It is clear from the title that we’re going to dive into tactical discussions of football today. Football is not that simple, nor it’s difficult to understand. It’s somewhere in between these two extremes! Depending upon the level of understanding and purpose of watching/playing football any particular person has. If you play the game just for some evening fun, these tactical discussions might hit you hard and you will be amazed by reading the technical side of the game. The two positions or if we say more conveniently, the two roles which we will discuss today are from the defensive side of any football line-up, there’s an interesting thing to note here; in football, sometimes there are different roles in the same positions. To understand these different roles, we will discuss the comparison between a no-nonsense defender and a ball-playing defender.

What is a Ball-Playing Defender?

Here’s the second component of our main title, the ball-playing defender. If we give you a fast idea of what a ball-playing defender is, we would say such a defender is the exact opposite of a no-nonsense defender. Yes, simple as that, but we will also give a proper explanation of this role of defending the world.

A ball-playing defender operates as a normal central defender, but with increased creative participation in the game. This involvement of a ball-playing defender differentiates him/her from the other defenders, so their role in the defence stands out. It’s also a mere possibility for a ball-playing defender to step up in the midfield during the attacking build-up of the game. Let’s divide their duties into clear bullets;

  • Involved in Possession
  • Allowed to be Creative
  • Involved in Creating Chances and the Attacking Build-Up
  • Highly Involved In-Game, from a Tactical Perspective

Ball-Playing Defender Analysis

A ball-playing defender’s prime duty is also to clear the danger and avoid the opposing team’s penetration. But there’s some extra touch of creativity in the game of a ball-playing defender.

Starting from the first bullet, such a defender is more involved in dictating the tempo of the game. He/she takes an active part in the passing and possession. Furthermore, a ball-playing defender tends to be a more creative, and technically gifted player. They usually have good ability to do dribbles and perform footwork to maintain possession in the tight spaces and high pressure. Also, such defender is also creative from the offensive point of view. They take an active part in the team’s attacking build-up, they create chances and supports their team in the attack too. Something which a no-nonsense defender is restricted to do. A ball-playing defender stays confident while keeping the possession.

Let’s talk about the last bullet, all of these points sum up that such defenders have active participation and more involvement in the gameplay, also from the tactical point of view, they have more responsibilities. It’s such a wide role, and many defenders in the modern world football have excelled in this role.

Some of the famous names of ball-playing defenders are no one else but the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Gerard Pique, and Virgil Van Dijk. There are many other examples too, but these are the superstars of modern-day football, next time when you watch them on screen, make sure you analyse their ball-playing role and creativity.

What is a No-Nonsense Defender?

A no-nonsense defender has the same duties as the other defenders! Their main objective is also the same, which is to avoid penetration from the opposing attackers and to not let them score. But a no-nonsense defender performs his/her duties in a very specific manner. The no-nonsense defenders avoid all the creative and fancy parts of the gameplay and their sole purpose is to clear the ball from the opposition’s possession. They barely hold the ball, and rarely get involved in the gameplay. As the name suggests; ‘no-nonsense’, here the nonsense displays the following aspects of the game;

  • Controlling the Possession (Dictating the Tempo)
  • Attempting Dribbles
  • Through Balls or Long-Range Passing
  • Tactical Involvement in the Game

No-Nonsense Defender Analysis

Let’s quickly discuss all 4 aspects of a no-nonsense defender’s game. The first bullet suggests that such defender hardly take part in the tempo and possession of the game. Their sole purpose is to clear the danger and hold the ball to the minimum extent. Clearing the ball also involves kicking it out of the ground. Passing and possession-based tactics are not in such defender’s menu.

As the second bullet tells us that attempting dribbles and fancy footwork is not the operating area of a no-nonsense defender. They don’t attempt pleasing tricks as their contribution to the game is limited to just performing their specific duties.

All the creativity of the game is not for such defenders, as the third bullet suggests, they don’t take part in creating chances for the attackers. Moving on to the next and final bullet, which sums up the whole situation in very simple words. There is next to minimum tactical involvement of no-nonsense defender in the game. As we explained earlier, their part is very limited to their specific ball clearing duties. If you want a practical idea of a no-nonsense defender, you can analyse the likes of Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher. For a more thorough idea, you can see Everton’s team from the eighties when all of their players used to play ‘no-nonsense football’.

Head-to-Head Comparison

As we promised early in the blog that we would do a concise comparison of both defending roles in question today. Now when you know the context of both roles and thoroughly understand the duties of both defending roles, the comparison will make more sense. Here we go:

  • A ball-playing defender is a more creative presence on the field than a no-nonsense defender.
  • The no-nonsense defenders tend to be more aggressive and compact than the ball-playing defenders.
  • The ball-playing defenders actively participate in the attack of the team while the no-nonsense defenders tend to provide only defensive duties in their specific manner.
  • The ball-playing defenders are more likely to be technically gifted with good footwork. While the no-nonsense defenders are more straight-forward players of the game.
  • A no-nonsense defender is less involved in the possession and the passing of the team. Sustaining possession is simply not in their duties manual. While a ball-playing defender is involved actively in the possession and passing. He/she also dictates the tempo of the team from behind.


That was a brief introduction of a ball-playing and no-nonsense defender. We have also given a very thorough and easy-to-understand comparison at the end. This was in order for you can understand the context of both roles with more ease and comfort. We have tried to use not-very-technical terms, so the new readers and ones with a less tactical understanding of the game can understand the conversation. The examples we have given for each category will help you understand the practical way of both defensive styles or roles.