On Lucio

Uli Stielike, Franco Baresi, Fernando Hierro, Marcel Desailly are just a few names that come to mind when I think of the top central defenders of recent times. There was a period in football history when dynamic, skillful, attack-minded yet defensively sound central defenders were in abundance. Today, there remains one – Lucimar Ferreira da Silva or Lucio.

Witness his playmaking abilities in Brazil’s opening match against North Korea, when late in the game he ventured forward to set up an attack from wide left (a hint of the real meaning of Total Football, where any player on the pitch can slot in seamlessly for any other). Though the move was cancelled by an offside call, it reminded me of the aforementioned players who themselves stood out for their strength, defensive qualities, and their ability to venture forward to good effect. Witness again versus Chile circa the 81st and 84th minutes. Lucio had the stamina, the skill, and the intelligence to go forward with strength, technique, and application that neither put his team at risk or forced you to question his motives.

The other common trait among the likes of Lucio is their presence. There’s something majestic about a confident central defender going forward on a long run from the back. I miss that. Football misses that.

Ronald Koeman was good for a few of those runs too but he was never the model defender. Lucio and the guys mentioned in the opening paragraph were sound defenders who could also play football. With the exception of Baresi (which doesn’t diminish his prowess any at all) and I’ve not seen Lucio deployed in midfield by design, they’ve all played the holding role as well.

Lucio could quite possibly have been an even more advanced midfielder, such is his quality.

A man who knows the game as much as anyone I can call on once said that Rio Ferdinand is a great player. I objected then and I object now. It turns out that something was lost in translation – his and my interpretations of the word great differ somewhat.

I got the point he was trying to make, but I maintain that Rio Ferdinand was never a “great” player. That absent-minded goofball couldn’t lace Hierro’s boots much less Baresi’s. I say that to emphasize that we’ve seen the decline of the central defender to the point that a Fabio Cannavaro, a John Terry, a Nemanja Vidic, and even Carles Puyol stand out as so-called great players.

I haven’t seen enough of Carlos Marchena (Valencia and Spain) to have an opinion of him. I also would like to include Ricardo Carvalho in this discussion but he’s been injured too often. I want to say however that he has been an impressive defender when fit, even if nowhere near the caliber of player I’d consider as an outstanding, all-round center-half.

It’s important to recognize Lucio for the type of player he is. Football needs more Lucios. Somewhere between 1998 and now, the versatile central defender with the ability to rise above the rest, to make as well as break up play, to dare to be great has become virtually non-existent.

Fucking shame, really! Instead we have the English equivalent of Bill Romanowski in John Terry, the hoover himself in Rio Ferdinand, and the most over-rated defender since Alessandro Nesta in Nemanja Vidic being called great players. Great my left butt cheek! I wonder what The Informer’s cooking up. Surely there must be some news on the next Arsenal signing, be it a defender or not.

Chat later.

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