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How To Be The Best Center Back in Soccer? 9 Essentials

How To Be The Best Center Back in Soccer? 9 Essentials

The goalkeeper at the post with the center backs and center midfielder in the front usually forms the core of a soccer team defense.

Center backs with little to no regard for their safety usually make use of brilliant game reading and impressive techniques and physique to place themselves in the perfect position to clear dangerous balls.

For defenders, it is important that they know how to defend. Not just defenders, but every soccer player on the soccer field should know how to defend correctly. The game of soccer is not just about attacking the opposing team and scoring goals.

Some of the best soccer teams in soccer history are characterized for having solid defenses. Likewise, some of the best soccer managers out there, such as Jose Mourinho, have based their game tactics on pure defense.

José Mourinho • Tactics, Inter 3 Barcelona 1 • Masterclass

They wait for a moment when their opponents make mistakes, then get ahead in the game, then defend the lead with everything the team has got. Some pundits might argue that this is not a beautiful way to win soccer games, but this most times gets the job done.

This is also why most defensive coaches go with the philosophy that having a great attack can win them games, but being able to defend properly can win them the championship.

This is quite true for most, as most World Cup or Champions League-winning teams usually boast of great defenses, and some of these teams do not have great attacks.

In soccer history, center backs were there to clear the ball and help the goalkeeper keep a clean sheet. But in modern soccer, it has become necessary that center backs be great on the ball.

How to Play Center Back | AllTactics

Center backs now have to contribute to their team’s buildup play by ensuring that the team keeps the ball in possession and passes the ball around the back.

This has made center backs be on full focus throughout the game to ensure that they are prepared for what comes. And since it is one of the most vital positions to play in soccer, it usually is intimidating to most.

But the upside of being a defender is when you have led your team to victory with a clean sheet.

In the course of this article, you will be shown how you can be the best center-back in soccer and how you can improve on your defending game.

The center back in yellow is following the opponent's player

Is center back an important position in soccer?

In the game of soccer, a center-back is as important as the goalkeeper or the striker. A center ⅚back, also called a center defender, is a soccer player that usually plays the main defensive role in a soccer team.

The position of the center back is close to his own goal, in the pitch’s center. In most soccer teams, there are usually two center backs that must play together.

The role of the center-back or a center defender is to stop the opposing team from scoring goals or creating opportunities that would enable scoring goals.

In soccer, center backs or center defenders are usually placed against the opposition striker. They are usually made to mark a single stoker specifically.

The role of center backs is to stop dangerous balls effectively or crosses, tackle the opposition player having the ball, mark the opposition players, intercept passes before it gets to a dangerous area that could lead to a goal or goal-scoring opportunity.

The player in yellow is making a tackle

Center backs also have the role of commanding and organizing other defenders in the team and the whole team’s defensive position. An example would be when center backs are seen to organize midfielders at their front to form a defensive shape.

In soccer history, there have been a various number of great center backs that are too many to name, here are some of them; 

Virgil Van Dijk: Unlike Sergio Ramos, Virgil Van Dijk has not had a famous career, but he stands as one of the best center backs in soccer. Moving to Liverpool in 2018 transformed the team, arguably more than the three attackers.

Virgil Van Dijk, or VVD as he’s often called, is calm on the ball, great in the air, and strong. He is a good example of modern center backs.

Virgil Van Dijk 2019 ▬ The Champion ● Tackles, Defensive Skills & Goals | HD

Rio Ferdinand: During his soccer career, Rio Ferdinand was among the first English defenders that defined the center-back trend.

As against the aggressive hard man center back that was popular during his time, Rio Ferdinand brought into soccer an amazing pace, great technical ability with the ball, and composure that did not look out of place in matches.

Rio Ferdinand’s skillful play as a center-back earned him a place as one of the greatest center backs, a great leader, and an example to other aspiring center backs.

