Ronaldo dribbles, runs, and scores! Messi did it again! Neymar – the winning goal! We have all heard those cries on football pitches: the star striker saves the day yet once again. But in reality, there are still ten men on the field, and as the saying goes – attack wins you games, defense wins you titles.
To correct the injustice of the (football) world, we invite you to a ten-part series with Olybet.TV, where we talk about defenders. But to make things a little more appetizing, let’s talk about the most productive defensemen in football history.
Surprisingly, one of the most iconic defenders in history, Franz Beckenbauer, does not fit into our list. The legendary German scored “only“ a total of 109 goals during his career meaning he falls short of getting into the top ten.
James Tavernier – 113 goals
James Tavernier (31) is in the tenth place among scoring defenders. The Glasgow Rangers right-back may not be an A-list superstar, but what he’s been able to do in eight seasons in Scotland (and Europe!) deserves praise in any case.
In 2015, the Rangers chiefs could hardly imagine what they would be getting in the form of the Englishman. There had never been any sign that Tavernier could be a goal-scoring defender, or else Wigan would’ve asked more than £200,000 for him.
Tavernier, who started his professional career at Newcastle United, but spent his entire earlier career on loan between the lower leagues, managed to score only eight (!) goals between 2009 and 2015. However, having moved to Scotland, he immediately scored 15 in the first season…
A scorer from the start
True, Rangers’ climbing-out-of-the-mud project also played a role in this, as the 55-time Scottish champions were relegated to the lowest league level due to bankruptcy in 2012, and by the time Tavernier joined them, they were on the final stage of the project: the Scottish Premier League.
When the Englishman limited himself to one goal the following year, after his rise to the Premiership, of course, there was sneering on the pitch. But as we now know – with no reason. In the 2017/18 season, Tavernier already scored nine goals across all leagues and since then his tally has been: 17, 3, 19, 18 and 18.
In total, the right-back has scored 105 goals for Rangers, becoming only the 19th player to reach three figures in the post-war period. It took him “just” 394 matches to reach the Centurio club, which is quite impressive for a defender.
In short, Rangers fans are used to seeing Tavernier’s name on the scoresheet by now, but really, scoring like this from a defender should never be taken for granted! But what is the key to the Brit’s scoring success?
An era that fits like a glove
Simply put, Tavernier was born at the right time and happened to be in the right place. Although full-backs have dominated in history, the tactical approach of the 2010s gave them real freedom to flourish. For example, the beginning of Gareth Bale’s career at Tottenham, or Maicon, who shone at Inter.
Tavernier too, is a full-back, whose first (or second, or third) strength is not defending, but attacking instead. And at Rangers, he has had head coaches for the majority of his time – such as Mark Warburton and Steven Gerrard – who also favoured such a tactical approach. These are also the seasons in which Tavernier scored 10+ goals, vs. the period of the Portuguese Pedro Caixinha when the Brit scored three in a year…
This is what Gerrard has to say about Tavernier: “If James was the perfect full-back, he obviously wouldn’t be playing for us. Fortunately, he is here and, most importantly, always ready to fight. He always gives one hundred per cent, no matter what match we are talking about, and that is why his statistics are beyond belief. Especially for a fullback.”
One has to score the penalties too
Of course, pundits would like to point out that 38 of Tavernier’s 105 goals have come from the penalty spot. Yes, that’s how it is, but a goal scored from 11 meters is not a lesser goal. Players’ strengths must be used and if you are a good set-piece specialist, it is only logical that you are entrusted with penalties and free kicks.
But just trusting is not enough: you also have to be the man and put the ball into the net. And as the statistics prove, Tavernier, who also scored six headed goals for Rangers, can do it perfectly.
Moreover, only penalties are not enough to become the best scorer in the Euroseries. In the 2020/21 season, when Rangers reached the final of the Europa League but lost to Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties, Tavernier scored 7 goals, becoming the first defender since Ronald Koeman (93/94) to grab the title of the best scorer in the Euroseries.
But more about the Dutchman in the upcoming articles in this series…