Defenders Wanted

Pio Garcia - The Philippine Star

As the Azkals prepare for the Maldives joust, I still see something irreparably wrong and very difficult to shore up as match day approaches. As a football fan, it’s something I really cringe at everytime I stare down at the pitch, whether it’s from my stadium seat or my boob tube.

I don’t claim to be the resident football expert, I’m sure there are others with more credentials and experience in football like Rick Olivares, first and foremost, but really, unless we find suitable players for the gaping hole at the back. The only thing stopping teams from scoring against us are the goalies. Who protects them, that is the question.

We are bereft of pure defenders, Filipino football fans.

I am not dissing the efforts of Rob Gier, Carli De Murga nor of Juani Guirado. But those guys, no matter how good they are at patching up the holes opened in our back line are not natural defenders. Maybe it’s just that Studio 23 isn’t knowledgeable of the beautiful game that they listed those mentioned above as midfielders. Or wingers. Or fullbacks. Dear me, converted defenders won’t hold up against world powers.

We need pure center backs.

Pure left backs.

Pure right backs.

Even a central mid defender.

We have one of the best attacking frontlines and midfielders. We’re definitely more than holding our own out ther up front bannered by Chelsea Youth Squad graduates, Phil and James Younghusband. They’re no longer alone up top and now have a bull-strong Angel Guirado and a very technical Javier Patino. Down the mid and the flanks, you have Simon Greatwhich and Stephan Schrock, the new engine of the Azkals offense.

But when those guys get dispossessed and the ball sails past them, boy am I cringing mightily. No matter how fast Juani, Carli or Rob recover, there are times when I just pray to God that either the shot goes wild or Ed Sacapano, Roland Muller or Neil Ethridge, whoever’s manning the nets, gets a good hold of the ball and punch it out back to our midfield and attack line. Especially when the situation is a snatch and grab for the opponents, it sure is damn scary I tell you.

Or you can just blame me for watching to much of the ongoing Champions League, Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga. Why is that? Well, I get to be spoiled with pure defenders and not midfielders-converted-defenders.

You can just marvel at how them top-notch defenders pretty much control that backline, trapping, recovering and patching up holes to make life easier for their goalie. Well, it’s a stretch considering that there are bad backlines here and there, but hey, those with awful backlines? They’re still better than having a bunch of midfielders play wall for the incoming strike.

We need those. We need someone who’s willing to play defense and forget about running past that mid line and score goals. There are defenders who can switch to attack mode yes, but that takes years to perfect. You think the likes of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, Barcelona’s Left and Right Backs respectively, perfected the art of being able to switch from defensive line to surprise flank rusher overnight? Of course not. Same with Real Madrid’s Marcelo who plays left back for Brazil but can rush down that flank to help out Oscar, Neymar and Hulk.

And there’s the question of a central safety for the midfield. You can argue as much as you like that Sergio Busquets is an actor at best, but the guy is the best at his position in the world right now. Or even an Alexandre Song. Those guys are great at stopping a mounting counter attack.

Regarding pure center backs, well, not being biased with Barcelona or anything, but when they are in full strength, Gerard Pique and longtime captain Carles Puyol are monsters at stopping the leather. You can even lock in old timers like John Terry of Chelsea, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs of Manchester United, and Real Madrid stoppers like Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao and Pepe.

The world powers boast of that kind of defending. Ever wonder why the scores are almost kept to a minimum? That’s why.

They have players who don’t go over that midline. They are dedicated to protecting their half of the field. They don’t want to make their goalie look bad unless he’s Victor Valdes, who no matter how strong the backline is, keeps on failing them.

They don’t look to score goals.

And lastly, they aren’t converted midfielders.

Follow @PioStark for more sports insights. Just don’t ask him about MMA just yet.

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