What does it mean to play as a soccer central defender for a football team and what is your main role as a central defender?

soccer score

soccer score

Let’s keep a clean sheet!

Playing in this position your main role is to defend your goal and stop the opposition from scoring a goal.

Is that it ?  It sounds so easy  anyone should be able to do it and earn the big money.  Well these are the basics but there is much more to it than that, it is most certainly not simple and you need to have a thick skin because a lot of criticism can come your way if your team is conceding and letting in too many goals .

When the referee blows the final whistle and a nil (zero) is what your opponents have scored,  this means you have done your job correctly and stopped your opponents from scoring. Your team would have either won the game or at least got a point from a nil – nil (0-0)draw.

The basics of this position in some ways have never really changed in football over the years but in other ways it has changed quite a lot and modern players need to change with the times to make a success of playing in this position.

A central defender needs to be in control of the game as they can see the whole of the field of play in front of them.

Your position on the field is to play in a central area, between to two full backs who play either side of you, with your goalkeeper directly behind you.  All your midfielders and strikers are ahead of you.


central defender

central defender

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Can you pass the ball out from the back?

A important quality of playing in this position in today’s game is to be comfortable on the ball and be able to pass the ball out from the back.

Players who kick the ball long, up the pitch away from your goal area, seems to be moving out of the game and it is not used as often these days. Yes there is still a place for playing the long ball game as not all players are technically gifted enough to play out from the back. Especially players who do not play at the highest level.

A prime example of the perfect modern player is Virgil Van dyke who plays for Liverpool FC – regarded by many as the best player in Europe at the moment and a contender for the English premier league player of the season 2019. If you want to look at what I mean by calm in possession and playing out from the back then take a look at how he does it in this video below.



10 qualities needed to play in central defence

1: quality first touch –  this goes without saying as you are in a prominent position on the field of play your first touch should be the most important skill you learn as the ball needs to be instantly under your control.

2: able to read the game – by this I mean you need to be able to get yourself in the correct position even before the ball is played towards you. The  need to anticipate the play and when the ball is going is a vital skill to have in your game.

3: good at heading the ball – many times the ball is played towards you by your opponents in the air. You need to get up off the ground and head the ball to safety away from your goal.

4: work together with other defenders and goalkeeper – if all your defending players are as one you have more chance of keeping a clean sheet.

5: cover other positions – this is part of reading the game,  if your full back moves forward you should move across ready to cover that position if the ball is played into that area. This goes for any position across the backline, anticipate where the cover might be need and be ready to act.

6: need to be efficient in both attacking and defending areas – you will probably be one of the tallest players in the team if you are a central defender so when your team has a corner or a dead ball situation you will be needed as an extra attacking threat, to be someone who can cause problems for the opposition defenders. As well as helping your team out when they are defending corners and dead balls( free kicks)

7: strong – make sure you do the gym work. The opponents will be trying to knock you off the ball whenever they get the chance so you need to stay strong and be competitive when fighting to win the ball for your team

8: fast and fit –  working on you fitness daily is a major asset to have. The modern game is very fast so you need to be ultra fit if you want to play and compete. It helps if you can run fast too as most players as extremely quick these days and will test you at every opportunity.

9: talker and organizer –  as you have a full view of the pitch from your playing position you should be a good communicator with your team-mates. This will help you organise them into the best defending positions that will help your team.

10: willing to take a few knocks and give a few out – strikers are strong and clever they will dish out some rough treatment during a game. You need to be a where of this and be ready to take it without making a fuss, then give some back within the laws of the game.

Master these skills and you are well on your way to be playing in a vital soccer position within the team.

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The dark arts of central defending

soccer players pushing

soccer players pushing








Many central defenders need to be clever and use a way of upsetting attacking players without being caught by the referee or officials.

What do I mean by dark arts? Things like a little push or pull of the opposition player. Grabbing hold of their shirt, pinching the arm or leg of your opposing player. Sneakily talking into your opponent ear throughout the game, trying to put them off there game.

Remember the striker will be backing into you and doing everything in their power to get a free kick off you so you need to wise up and get ahead of them in this regard.

Do I advocate this? Absolutely not. Does it go on? Yes all the time.

These days with camera angles showing things from every angle at the top level of the game, it has become a lot harder to get away with it but don’t kid yourself if you think it does not go on.


Weird fact: in one season Steve Bruce once scored 19 goals for Manchester United  from the central defensive position. That is an amazing statistic. Most strikers would love nineteen goals a season. I was desperate during my paying days to just score one 🙂

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Don’t panic the Opposition team are attacking!

fast paced football

fast paced football

If you love to be involved in the game for the full ninety minutes of playing time then this is a position that should be perfect for you. Always remember to stay calm and communicate with your other defenders, listen to your goalkeeper and be the leader from the back within your team.

I for one am always in awe of the way in which the modern players seems be so  calm when the ball is passed around  at the back and when the forward players are rushing towards them at pace they never seem to panic and kick the ball away hastily unless they absolutely have to.

Who doesn’t like to see the central defender step forwards into midfield and then into attack with the ball at their feet when running at full pace and proving nearly impossible for the opposition players to knock them off their stride?


