When I told my friend about the title of my blog he said to me “So is the future centerbackless?” Seems silly to say but it follows my assertion. I suppose if I had to answer then I would say yes, it is; but in the same way that the future is strikerless which is a statement I should expand upon.
When I say that in the future there won’t be strikers I don’t mean that no one will nominally fill that position. Really what I’m getting at is the idea that there won’t be room for luxury players, and those types of players are usually the most further forward player (or right behind the the strikers). My view of who is a luxury player probably differs from most others’ view. If I asked people to name one a popular name might be Dimitar Berbatov. He fits the classic archetype: languid, brilliant on the ball, seemingly apathetic, slow, not big on tracking back etc. The idea is if you have a player like that in your squad you need to insulate him. Many people look at the opposite type, someone who works supremely hard without the ball, as the antithesis of a luxury player. But do you have to play this hard worker with the lazy talent, or do you have to play the supreme talent with the untalented dynamo? It’s a matter of perception. You can’t create consistent chances through hard work alone, so since you have to insulate your hard workers with skill can’t they be viewed as luxury players?
This brings me back to the future being strikerless. It all inevitably comes back to the idea of universality. I define a luxury player as someone who is so one dimensional that they need someone on the other end of the spectrum to make the team work (and that person often ends up being deficient at other things). It’s the specialist versus universal debate all over again.
To bring the discussion back to Barcelona, their team certainly has some players who are naturally great at some things (Xavi’s vision, Alves’ stamina/pressing, Busquets’ positioning, Messi’s everything) but they are trained to be all great at the same thing: pressing, passing, offering. From Victor Valdes at one end to Leo Messi at the other, every single player is fantastic at these parts of the game. This means that if you have one player who lacks first touch or one who lacks the ability to press they already have you beat in that sense. The other thing that Barcelona beat you at is having numbers in the active playing area. This means that they almost always have an open option for the possessor of the ball to pass to. They do this with constant off the ball movement and by stretching the defense. It also helps that every single player is confident on the ball so anyone can move anywhere to offer a legitimate option.
So when I say the future is strikerless I mean that optimally you can’t have luxury players. And I define a luxury player as someone who is deficient in any area that has to be compensated by another player who is deficient in a converse area. That seems a harsh statement considering every team, including Barcelona a lot of the time, have luxury players. I think the future is about minimizing this which is what Barcelona are the best in the world at currently, and possibly ever. Theoretically if a team is so much more universal than another that no player is wasted in any facet of the game they will win nine times out of ten, and the only way to consistently match them is to get just as good. Sure, you could shut up shop and rely on counters and set pieces, but that won’t work over half the time.
So what does this all have to do with centerbacks? Well, they’re going to have to be good on the ball in this world, too. And strong. And quick. Basically they’ll have to be more than great in the air and strong defensively, those types are too one dimensional. So when I assert that the future is strikerless I mean it is also centerbackless (and wingerless, and fullbackless). I don’t mean the positions will be gone, just the one dimensionality of it.
Of course there will always be room somewhere for a speed demon with less than adequate ball skills, just as there will be room for a plodding but powerful defender or a slight but skilled midfielder. Humans aren’t all magically going to become the same size overnight. But at the highest levels, where you can groom players as pre-teens and spend as much money as the owner wants, you could very well put together a successful and totally universal squad. I mean in the future, at some point