The image is repeated regardless of the levels, in professionals or in cadets. It has become a hallmark of identity, in the epitome of a successful football idea in Spain. The goal dominates the ball and before it open two defenders to each flank receptive to play it low with the intention of generating superiorities from the bottom and take the rest of the team to more advanced positions. If a task has evolved in football that is the central defender, who changed his genotype from leathery to cerebral, from destroyer to edifier. "The most important pieces for a team to play well football are the central," said Johan Cruyff. And it marked a path. So far in the League four of the six players who pass most (Mandi, Pique, Bartra and Sergio Ramos) play in that position. And among the ten who commit the most faults, there is hardly one (Djené).
It was not always like that. "Those of us who were taller and worse were putting us behind us. And it was necessary to survive ", anticipates Marcelino Elena, defender who fulfilled a solid professional career in the Spanish and English leagues and came to enjoy the vitola of internationality. He did, for example, with that team that under the command of José Antonio Camacho thrashed 9-0 to Austria at the end of the last century and announced, in a way, what was to come in La Roja, Marcelino shared eleven with Guardiola, Valerón, Fran and Raúl. But his day to day then in Mallorca was to go to the air balloons, to work the disputes, take the reference of the most advanced player of the opponent to cancel it and, if he recovered the ball, deliver it without major trivia to a teammate with more technical resources. "The most repeated slogan of the coaches was: play easy," says Patxi Salinas, more than 400 matches in the First, among the ten centers that have played most in the top flight. "Little risk, little mistake", also slides when he delves into the memory of a saint and learned sign in Lezama before crystalline mirrors: "Goikoetxea, Rocky Liceranzu and Guisasola. "
Salinas now weaves a career as a coach in Segunda B. Sant Andreu, Rapido de Bouzas, Burgos and, now, Badajoz have been his last destinations, so he has toured the four cardinal points of Spanish football geography. "And almost all the teams are looking for a central profile that comes out with the ball played, you can not even look at the size as much as before. Quality is sought and discarded at the center fast, strong and hard. It pains me because personally I think it's a joy to see something like this on the field, if it is done well. A Godín or Giménez, for example, "he explains. And there's a debate going on. For decades the defenders responded to a mold. Either they played long or they simply gave the ball to the midfielder to start the attack. Then the mixture arrived. The giraffe Jackie Charlton complemented Bobby Moore. With Beckenbauer Schwarzenbeck lined up, Pirri was with Benito and Alexanko was escorted by Migueli. Baresi always had first Galli and then Costacurta as before Scirea had Collovati or Gentile. In defenses of five, Voro and Ribera were limited to subtract in the Super Depor and deliver the ball to Djukic, as they did Górriz and Gajate with Larrañaga in Real Sociedad. Now the fingers of the hand are counted on the high level teams in which at least one central one inhibits the construction of the attack game.
"The evolution is undoubted because the change in the rule that the goalkeeper use his hands after a transfer caused the central had to start to handle more ball to not pass all the problems to the last man, but in the end we are immersed in a kind of fight to define the football that should be played and I think it is a mistake, "says Paco Jémez, who was the center of the break and rip, of which the striker was strung. Lendoiro signed him for Deportivo after a memorable marking to Bebeto, who defined an abrupt appointment in Vallecas as a nightmare but in the end the Brazilian scored in the only mistake of his marker: "O Paco puxaba all or tempo. I could not play, "said the Brazilian striker as soon as he saw a microphone in front of him. Time has turned Paco, as strategist on the benches, into a champion of the opposite that expressed short. "Mister, it hurts when I hit the ball," he complained once to Toshack, when he trained at Deportivo. "And it hurts me when I see you give it," replied the Welshman. Now Jémez is hurt that one of his players takes the ball off without any other criteria than that dictated by urgency. "Because I know what it costs to get it back and I want it for me. I feel football that way because experience tells me that nobody knows which is the ball with which you win or lose a game, "he explains before claiming that braiding passes is not the main task that a center must assume. That's where Paco comes back who came over Bebeto. "The basic thing is to comply in defense and there I am concerned as more and more failures are seen in the marks because that preparation is neglected in favor of making the ball circulate. The marking has been removed ".
"What happens is that training is done focused on midfielders. I see many work sessions and just focus on the specific work of central. There are some who until the age of 18 hardly touch the ball with their heads ", warns Marcelino, a guy forged in fields that did not invite the ball to circulate in front of the front:" Before in the Spanish league it was easy to differentiate a team from the north of one from the south. Now the grass fields are carpets or, at the base, artificial turf. Everything has been uniformed and the departure of the ball from the center is encouraged from very early ages. Before the muddy lands did not allow to settle that culture ". Marcelino now works in a football player agency, but for seven years he was a commentator on an English television. In the Islands it continues its main field of operation and valuation: "All this tendency has reached the main teams there and their academies. We can also see her in the selection since training Southgate. The classic sober and forceful central is, even there, increasingly disused.
The future can be presented with shortcomings that were unthinkable not so long ago if some facets demanded by the game are disregarded. "Diversity enriches football", warns Paco Jémez, far from the extremism that his critics attribute to him. Perhaps everything is reduced to a question of understanding. A few months ago one of the seventeen defensive titans active, Juventino Giorgio Chiellini, raised his voice in that sense: "Guardiola ruined the Italian defender. He is a fantastic coach, but many try to imitate him without having his knowledge. " In the Spanish team or intuit the immediate presence of a central profile, let alone excellence, Carles Puyol, integrated into the teams that moved the ball better in recent decades built his legend based on aggressiveness in the brand , anticipation, caste, courage, forcefulness and leadership. Based on football.