The Runner Sports

Is Diego Godin The Best Central Defender In La Liga?

With Atletico Madrid taking first place in La Liga after their 1-0 victory over Levante on Saturday, it seems fitting that The Runner Sports examines a player who is often overlooked by the masses when it comes to the position of central defender. That player is Diego Godin.

The Uruguayan embodies Atletico Madrid and his coach Diego Simeone. He’s strong on the tackle, effective in the air, oozes aggression, and has the defensive IQ to keep his team out of trouble in their own zone. He commands the back line with confidence that just isn’t matched by any of his positional peers and that is why he’s been a mainstay for Atleti since the Argentine became manager in 2011.

Those qualities are typical of a Simeone side. A coach who emphasizes tactical discipline and smart defending over endless possession play. Although they’ve had a slight stylistic revolution, opting to play in a 4-3-3 in many matches this season, the general defensive philosophy that won them 2013/14 La Liga title is still intact.

At the Vicente Calderon, it isn’t consistent goals from their go-to strikers that is leading the charge, but it’s their solid back line that should account for their current place in the Primera. Godin anchors a defensive corps that includes Juanfran, Jose Maria Gimenez and Filipe Luis. Their brick wall like presence is arguably the meanest in Europe and the fact that Los Rojiblancos have kept 16 clean sheets in 26 games this season, is proof of that.

If you watch the Spanish top-flight, there’s a good chance you think of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos when thinking of great Liga defenders fit for your best starting XI. However, they should be an afterthought considering numbers per Squawka.com tell a different story this season and last season: 

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Squawka.com measures its ‘Total Score’ on attack, defense, and possession. In the current season, the Uruguayan captain is ranked ahead of both Spaniards. Yes, it should be noted that he has played more games than them, but even last season his ‘Defense Score’ ratings were higher than both Liga peers.

Defensive prowess aside, the former Villarreal center-back is known to contribute to the score sheet. It was his header that cemented their 13/14 Liga title over Barcelona to win the league in the last game of the season. He netted eight goals across all competitions that season, and five last season. Although he only has one goal so far in the Primera, he already has a total of four goals and two assists in all competitions, he scored three goals for Uruguay in World Cup qualifying matches in 2015.

So why is it that Godin doesn’t get the credit he deserves? The answer comes down to the club he plays for. Ramos and Pique are defenders that play not just for club’s with extraordinary winning tradition, but club’s with huge clout in terms of popularity. The Real Madrid center-back won the Best Defender LFP award in 2015, a trophy that completely neglected Godin, perhaps because he plays for a club that has less marketing for Spain on a global scale.

The modern game can’t be mentioned without talking about the marketing bias that players have if they play for a bigger brand. Had Godin opted to sign to Manchester City this summer for a reported transfer fee of 40 million euros, than he would’ve no doubt received higher accolades for his play due to The Citizens’ larger popularity than Atletico’s.

The same can be said of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Hypothetically speaking, if the Rojiblanco vice-skipper played for Spain’s biggest clubs next season, than he would have a better chance to be on the FIFA Ballon d’Or shortlist come 2017.

The fact that he doesn’t play for those two clubs also helps his case. Barca and Los Blancos defenders simply aren’t tested enough when it comes to actual playing style, the former even more so than the latter. The Catalan giants possess too much of the ball on any given week for their defenders to truly be pressured and analyzed for their defensive work beyond having to snuff out the occasional counter-attack.

The fact that Godin plays for Los Colchoneros, a team that will give up possession if need be, only adds to his abilities and work rate. A team that defends more will have its center-backs under more pressure. Godin’s effectiveness at the back has been a huge reason why Atletico Madrid are in a title race this season, and he should certainly be recognized as the best central-defender in Spain.

With winning the Champions League as one of Atletico’s goals this season, maybe the 29-year old can make a case for himself as being the best defender in the world as well. Strikers be wary.