Centre Backs

Following last week’s main report on goalkeepers, this week we look at another positions on the football pitch: the centre back. You can listen to the report by clicking on the link below, while vocabulary support (in bold) appears at the foot of the report.

Subscribe: Main Listening Report

What do they do?

A centre back’s main job is to stop the opposition’s attacking play and to prevent them having a shot on goal. Otherwise known as centre halves, central defenders, or stoppers, as the name implies, they are positioned at the centre of defence in front of the goalkeeper. Most often they play as a pair, one slightly to the left and one to the right, in a four man defence, but managers sometimes play with three centre backs. They may be assigned to mark an opposition player (man marking) or look after an area of the pitch (zonal defence). A centre back is usually one of the tallest players on the pitch and are good in the air. They are also good tacklers, not afraid of contact, and should be calm under pressure. On top of their defensive duties, a good central defender will be able to distribute the ball well, usually to the midfield or to the side backs. And finally, they are also key attackers when their team has a corner or another set play, moving up to the opposition box as an aerial threat.

The Best Ever?

As has been mentioned, centre backs often rely on being in a strong partnership to be effective, so choosing individual centre backs as the best is more difficult. Also, the nature of the game has changed a lot, with centre backs needing to be better ball players, and being less physical than in the past. However, here are five that we think would make it into any top 10 best centre backs from the history of world football.

Bobby Moore

An English defender who captained his country to World Cup success in 1966, Booby Moore was considered to be a cultured centre back, who timed his tackling perfectly. His display of tackling in the 1970 World Cup game against Brazil contains some fantastic examples of this.

José Santamaría

A classic centre back, born in Uruguay, but playing for Uruguay and Spain, Santamaría was an uncompromising defender. He played in the great Real Madrid team alongside the likes of Stefano and Puskas in the 1950s and 60s

Franz Beckenbauer

Of Bayern Munich and the captain of the German national side in the 1970s, Beckanbauer, or ‘Der Keiser’ was a centre back that dominated the opposition. He was so comfortable on the ball, he was most effectively played as a sweeper, a centre back given more freedom to play just behind the midfield and snuff out danger and then quickly start a counter attack.

Fabio Cannavaro

Arguably the best centre back of the last 10 years, Cannavaro played for several teams, but most notably Napoli, Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid. Cannavaro is an atypical centre back as he is only 1.76 meters tall, small for this position, but his positional sense and speed into the tackle meant that he was known by Italian fans as ‘The Berlin Wall’, stopping all attackers.

Ronald Koeman

Koeman, from Holland, makes our list, as he was not only a great defender, but struck terror into the opposition any time there was a free kick anywhere near their goal because of his fearsome shooting. He scored 193 league goals from 503 games, the highest for any defender, and his free kicks and shoots from range were struck with venom and accuracy.

Vocabulary support

to mark: to stay close to another player to prevent them from receiving the ball; to be close enough to tackle a specific player

good in the air: strong headers of the ball; good at heading

distribute the ball: pass the ball effectively

an aerial threat: someone who is good in the air; a player who can head the ball well

physical: aggressive; making contact a lot; strong in the tackle

uncompromising: fearless; aggressive; hard in the tackle

comfortable on the ball: Skillful and calm; showing good control of the ball

snuff outnegate; stop a dangerous situation developing; a candle is ‘snuffed out’ when it is extinguished

atypical: not typical; unusual

struck with venom: hit hard; powerfully hit


Hosted by

I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football!
Google | Facebook | Twitter | Mail | Website

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

CEpisode 153