Ever since Jannik Vestergaard set his foot in Sinsheim, many have considered him a flop in the making, a player just waiting to be overrated. Wherever he goes, his team concedes goals. Coincidence? It could very well be. German and English media often label him as a threat and a great centre back with good ball-playing skills and great aerial range. While this is true and all, they do all miss the point. The curious case of Vestergaard is a great monument of another big problem in the football-crazed community, a problem I aim to discuss later.
When Bayer Leverkusen beat Borussia Mönchengladbach this weekend, it was a game without any real contest. Borussia looked decent on the paper, but were quickly overrun by Heiko Herrlich’s frantic pressing. When Leon Bailey shifted flank and played down the right, the game was already won for Bayer Leverkusen as the Jamaican mastermind craved out multiple chances in the space of just a few minutes.
Whenever Leverkusen managed to create space in front of Gladbach’s defensive line, they looked extremely dangerous. And whenever they pinged a ball into the box, it looked a certain goal. Luckily for Mönchengladbach, Kevin Volland’s wasteful nature made that impossible. Instead, Volland had to square it to Argentinian striker Lucas Alario who could slot home in the end of the first half. A goal that was symbolic for this frantic clash between two has-beens. It was Bailey who made the goal with his cross, it was Vestergaard who didn’t even bother to jump to clear it and it was the very versatile striker Volland who headed it down to Alario to score.
Suddenly, I realised and wondered, why wasn’t Vestergaard jumping? He could have easily cleared that cross with a quick jump, for he is certainly tall enough. But he didn’t and it isn’t the first time the tall Dane is responsible for a conceded goal. In their Rückrunde opener, he was responsible for both their conceded goals in Cologne. Both were conceded due to his lack of marking. In their subsequent game against Eintracht Frankfurt, he was once again at fault. Frankfurt’s second goal could be attributed to him and his lack of awareness.
Vestergaard has always been a threat in attack. His tall nature makes it possible for him to either head home, or to just attract attention so that other prominent scorers of footballs may find the net. But funnily enough, his attacking prowess is his biggest strength. How come he is rated so highly among many experts and fans? How come he is seen as one of the best central defenders in Bundesliga when his greatest attribute is his attacking contribution?
It’s a product of the demanding football world in many ways. Considering football is a competition where the goal is to score goals, goals and attacking contribution rightly take most of the attention. It’s as it should be, because the whole meaning of the game is to score goals while the opposing team wants to do the same. The team with the most goals after 90 minutes is hailed as the winner. It’s an easy contest, piece of a Schwarzwald-cake.
So, when a defender scores goals, he is instantly praised, for he has done something he shouldn’t be good at. There are few examples of players being very highly rated due to their goalscoring antics. Sergio Ramos is one, albeit his defensive abilities are quite outstanding as well. David Luiz is another one with a decent attacking record, a player that probably should play higher up the pitch. And then there’s Vestergaard, the Danish David Luiz as I’ve called him in multiple podcasts. A player that keeps being responsible for goals, but who seems to be let off the imaginable hook due to his goalscoring and his physical presence in attack.
Vestergaard is an odd one. Let me prove his incompetence as a defender. As a grand supporter of the grandiloquence of virtue, I find the edict that a defender should defend to be very enjoyable. The old Aristotelian view on virtue, or arête as they called it, states that something is virtuous if it fulfils its purpose. So, a striker possesses virtue if he scores goals, if we all agree on that scoring goals is the main purpose of the striker. Alas, if we decide that the purpose of a defender is to stop the opposing attackers from scoring goals, then a defender has virtue if he manages to stop the attackers from doing just that.
Now, while the concept of virtue has disappeared during the last twenty years, we are still all heavily affected by it. We often deem something good if it fulfils its purpose, a direct effect of the beautiful and wise aura of Aristotelian virtue. Vestergaard is, from what I’ve seen and that is quite a lot, mind, not that good at defending, even though he is a defender. So, Vestergaard does not possess virtue and he is therefore not a good defender. Would we put him as a striker, I would condone his attack-minded behaviour and would probably regard him as a very competent striker.
1 | Away from the Bundesliga, Per Mertesacker says he would rather avoid the ‘burden’ of playing football again, due to the mental nature that professional football brings.
“Some days you realise everything is a burden, both physically and mentally but you have to deliver without a doubt. The pressure is very intense. I always have this horror story in my head, to make a mistake and be responsible for a conceded goal. If the fans celebrate it is great, it is unbelievable. But if they are booing you, I always feel very ashamed. In the moments before a game starts, my stomach turns around as if I had to vomit. Then I have to choke so violently until my eyes water,” he told Der Spiegel.
2 | Hamburger SV have sacked head coach Bernd Hollerbach after just seven games in charge with just three point from a possible 21 after suffering their worst defeat of the season, a 6-0 loss at Bayern Munich. Christian Titz will take charge of the club until the end of the season with the club seven points behind relegation occupiers, 1. FSV Mainz 05.
Unfortunately, it looks as though the clock will eventually stop at the Volksparkstadion. They remain the only club to never be relegated from the top flight while it looks like their time may have finally come. Perhaps a surprise club joining them in the 2. Bundesliga will be 1. FC Köln, who sit just one point below them in 18th. The Billy Goats enjoyed their best season in 25 years last campaign, qualifying for the Europa League but losing Anthony Modeste along with other factors proved too difficult for FC Köln.
3 | Just two points separate Schalke 04 in second and Bayer Leverkusen in fourth with Borussia Dortmund sandwiched between them. It’s a race that will likely go down to the final day of the season with the Revierderby still to be played. Michy Batshuayi scored a 94th minute winner for Dortmund against European football chasing Eintracht Frankfurt while Schalke’s Daniel Caligiuri scored arguably the goal of the weekend as they narrowly won in Mainz.
Axel Falk with Daniel Pinder.