Great defenders can single-handedly transform a team into an unbreakable unit, a must for teams setting their sights on winning the World Cup.
There’s an old saying in soccer that a perfectly timed last-minute tackle or goal clearance can bring on the same euphoria as a goal in the 90th minute.
With all the grit and almost none of the glory of a goal scorer, great defenders can single-handedly transform your team into an unbreakable unit, a must for any team with its sights on winning the World Cup.
These are the men who have the potential to make that kind of difference for their teams:
DIEGO GODÍN (URUGUAY)
Diego Godín’s story is one of perseverance. At the age of 15, the native of Rosario, Uruguay, left his hometown and joined the Defensor Sporting club in Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo. Signing with a major club results in fast track to a pro contract for many stars today, but Godín would not have the same luck in his young career.
At the age of 17, playing as an attacking midfielder, Godín was let go by Defensor and forced to return to his hometown looking for a new direction. While in frustration he took a brief sabbatical from the game, soon after he was able to secure a spot on Club Atlético Cerro, which was one of the worst clubs in Montevideo at the time. Diego began on Cerro’s fifth team, but eventually caught his break when an injury forced him to try the position of center-back.
His determination to learn the new position, combined with his natural ability and physical characteristics, quickly resulted in his rise to Cerro’s first team. Word traveled quickly, and by 2007 Godín had signed with Villareal CF in La Liga, marking his “made it” moment.
Entering the World Cup, passion and ferocity continue to define the scouting report on the Uruguayan defender. Standing 6-foot-2, Godín is truly a nightmare for any player hoping to make his way into the box. The Uruguay captain has been a talisman for both his country and for Atletico Madrid, winning six major titles with the latter and making his way into a third consecutive World Cup in Russia. His intelligence and leadership shine any time he steps into the field as he organizes his teammates along the backline and demonstrates amazing composure during high-pressure situations.
Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior's childhood is one of humble beginnings. Brazil’s shutdown defender grew up learning to play on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Marcelo’s obsession with the game began at the age of four when he was gifted his first soccer ball, and by age 8 he was routinely playing pickup games with other youngsters in his neighborhood.
Originally, Marcelo’s mother was irritated with her son’s fervor for the game and began deflating Marcelo’s soccer balls. However, his grandfather, Pedro, was always there to provide a new one – one of the many reasons Marcelo has reported such a strong bond with his late grandfather.
At age 10, Marcelo moved in with his grandparents, and Pedro made a sacrifice of utmost importance to Marcelo’s career. Marcelo’s beloved grandfather quit his job as a driver and sold his car so that Marcelo could afford bus tickets to training.
Marcelo’s first club was Helénico, a local outfit started by his uncle, but he soon transitioned to Fluminense. By 15 he was promoted to Fluminense’s first team, and, after earning a starting job, attracted the attention of Real Madrid, earning a transfer to the one of the premier clubs on the globe.
Marcelo is possibly the most versatile defender on this list, being one of the few players who can defend as well as run forward with the ball. He seemingly improves every season and has become an irreplaceable part of the Real Madrid and Brazil squad. His defensive awareness, dribbling and link-up play make him unbearable on both sides of the field and his massive trophy cabinet is testament to his immense talent.
SAMUEL UMTITI (FRANCE)
Born in Yaounde, Camerron, Umitti and his family emigrated to Menival, France, when the now 22-year-old was 2. From the age of 5, Umitti showed dexterity with a soccer ball and was identified by past and former presidents of his local club, Menival FC, as a born leader.
By age 9, Umitti left his neighborhood to train with Olympique Lyonnais. Menival officials often drove Samuel to training at “Lyon” when his parents were unable, a gesture that proved instrumental in the youth player’s development.
After a decorated youth career at Lyon, and two years with the parent club, Umitti signed with Barcelona, his current club, in 2016.
The young French international has made a massive jump to superstardom after a relatively quiet first season with FC Barcelona. Umtiti’s second season with the Spanish giants has been nothing short of extraordinary, leading the club to 36-game unbeaten streak.
The center back is gifted in his athleticism, having surprising pace for a defender. His strong presence at the back have earned him comparisons with Barcelona legend Carles Puyol and looks destined to be captain one day. He is a constant aerial threat and possesses the strength to knock nearly any forward off the ball.