Rio Ferdinand sat down with Nick Coppack earlier this season to talk about the finer details of defending, in an interview for FourFourTwo magazine. Here are some extracts.
What makes a good defender great?
Consistency is the key for any player. There are some guys who reach an 8 out of 10 level once every few games. They're good players, but great ones perform at that level and beyond every single week. Those are the players who will help teams win championships. Also, great players shine when it matters – you can always count on them to pull out all the stops when it's most needed. Talking specifically about defenders, the thing I've noticed is that the great defenders seem to get the other players around them playing better. All of the greats have been able to influence the rest of the back four and extract better performances from them. That's a massive quality to have.
What other attributes are essential in order to make it to the top?
I'd say the three most important qualities are the ability to read the game well, confidence and concentration. And those are all things that come with experience. It's hard to teach that on the training ground.
Talking must be key to keeping concentration levels high...
Definitely. That's the tactic I use. I keep talking all through the game. Even if I'm talking rubbish – and often I am! - I just keep going. It helps to keep yourself on your toes and also your fellow defenders. You're barking instructions - “left”, “right”, “step up” - that are designed to help your team-mates but at the same time they help keep you alert. Lapses in concentration are the most common errors among young defenders. And that leads to basic errors. The ball goes wide, they follow the ball, turn their body the wrong way, forget where their man is. Or the ball gets played into a channel and they're not switched on enough to react quickly and the striker steals a march on them. Of all the attributes defenders need, concentration is the most important.
Somewhat strangely, you don't have to be a good tackler to be a good defender, do you?
No, I don't think so. A last-ditch tackle might look good but, in my mind, if you've had to throw yourself to the ground and make that sort of tackle you've had to do that because you've been out of position or you haven't read the game well enough in the seconds leading up to that moment. Last-ditch tackles are often about making up for a mistake.