Rio Ferdinand▼Best Defender of his Generation▲2003 - 2014 Manchester United [HD]

Sergio Ramos: As the captain of the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos is an influential figure when he plays for any team. Sergio Ramos is technically gifted, tricky, physical, and strong.

Sergio Ramos is an all-around center-back. Sergio Ramos has won 5 La Liga titles, 4 Champions Leagues, the European Championship, and also the World Cup. As a center-back, he has broken various soccer records and ranks as Spain’s tenth-highest goalscorer of all time.

THANK YOU, SERGIO RAMOS | Real Madrid Legend

Over the years, the location of the center back in soccer has changed as it evolved. From the 1960s to the 1990s, center backs were strong, rugged, and tall players who used their physical might and prowess to overcome the opposition team’s strikers.

They were often referred to as ‘hard men’ in their trams as they lived to rough up the opposite players.

However, as soccer became less of a physical game and became a game of speed in the 90s onwards, center backs had to adapt to the change. As a result, center backs became less aggressive and more technical as they had to match the attackers in the opposition for agility and pace.

Also, as the pitches in soccer improved and the passing game increased, center backs now had to be more technical than before. They now had to possess the short passing ability of their midfield counterparts so they could retain the ball possession for their team.

Initially, it was a norm for center backs to be the captain of their teams, but the development of soccer in recent times made it less likely for center backs to be the leader or the captain.

Though center backs are still needed to organize the whole team and the defense, the captain’s responsibility has been moved up the pitch to the attacking player and the central midfielders.

Fabio Cannavaro, Il Muro [Skills & Goals]

How to be the best center back in soccer?

Center backs at the pro level are meant to be strong, fast, and tall. In addition, the best center backs out there are great readers of the game, great passers, and smart with the ball.

Center defenders are able to position themselves to be at the right spot at the right time to get the ball. Though it is not necessary to be tall to play at the center back, it could be helpful, especially in aerial battles.

Below you will be shown how some attributes a center back needs to have to be the best center back in soccer.

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A Center back has to be a Great Leader

You must have wondered why most soccer team captains are center backs. It is because center backs soccer players usually have the best view of the game. From behind, they can see all the games.

To be among the best center backs, you have to talk to your teammates constantly and help them feel oriented on the pitch. Center backs are the backbone of every soccer team; therefore, they have to act accordingly.

Take John Terry, for instance, there might be various reasons why he was disliked, but not one of them was because he was a soccer player and a captain. On the contrary, during his time in Chelsea, he was the rock upon which Chelsea’s most successful era was built.

John Terry, as a center-back, was very vocal as he took command of the team in every match he played.

When you watch a live soccer game, you will get an understanding of the role of a center back in soccer. For example, John Terry might not have been the best player around, but he was one of the soccer players out there who had a great command of the defense.

Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany is another player who has a great command of his team.

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Center backs need composure

To be a great center-back, you have to have good composure since you have the responsibility of being the last player before the goalkeeper.

The center-back is the last man on every team. If the center back loses the ball, it becomes very easy for the opposing team to score a goal. This usually puts the center back in a stressful situation.

A major characteristic of center backs is that they have great composure on the ball. They are not desperate with it, and they know how to deal with the ball calmly.

How to not be nervous in a match | Virgil van Dijk Interview

Various soccer players show a pro-level of composure; they include Mats Hummels, Former Arsenal player Laurent Koscielny, Ex Bayern Munich, and Brazil international Dante.

Taking a look at Dante in his time at Bayern Munich, his composure level can be seen as in his strength, intelligence, and impressive technique. He is always seen to get himself out of every pinch. Furthermore, he has an impressive and remarkable calm personality when under pressure.

Though some argue that playing in a team like Bayern Munich lessens the pressure on the center back. But when defending, Dante is seen to make unnecessary challenges or rash tackles rarely.

the player in red is handling the situation calmly

Center backs need physicality

Center backs in soccer in the old days were the enforcers of the team, especially when dangerous tackles were ignored. To be the best center back, you have to be able to claim the ball on every opportunity that you get with the mentality of “they shall not pass.”

