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19th Mar 2018

The genius of Alessandro Nesta in one simple tackle

No energy wasted, no superfluous movements, no unnecessary aggression - pure Nesta

Wayne Farry

alessandro nesta

At its best, defending is an art form, and few players better encapsulate this than Alessandro Nesta, the Italy legend who celebrates his birthday on March 19

The ball is picked up by Zinedine Zidane inside Italy’s half, he lifts his head and casts an eye to the right wing, where Sylvain Wiltord is running into space. He sprays the ball out to his compatriot, who takes a touch with the aim of cutting into the Italian box.

To the left of Wiltord comes a figure in white, sauntering over at increasing pace as if to pick up a ball which has gone out of play, and in one fell swoop he’s lost the ball.

He doesn’t realise at first, instinctively flicking out his right foot to prod it forward, but it’s too late. Alessandro Nesta is back sauntering again, this time with the ball, after a moment of brilliance so deftly executed that it deserves to be hung in a gallery.

The tackle in question, as seen above, is the epitome of everything that is great about great defending and, as a result, everything that was great about Alessandro Nesta.

There is no energy wasted, no superfluous movements, no unnecessary aggression; everything is calculated, everything is measured and the opponent is dispossessed before his mind has even registered that a tackle is incoming.

Though only in possession for the briefest amount of time, Nesta is consistently in control of the situation, always aware of his next step, always ready to punish the most minor lapse in concentration.

It is the footballing equivalent of world class pick-pocketing, and Nesta was the best in the world at it.

Nesta was the quintessential Italian defender in every sense and remains the benchmark for centre-backs. Strong, elegant and composed, he was from the school which rules that timing rather than power is the defender’s best friend.

alessandro nesta

Most people are aware of and agree with this tenet of defending, but executing it is a different story altogether. While incredibly athletic and capable of competing physically with the best in the game, physicality was often a last resort for Nesta. He was patient in the tackle, willing to wait for his opponent to open himself up for just a millisecond too long and then, just like that, the ball is gone.

Rather than use force to clear both the ball and the man, he deploys perfect timing and skill to bring the ball under his control with a kind of beguiling tranquility, before departing like a thief in the night.

It is a mix of efficacy and beauty which is almost unrivalled in football, as effective as it is pleasing on the eye and an example of someone who has truly mastered his art.

Does this moment fully capture the brilliance of Nesta? Of course not. No more than any still photo of a Lionel Messi run can truly capture the ethereal ruthlessness with which the Argentine runs games.

It is, however, the closest we will get to a distillation of the man. An example in a few grainy seconds of what he brought to the pitch, and an example of why we’ll likely never see anyone better.

It is defending and Alessandro Nesta, both in their purest forms.