England's young defenders should watch Leonardo Bonucci for a masterclass, writes Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand
Master of his craft: Leonardo Bonucci: Getty Images

John Stones, Michael Keane and Ben Gibson should all tune in to watch Juventus tomorrow night because they can learn from one of the best centre-backs in the business.

Leonardo Bonucci has not only been a consistent performer at the highest level at Juventus for a number of years but for Italy as well.

England are not blessed with as many good defenders as we used to be but the young generation, like Stones, Gibson and Keane, will benefit from looking at how he does things in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Monaco.

It is what I did when I was growing up. I studied centre-backs like Franco Baresi and Des Walker when they were in action. Juventus also have Giorgio Chiellini, who may not be as pleasing on the eye, but is another fine performer.

If you’re an emerging defender in this country, you should study experienced players in your position like Bonucci and Chiellini — look at their positions, not just when they’re going into duels but off the ball as well, when their team are attacking.

It’s an important part of a defender’s make-up that when your side are in possession, who are you organising? Where are you putting people in front of you to protect and make sure you’re not countered on — to make sure you have the opposing striker locked up? What the foreign defenders have over our defenders, even in my era, is an understanding of the game in terms of when to make cheap fouls, when to slow the game down, when to stop momentum for a team.

For some reason, we only appear to respect the art of defending when we watch Italian teams in action and yet it is a huge part of the game.

We have seen how Manchester City have struggled to win things this season because of not being able to keep clean sheets. Being good at the back provides the platform to win things. City are one of the clubs Bonucci has been linked with over a possible transfer for a long time and the reasons why are obvious. He is not only a fine defender, he is also very comfortable on the ball and can pass it. That’s a great trait to have.

Obviously when you see a centre-back making good tackles and clearing the ball to safety, that’s great. But when you can add the X factor like he does at the top level, it helps you play the possession game. He is as good as anyone at the moment.

Monaco will find that out to their cost. They’re an exciting team going forward and we will get to see how good players like Kylian Mbappe really are but I think this will be a step too far.


Rio Ferdinand is part of BT Sport’s Uefa Champions League coverage. Watch his blog after the match on btsport.com

BT Sport is the only place to watch all four major football competitions in one place, with exclusively live coverage of the Premier League, Uefa Champions League, Uefa Europa League and Emirates FA Cup.

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