To be able to dominate the center back as a defender, you have to both outmuscle and outthink your opponent. Therefore, a great physique would allow a center-back to use their body as a weapon to outpace or outmuscle the opposition in a one-on-one scenario.

Center backs have to be ready to compete against any player. Take, for example; a center-back has to stop Ronaldo or Messi!

2 female players are in a fierce dispute

If the center back does not read the pass before the ball reaches them, he only has the option of using his muscle to get the ball back, taking note of the strict rules of the modern game. This is indeed a very difficult task.

Italy’s Claudio Gentile is a good example of a tough center-back. He was a legendary no-nonsense defender who helped silence Diego Maradona to win the FIFA World Cup in 1982.

Other candidates in this department will include Sergio Ramos, John Terry, and Vidic. These players are all strong and are ready to take on any player alone.

Nemanja Vidic - Memorable Moments - Manchester United

Center backs need tackling skills

Another method to be the best center back is that you have to be able to tackle. As a center-back, you must know when you should and shouldn’t tackle. For example, you should know when to rush to a player, stand your ground, and when to make a standing or sliding tackle.

These skills are very necessary for every soccer player but are of utmost importance for center backs.

The general rule in soccer is that only center backs and fullbacks should make use of sliding tackles, while it should be avoided by everyone else. But, sliding tackles are usually the last resort for every defender.

As a good center back, it is necessary that you anticipate your opponent’s moves then intercept the ball before the striker gets it. However, defenders sometimes are left with no other option than to take to the ground to tackle a player.

Therefore, it then becomes necessary to accurately time these tackles so that you can avoid fouls.

A tackle from behind

As a center back, you have to be brave to perform a sliding tackle perfectly. You have to understand the risks involved before delving into it. When you do not put your all in it and perform a sub-par sliding tackle, it probably will not work, and you might even risk creating a foul.

As a center back, it is essential that you make use of the perfect slide tackle, which is one of soccer’s most defensive game techniques. Some of the most amazing soccer moments are usually clean and perfect tackles that get the ball away from the attacker. This motivates the team.

Some center backs usually avoid attempting a sliding tackle because when the tackle is mistimed, and doesn’t result in a foul, it is usually hard to get back to your feet. And such a situation will afford the opposition player the chance to run free on goal.

As a center back you have to know how to perform fouls tactically. You need to know where and how to do this and also execute it perfectly. It is usually perfect if tactical fouls are committed at counterattacks where the team is positioned badly on the pitch.

Soft pushes and slight tackles can make the opposing player lose his balance. You might be given a yellow card, but you would have averted a goal-scoring opportunity.

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Center backs need proper positioning

Another method to become the best center back is to know how to position yourself properly and always to be aware. 

As a center-back, it is important that you can properly position yourself because it is your duty to ensure that the opposition does not have the space or time to assist other teammates or take a shot at the goal.

A great center-back can anticipate the play pattern before it develops; therefore, there is little to no need to make a sliding tackle. Great center backs only achieve this because they can read the game. For these center backs using sliding tackles is the last resort.

Center backs do not only need to position themselves to stop their opponents. A good center-back must be able to give passing options to the midfield when every avenue of attack is blocked. It allows the team to restart the attack.

Young players are passing the ball

An example of a good center-back that can position himself is Carlos Puyol. His positioning skill was the key that led Spain and Barcelona to always be in the attack and also exposed their opponents to counterattacks.

As Puyol was always in the right place, Xavi and Iniesta played to their full capacity knowing that their backs were covered.

Another example is Thiago Silva, who might be arguably the most complete center back in soccer history. To be a good center-back, you have to ensure that you can anticipate the play pattern before it develops.

Andrea Barzagli of Juventus is another great center back in recent years with impeccable positional play.

