Over my football career I have seen a major change in how football is played.
The game is now based heavily on the technical aspect and all focus is on attacking, goals and entertainment.
In my early years of professional football, the emphasis in my training as a centre back was on defending, constantly working on how to improve my defensive displays.
For numerous reasons, it seems over the last few years the art of defending has become less important. It is now classed as ‘old school’ when footballers do lots defensive work in training, but it is something I love doing and I relish. I will never get tired of making blocks and heading balls clear. The key words for a defender now seem to be ‘comfortable on the ball’, and ‘can he play out?’, not if he can tackle or if he can defend one v one. Goals from the Premiership are often raved about, but most of the time they’re down to poor defending and not good attacking play.
I remember the George Graham era in the 1990s and how good defensively Arsenal were. I’ve read that they would spend hours practising as a unit. The offside trap was performed to perfection most weeks and was even famously re-enacted in the brilliant film, The Full Monty. I grew up watching Tony Adams, a terrific defender, and aspired to be like him.
At Sheffield Wednesday, I worked with John Blackley and while at Coventry I worked with Steve Harrison. These two defensive coaches were brilliant. We’d work nearly every morning and afternoon on back-four work, dealing with overloads, crosses, the defensive line, and working on footwork and body position. It was repetitive but stood us in good stead.
Squad rotation is used heavily now, which isn’t conducive to defending as a team.
I’ve enjoyed training over the past couple of months. The manager, Paul Warne, and coach Matt Hamshaw have brought back the ‘old school’ sessions to try to tighten us up defensively. It’s something I haven’t done over the last few years. I’m all for attacking football and how entertaining football is to watch now, but I think I will always carry that ‘old school’ mentality. I love seeing a match-saving tackle or the back four springing an offside trap. The battles between an Alan-Shearer-type player and an Adams are brilliant to watch.
I embrace the modern way, but you can tell from the boots I wear (retro black Copas) that my core thinking is ‘old school’! We are a dying breed in today’s game but every team still needs at least one!