Manchester United have signed Harry Maguire for 88m euros, breaking the previous record for a defender, the 85 paid by Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk a year ago. Lucas Hernández and Matthijs de Ligt, who have moved for 80 and 75, respectively, aren't far behind. Transfer fees have been on the rise for years, and centre-backs are no exception when it comes to this trend. Long gone are the days when a club's revenue was gate receipts and gate receipts alone, and when that income was pretty much all down to the strikers. Back in the day, nobody made their way to their team's ground champing at the bit to see their goalkeeper or defenders play out of their skin. Whether of the twinkle-toed or battering-ram variety (that's a matter of taste), it was always the forwards who got bums on seats.
Centre-backs didn't get pulses racing. Granted, there was always the satisfaction of being able to release the beast inside from time to time, shouting exhortations ("Get stuck in to him!") at centre-backs who, when they did get involved, were expected to do so in uncompromising, full-blooded fashion. In the main, though, the less fans were aware of their defenders' presence, the better. Now, with so much televised football - that's where the money comes from now - people have little trouble watching their side both at home and on the road. And having had more opportunities to see their forwards go missing and their defenders stand up and be counted at a particularly intimidating away ground, they have acquired a greater sensitivity to the value that each and every department brings to their side.
Defenders are expected to be so much more than before
On top of that, a lot more is expected of defenders in today's game. They can no longer get away with simply being agricultural stoppers of the just-boot-it kind, players focused on applying the maxim: nothing gets past you - take man and ball if need be. Nowadays, centre-backs are expected to perform play-making duties to boot, popping the ball about with all the aplomb of a cultured midfielder as they launch another neatly-constructed move from the back. They've started to become so accomplished at doing that, by the way, that the people who write the laws of the game have set them the added challenge of receiving the ball from a goal-kick within their own penalty area, and playing through the opposition's press from there. These are very different times in which to be a defender, it's fair to say.