Andrea Barzagli - Underrated - 2015

Center backs need the great aerial ability

Another method to be the best center back is to have a great aerial ability. As a center-back, you must be able to know when and how to play the ball. A common form of attacking teams is crossing the ball into the box.

If the center back has a good aerial ability, he will ensure that the ball does not pose a threat to his team. 

This is very important, especially in a game’s last minutes when the center-back team is drawing or winning and the opposition team is playing with everything they have got to ensure a goal is scored.

On the other end of the pitch, center backs also join their team on set pieces or corner kicks because of their good aerial ability. The heading is essential for a center back as it is used on both ends of the pitch.

the aerial ball situation

A good example of a great center back with good aerial ability is Daniel Passarella. He has been described as a maestro of the aerial game on both sides of the pitch.

He was listed among the top-scoring center backs in the soccer world, with 143 goals for his club and 23 goals for Argentina. A majority of which were scared with a header.

Usually, the opposing striker might be dropping into the space and playing around the box while looking to bring defenders into play.

Daniel Passarella, Captain of Argentina football team in 1978

Center backs need focus

As a center back, you have to stay focused during the entire match to ensure a clean sheet. Though the task is tough, any slight lapse in focus usually leads to mistakes, resulting in the opponents taking advantage of this chance.

The center back had to work and communicate in tandem with the rest of the defense to force the team to remain focused and keep their eyes on the goal. 

When the opposing striker manages to get into a dangerous position, a good center-back must know whether to stay on his feet and wait for support from opponents or make a challenge. Unfortunately, these are usually difficult decisions to make in the heat of the game.

Great center backs would allow their intuition and experience built over the years to guide them to make the right decision. Then, after making a decision, they usually commit to it.

Hesitation on a center back is usually not advised as any hesitation could give the opponents an advantage to kick the ball straight past the keeper. A good way to describe a perfect center back is “suffocating.”

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Center backs have to be dogged

Another method to be the best center-back is to be a player who does not give attackers opportunities or space. Whenever an attacker gets the ball, you have to get close to them and not give them space intensely.

However, you have to be careful and move intelligently according to the gameplay. For example, whenever you are closer to an attacker, you have to be cautious.

It is very common and popular to hear people saying that you have to ‘keep your eyes on the ball’ to be a good defender. It is right to keep your eye on the ball as often as not. Attackers make use of body feints to trick defenders.

There are various skills that can make the center back lose focus from the ball, either with their body or by moving the ball.

It is, therefore, important that every defender does not keep their eye on the ball always. Likewise, it is important that a center-back is able to read the attacker’s body language so he can position and anticipate their movements.

As a center back, you have to be able to impose yourself by ensuring that the opponent’s attackers feel your presence. Ensure that every time the attackers get the ball, it becomes a conclusion that you are going to be right by their side.

Center backs can do this in various ways. One of them is to lunge towards the ball with conviction and power while trying to play a bit physical and rougher. This will allow the opponent to think twice before trying to get past you and make mistakes.

Some soccer players are usually afraid of high physical games and usually underperform when center backs play a bit rough with them.

Top 10 Defenders Football 2021

Center backs play mind games

Mental games usually play a big part in soccer games, and this is one of the places to use them. Sergio Ramos is well known for executing this to near perfection, and this makes him one of the best center backs in the world.

As a center back, you have to be able to trick your opponent into committing a foul when you’re in a compromising portion. But, of course, you have to ensure that you do not play too dirty as you might attract a card.


To be successful as a center-back, you have to be mentally tough and also have no fear for strikers.

You have to consistently battle the opposition to take possession from the opposing striker then pass the ball calmly to the midfielders. It is a very rare but important skill.

Center backs also inspire their teammates by putting their bodies on the line in crucial moments to clear the ball away from danger. They lead by example.

To be the best center back out there, you have to train hard, be prepared for anything, and follow the above mentioned advice. However, you will notice that your skills are improving daily, and you can read the ball much better.