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Opinion

Ben Sigmund on defending in the A-League

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Roar Rookie
15th July, 2020
2

Ben Sigmund was one the most determined defenders to grace the A-League.

He played 181 matches for Wellington Phoenix between 2008 and 2016 and 32 games for the All Whites. In the vital 2009 FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Bahrain it was Sigmund’s ‘never, ever give up’ attitude that won the corner that resulted in the winning goal.

Ben Sigmund was generous with his time in July 2020 to meet with me in Wellington. In his book Fully Committed: The Ben Sigmund Story he described the high points and the many positive aspects of his career. He also wrote very honestly about mistakes he made during matches.

My focus is about why players fail to track. As a vastly experienced player in the A-League, I felt sure Sigmund would be able to add a valuable perspective on this.

Firstly, he spoke about his love of defending.

“I got my buzz from defending, even though scoring is the best feeling ever and I can see how strikers can become addicted,” he says. “I loved defending, but for me attacking was not as intense.”

I asked Sigmund about the mistake he made on his professional debut for the Football Kingz in Australia’s National Soccer League in 2002. The man he was marking, Joe Spiteri, had been able to score.

“You were expected to know what to do. It was sink or swim.

“Coaching systems were not as good then as they are now. Rugby is our national sport, and so players are more naturally aware of what’s required. It’s more ingrained in New Zealand compared to football.”

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Sigmund also wrote about the match against Western Sydney Wanderers in which the man he was supposed to be marking, Nikolai-Topor Stanley, scored from a header. How do situations like this develop?

“In defending you are getting seven messages all at once,” he explains. “So sometimes I got caught in two minds – do I or don’t I track?

“If you have 100 per cent ‘my man’, then you are relying on others to pick up their man.”

Using the salt and pepper shakers and little bags of sugar on our table as defenders and attackers, Sigmund demonstrated his point.

“Modern attackers are very good at coming close to you and then moving away, wanting you to follow them. There’s always a fear of leaving space behind you if you do track. So in defence it’s always a 50-50 decision. Things happen so very fast.”

Sigmund here echoed what former All Whites coach Barrie Truman described as “movement triggering movement”. Psychologists would describe these attacking runs as proximal antecedents to defenders’ behaviours.

There are also distal antecedents to behaviours. Things that happen to players hours and even days before a match can have an impact on game day. It was significant for Sigmund that on the day of the Western Sydney Wanderers match his flight into Wellington couldn’t land due to fog.

The drive from Palmerston North was then beset with traffic delays, an anxious time for him. As a result he arrived at the ground only ten minutes before kick-off – not ideal preparation for an important match.

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During the 2019-20 A-League season defenders like Ben Sigmund will have also been affected by events in the match as well as happenings in their lives prior to match day. See my Round 7 analysis below.

Goals Conceded Team Conceding Goal Scorer
Ballwatching (10)
Scott Galloway Melbourne City Kwame Yeboah
Joshua Brilliante Melbourne City Kwame Yeboah
Keanu Baccus Western Sydney Wanderers Joshua Brilliante
Daniel Georgievski Western Sydney Wanderers Jami Maclaren
Jordan Courtney-Perkins Brisbane Roar Steven Taylor
Luke DeVere Wellington Phoenix Stefan Mauk
Brandon Lauton Melbourne Victory Riley McGree
Leigh Broxham Melbourne Victory Michael Maria
Michael Maria Adelaide United Ola Toivonen
Ryan McGowan and Alex Wilkinson Sydney FC Bruno Fornaroli
Focused defence (5)
Penalties (2)
Total (17)