Sometimes an end of an era can feel a little cliché but the amount of world class defenders either leaving their clubs or retiring this summer makes it feel like a chapter of football is coming to a close. There are four that I’d like to have a look at today, both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand leaving Manchester United, Carles Puyol leaving Barcelona and the retirement of Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti.
Starting with the two who finished last weekend, Vidic and Ferdinand were the top defensive pairing in England for several years and arguably the best in Europe at their peak. On one side you had the stern, hard-tackling no-nonsense style of the Serbian blending perfectly with the pace, passing and composure of the Englishman, it was a match made in footballing heaven.
Ever since Vidic was inserted into the side they worked in tadem, both strong personalities and both would go on to captain the club at different stages. However, in the past year or so, they haven’t been able to start together and injuries have begun to pile up. Rio lost the pace he once had, Vidic has found it difficult to adjust playing next to anyone else and his time off for injuries has been builing.
Both will be seeking pastures new this summer, Nemanja will be taking his talents to Italy with Inter Milan where the pace of the game may help his longevity and allow himself to remind people just how good he is. For Rio, it’s a little more unclear with the US being a possible destination or retirement but both have had outstanding careers and both will go down as club legends.
Another player leaving his club this summer is Barcelona club captain and hero Carles Puyol. Having played for them since he was in the youth ranks in 1995, Puyol wears the Catalan club on his sleeve and is the heartbeat of the team even whilst on the sidelines. His passion, his strength and his excellent defending skills enthralled a generation, no one could be more pleased that a man like Puyol managed to win so much.
It’s such a shame that a great defender like Puyol has been ravaged by injury so badly in recent years but that should never take away from his brilliance as a footballer. He’ll likely be looking towards the MLS to play for a few years before retirement but even though he’s leaving, there will always be red and blue blood running through his veins.
Finally, we say farewell to one of the best and most consistent full backs of all time, Javier Zanetti. From the never-changing hairstyle to the incredible fitness to his consistent consistency, Zanetti has been the perfect role model for young players on how to maintain yourself at the top level for two decades.
Over 1,100 games in his career, he still played 48 games last season at the age of 39 and many were worried we had been robbed of a goodbye due to an injury he suffered late last year. Luckily he recovered to play another 12 games for Inter Milan, the club he will now become a director at but probably still turn up in his shorts rather than a suit.
It’s always a sad moment to see such great players move on to new things but it makes you appreciate the time you get watching them play. These four are fantastic footballers, one with another chance yet to prove how good he is but for all of them it’s a credit that they played so heroically for their respected clubs for such a long period of time. They won’t ever be forgotten.