Thank you for hitting the like and follow buttons and for kindly leaving me your comments of this topic


life goals

life goals

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Lok Which · 17/03/2019 at 11:38 am

Every player is always searching for a means to improve himself. This article is a must read for every soccer player not only the defender but actually I will be having a soccer match next week although I have been on the bench for a while and since I have been chosen as part of the first theme I have been doing a lot of training to improve myself and this article will help me more .

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:21 pm

    hi Lok Which

    Thank you for the kind message about my article. I am glad I could help in some way to improve your game. I would check out this online soccer training program if you want to take your game to another level. It can be a game changer for a lot of players.

    Take care and good luck with all your soccer training

Adamu2 · 17/03/2019 at 11:17 am

Thanks for writing out this lovely article and I must say its a must for every defender to read and digest.this article highlighted the 10 qualities to make it unique in modern game. A good defender must be bold and string enough to attack his opponents ,following this 10 qualities step by step can help you become successful in soccer world. 

Thank you for the insight, the article is very resourceful. Best regards 

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:26 pm

    Hey Adamu thank you for taking time out to leave me your comment on my article about playing in central defence. I am glad you found it useful and I hope it can help with improving your game. Very true what you say a defender need to be strong in more ways than one if they want to make it and play in that position.

    good luck to you and keep checking out the website for more soccer articles, just like this one:)

Seun Afotanju · 17/03/2019 at 11:07 am

This is really an interesting post, I totally agree with everything said here on your post on being a good central defender, it is often said that the best form of attack is defence as it is a great pleasure for a team to concede less goals but score more and this ten qualities listed on your post is just what an upcoming center defender needs to be great in his career.

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:30 pm

    hi sean

    Nice work from you to leave me this kind comment. I really do appreciate it. I am pleased you found the list of the 10 top qualities needed helpful to be able to make it as a top defender. If you want to improve your game even more then try this online soccer training program, it will improve your game totally.

    best wishes to you my friend

Olalekan Taliat · 17/03/2019 at 11:06 am

The style and ability of a central defender deep on the coach. A coach that lives the ball possession football will definitely need a central defender who can use his both feet and with a calm spirit and a self believe. The modern football era as made sure trophy winning and entertainment and given consideration . This of course does not does not put behind the importance of money making and social relevance.

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:52 pm

    hi Olalekan  thank you for the comment.. yes these days a top central defender need to be able to use both feet and be calm on the ball. coaches and managers seen to love to play out from the back so yes you do need to be calm in possession of the ball. if you want to learn more soccer skills the check out this fantastic online soccer training program

    good luck to you my friend

Tarun · 17/03/2019 at 11:06 am

hi mathew,

as a defender myself I think this is a really good article especially since everyone tends to focus on strikers and forget you cant win games without a defence.

kicking or heading a ball is a basic requirement for any football player but reading a game and position is vital for any defender. Like the great maldini once said, “if i have to tackle, ive already lost”

you missed out man marking – that is very important in set pieces and knowing how to is the difference between them scoring or not!

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:42 pm

    Hi Tarum

    Finally someone who noticed I had left out man marking – watch this space soon for an article just about that 🙂

     So true this is vital for an central defender in soccer to be able to mark your man and be aware of what they are trying to do when inside your area at set pieces.

    I hope this article help in some way with improving your game.

    Top man for noticing the marking , you must love your football too.

    best wishes my friend. Take it  easy.

Louis · 17/03/2019 at 11:05 am

The art of central defending is best learnt from serial champions like Puyol, Maldini, Nesta, Terry, Ramos, the list really is endless. Van dijk is the standard of a modern day central defender. Calm on the ball, good passer from the back, commanding in the air, providing goals and giving leadership.

The emphasis on good defending should not be down played. That’s why more defenders are begin to command more value in the transfer market. It is a well known fact that, “strikers win you games and defenders win you championships”


    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:35 pm

    hi Louis

    So true what you say defenders win your championships. they need to be calm and in control of the game at all times. exactly if you want to improve your game then take a look at all the greats and they will show you how to play in this position on the soccer field. Great names on your list by the way. Maldini what a player 🙂

    take care and good luck to you.

Tolu · 17/03/2019 at 11:05 am

Nice one. I’m a football enthusiast, and I follow some leagues, mostly those in Europe. Football is a big business in this modern age, and good clubs invest heavily on their players, mostly strikers and central defenders. LIke you mentioned in the 10 qualities, a central defender must be strong, fast, intelligent and I think should think ahead of the opposing players. Physical qualities, I admire include height, fitness, and a no-nonsense personality when dealing with strikers especially. 

    Matthew Hofman · 17/03/2019 at 8:46 pm

    Hi tolu

    Another football enthusiast it’s good to meet you. thank you for leaving me this positive comment. You are right football is huge business and if you want to earn the top money wen playing then you need your game to improve in every way especially as a central defender. Yes be physical and  it is definitely good to have a no nonsense approach when dealing with strikers. If they get on top of you then the game is going to be hard for you.

    best of luck my friend and take care.

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