those of a nervous disposition. I’m also going to lump into this group defenders that appear like they cannot kick a football cleanly at all. Now Mamadou Sakho sadly joins The Ones Who Think They’re Spanish.