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.
Prevention is better than cure, then?
Exactly. When I was a kid I had a coach kid who would tell me that if my shorts weren't dirty at the end of the game then I'd not played well. In my mind, it's the opposite. Ideally, I want to come off the pitch with spotless shorts. I think sometimes you can judge how good a defender is by the colour of his shorts at the end of a game. Intercepting the ball is far more effective than tackling. It's not as flashy, though, so often it goes unnoticed. A lot of people are misguided in their views on Michael Carrick, for instance. He hardly ever launches into a slide tackle or gets involved in a physical battle in midfield. And that lands him some stick. But his stats for interceptions are off the chart.
Can you teach that, or is it all about instinct?
It's mainly instinct and experience. Some players just seem to have this knack of where to position themselves and the ball seems to be drawn to them like a magnet. In some ways you can learn about positioning, but a lot of it comes down to instinct and your reading of the game. And that's something that's hard to teach. It comes with experience. The best defenders can smell danger before it arrives. They position themselves in places that make it difficult for midfielders to play balls through gaps or they can step in front of a forward before a pass is even played so they can nick the ball off his toes.
It's not enough anymore to just be passionate and physical, is it?
I don't think so, no. That's not the way I defend and it's not the way the defenders I've admired down the years have played. I like to watch intelligent defenders, guys who can play a