How to become a central defender

How to become a central defender

The key to any good team is a solid defence. Many people have suggested that a good attack wins games but a good defence wins titles and the heart of a defence is a central defender. You may be part of a back 4 or a back 5, this all depends on your team’s formation. Within this blog we will focus upon Virgil Van Dijk. In the current season he may not be in his best form but this doesn’t discredit the fact he has been one of the best defenders in the world in recent years. The Dutch centre back has all the qualities you want to possess to become a quality centre back. Which include:

  • Tactical Awareness
  • Passing Ability
  • Tacking ability
  • Communication

Tactical Awareness

“If I have to make a tackle then i have already made a mistake”. This was quoted by the incredible Paulo Maldini who was one of the best centre backs ever to play the game. This quote is a fascinating way of looking into the importance of tactical awareness. Maldini’s statement highlights that if has made a tackle then he has already misinterpreted the situation which in result has lead to him making a tackle to stop an attacker. Most defenders will want the the ‘goal saving tackle’ because this will get all the plaudits and praise. However, you should try to avoid leaving your self in these situations. Obviously as a defender you are expected to make tackles in certain situations, although being able to read the game and intercept potential attacks can make you a very effective defender.

Passing Ability

Passing ability is key in football especially as a defender. A player like Virgil Van Dijk has brilliant long range passing which has been instrumental for Liverpool’s success in previous years. This is not just a hit and hope, this is about vision and technique to accurately hit a direct pass into the attackers feet. As a central defender you will get much more time to pick out the right pass as most teams will find it hard to press the whole team. The video below shows how Van Dijk has mastered the central defender role, his passing attributes are showed numerous time including on minute 2:26. This epitomises the cross field ball to instantly implement an attacking threat.

Tackling Ability

As previously stated tackling is a very important part of being a defender. Virgil Van Dijk shows his skills in this area a lot for Liverpool. This is because they play a very high line, so often the opposing team will lift a ball over the top however, with Van Dijk’s pace he is almost always there to stop the attacker getting closer to goal. Van Dijk very rarely goes to ground, he specialises in standing tackles to intercept the ball. A centre back will have to time the tackles very well, ,this will come with experience and once you have mastered the skill it will make your time as a defender much easier. You will face different type of attackers such as a powerful striker which might mean you have to better in the air. Other strikers might be tricky and agile were you will have to be patient to make sure you tackle in the right moment.


There is no coincidence that a lot of central defenders turn out to be very good leaders and potentially captains of their squad. This is because they have to communicate effectively to make sure they are giving the best protection for there team. Communication is vital when playing in defence and cannot be underestimated. Being able to provide instructions or follow instructions with your fellow teammates can create a solidarity and organisation which can benefit the whole team. As a defender you will be expected to command your own box, get people in the right positions especially on a set piece.