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What's the Importance of a Defender in Modern Football?

Gerard Pique (Left) and Sergio Ramos (Right), one of the most prolific Defenders in world football.

Gerard Pique (Left) and Sergio Ramos (Right), one of the most prolific Defenders in world football.

Background of the Role

According to association football rules, defenders are an outfield player whose primary goal is to stop opposition attacks during the match and prevent opposing players from scoring a goal. There are four types of defenders in modern football; center-backs, sweepers, full-backs and wing-backs. In a common setting, most teams opt for two center-backs and two full-backs during the course of a game. However, this can change based on the coach's tactics during the middle of the game.

Thiago Silva, one of the best center-backs in the world.

Thiago Silva, one of the best center-backs in the world.

What Do Defenders Do?

In a nutshell, a defender's job is to do whatever it takes to stop the opposing team from scoring a goal, even if the situation leads to a red card.

Each defender in the team has a role to play. Some consider them to be the great wall of football, and defenders have to play in a line, mostly to create better organization and create offside traps for the opposing players.

In a four-person line-up, the full-backs have a role to move opposing attackers to a wider position as the center-backs get ready to push in to move the ball away from the attacker. Normally, this is the case when an attacker overruns a full-back.

Defender's positions and roles in football.

Defender's positions and roles in football.

Roles in the Defensive Positions

Here are the various defensive positions.


Often considered to be the backbone of the team, this role plays at the center of the field. There are normally two center-backs in the team. In some cases, there are three, depending on the formation used. Both center-backs play on the left and right side, which allows themselves to support the full-backs in defending.


This is another center-back role. Their task is to "sweep" up the ball if the opponent manages to penetrate the defensive line, hence its name. Sweepers often are the second to last player on the field as they are tasked to stay further down than other defender.


Full-backs often play on the sides of the field, both left and right side of the center-backs where they will defend from the side. They are normally the first players to go head-to-head with an opponent attack, which at times, allows opponents to get past them first before meeting with a center-back. Full-backs often make runs up front to support the wingers as well.

In today's football, there's a new role for full-backs, which is known as "inverted full-back". They play like a wing-back, however, they have more support from the wingers and are not the sole players playing on the wing. They are always available for both defense and offence. Inverted full-backs are commonly seen in 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 formations.


This role may sound like the full-back role, however, they have more emphasis on supporting the offence of the game as compared to defense. Wing-backs have the role to defend as well, hence, they are normally the fittest player on the field as they will have to run from offence to defense in a quick succession.

How to Play Defense in Soccer

Liverpool Fc's Virgil Van Dijk (right) tackling Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (Left) during the 2018 Champions League Final.

Liverpool Fc's Virgil Van Dijk (right) tackling Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (Left) during the 2018 Champions League Final.

Key to a Team Winning?

As they say in the football Bible, all 11 players are the key to winning a match, and each of them have roles to play to gain that victory. While the attacker's job is to attempt to score a goal, let's not forget that the opponent has defenders too. In short, defenders can be the crucial decider in teams getting that win.

Both team's defenders will do all it takes to stop each other's attackers from scoring, and it's the reason why some matches end in a draw. A draw isn't negative, it just shows that both teams defended well and went home with a draw. However, defenders are also key to a team having a good goal difference. For instance, if Liverpool FC beats Wolverhampton Wanderers with a score line of 5-0, it means that the defenders keep a clean sheet (meaning no goals were let in) while the whole team gets a +5 to their goal difference, which can be crucial in league football.

In short, the more the defenders play their role, the higher the goal difference can be. This can be crucial, especially if a team finishes with the same amount of points in the league.

If we score, we might win, if they never score, we can't lose.

— Christie Rampone

Three of the best defenders in world football.

Three of the best defenders in world football.

Notable Defenders in World Football

Here are some of the best defenders in the sport.

Phillip Lahm

Lahm spent his whole playing career in Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga eight times and helping the club achieve Champions League glory in the 2012/2013 season. He also lifted the World Cup in 2014. He is considered one of the best full-backs in world football.

Paolo Maldini

Part of the Maldini dynasty in AC Milan, Paolo Maldini spent his whole playing career and is now a director in AC Milan. He's considered one of the best center-backs in world football after helping AC Milan win seven Serie A titles, five UEFA Champions League trophies and helping Italy win the Euro 2000.

Virgil Van Dijk

One of the best center-backs in world football today, the Dutchman is Liverpool FC's key player and captain of the Netherlands national team. With Liverpool FC, he has won one Premier League, one FIFA Club World Cup and one Champions League.

Gerard Pique

Another huge name in the list, Gerard Pique is Barcelona's key player and another great center-back in the football world today. Pique actually won one Premier League trophy with Manchester United in the 2007/2008 season and eight La Liga titles with Barcelona.

Ways to Play Defender in Soccer

A defender in action.

A defender in action.

Would You Want to be a Defender?

While strikers are generally the goal for many up and coming football (soccer) players, being a defender isn't that bad if you're a natural team player. As said above in the article, every player plays a key role in a team's victory, and defenders are one of them.

If you're physically built and have great eye for the ball, you're in line to be a defender. Plus, it's fun being a defender knowing that you've helped your team by not letting in goals throughout the game. The feeling is similar to scoring a goal. As a defender myself, I hope that fellow defenders reading this will find their calling to be a defender. I wish you all the best in pursuing this dream.

© 2022 Nigel Koay Talks Football