Remembering the Sweeper position

In the 1960s & '70s, football was quite a defensive game. The position of sweeper meant you had a defender first but could be involved in attacks. Former German star Franz Beckenbauer was defender who could run with the ball.


Back in the day, there were not many flair players. Football teams used to set up not to lose games instead of trying to win. Defence was what it was all about. Some coaches who wanted to be different decided to take a chance. 

They kept the idea of defending first but realised that they could have an advantage in attack too. This is where the 'sweeper' came into play. The player would defend when needed, then join the attack as the team moved forward. 



Der Kaiser


Sometimes they would even bring the ball out themselves. This was an era where forwards did not really close down the way they do, like team's playing the 'Geggenpress'.

A defender moving with the ball could get quite far up the pitch before an opponent would step to them. Playing a one-two with a teammate or dribbling would create an overload. 

Rio_Ferdinand_moves_out_of_defence_with the ballCLASSY: Rio Ferdinand played in midfield when he was younger. When he moved to centre-back he had the ability to bring the ball out of defence.

Good on the ball


If you watched a top centre-back recently, most are now quite good on the ball. Former Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand was seen as a player who was above average in possession. As a junior, he was a midfielder, moving into the backline as he got older.  When his team were tightly marked he would get the ball and advance into midfield. Eventually, someone would try and stop him, a simple pass to Giggs, Scholes or Cristiano Ronaldo would see United looking to score. 

Although the name 'sweeper' is not really used today you would have heard the phrase ' sweep up'. This is when a centre-back covers their defensive partner if they are committed or out of position -exactly what the 'sweeper' used to do. 

Gerard_Pique_is_closed_down_by_Benzema_football4footballMODERN VERSION: Barcelona's Gerard Pique is a top centre-half. His style of play though is similar to the sweepers of the past.



One of the best at doing that now is Gerard Pique of Barcelona. He does the defensive work but is cool under pressure with the ball, knows how to pass and even scores the odd goal. 

If you play at the back, yes, defending is important but to play at the highest level technical ball skills are needed too.