Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Death of the 'Trequartista'

(Also see: http://suhrith.blogspot.com/2010/10/return-of-trequartista_28.html - on the return of the trequartista)

Modern day formations such as the 4-4-2 and the 4-5-1 employed by most Barclays Premier League teams have brought forth the death of the ‘Trequartista’ or the ‘hole’ player as I like to call it. Trequartista, which means ‘three quarters’ in Italian is the position employed by the playmaker of the team, who invariably sports the Number 10 jersey. Most BPL teams tend to utilize a second striker, a position which in my opinion is distinct from that of a trequartista. Although a second striker is a player who attacks from deeper positions as compared to an old fashioned centre forward, his primary role is to score goals for his team, much like Carlos Tevez’s task at Manchester United. A trequartista on the other hand is a player who operates in the ‘hole’ between the defence and the midfield of the opposition and tries to utilize that space to create goal scoring opportunities for his team.

Classic modern day examples of a trequartista are Zinedine Zidane, Pablo Aimar and Manuel Rui Costa who are/were masters at pulling strings from their positions in the hole. Sir Alex Ferguson famously let go of the opportunity to sign Zidane from Bordeaux primarily because he was unsure of what position to play him in. The rigid approach of BPL managers over the years has meant that most line-ups have not had a place for a trequartista, the position that is home to many footballing geniuses. Roberto Baggio is another archetypical example of a trequartista as he very seldom fitted into a team formation, opting instead to move into positions of space offered by the opposition. I am not for one moment doubting the fact that a lot of inside-forwards (a term that is sometimes used to describe the second striker) can alternate as trequartistas (examples include Cantona, Zola and Bergkamp), but invariably these players have played as supporting strikers when playing for their clubs in England.

The Argentineans refer to the trequartista as the “enganche”, a position which was made famous by the great Diego Maradona. The midfield diamond that the Argentinean National Team often employs permits the presence of an enganche who is the creative fulcrum of the team. The enganche acts as the link between the midfield and the front line and has a celebrated place in Argentinean football culture. The breathtaking football that Argentina produced in the 2006 World Cup, with Riquelme playing as the enghance is I am sure permanently etched in most of our minds. The Spaniards have employed a similarly impressive formation in the ongoing European Championships with the brilliant David Silva and the cheeky Anders Iniesta drifting in from wide positions into spaces between the central midfield and defence of the opposition and in the process creating room for the full-backs, Ramos and Capdevilla to make attacking runs on the flanks. Netherlands have also made full use of the phenomenal talents of Wesley Sneijder by playing him as the trequartista. In my opinion, the presence of a trequartista is not a burden on the team as is believed by many managers as it opens up several tactical options to the team as has been seen with both the Spanish and the Dutch set up.

The absence of a place for a trequartista in most BPL line-ups has meant that hugely talented players like ‘Seba’ Veron have been unable to lay their mark in England. Veron much like Riquelme is at his best when employed as an enghance, but the BPL for all the excitement it generates has never quite produced tactics from managers that match with the best from the continent. Ferguson and Wenger, two of the foremost managers of the last decade have both been content to play a flat back four and at most times 2 traditional forwards. Unless variations in the back line are resorted to, it is difficult to play a trequartista without employing a diamond in midfield and in the process sacrificing on the wide players which is rarely seen in the BPL. Whilst there is no doubting the success of the English clubs, a lack of innovation in formations can at times be tedious for the viewers. Even a player like Joe Cole, who with his ingenious abilities can easily fit into the role of an orthodox number 10, is banished to the wings. The injuries to Robin Van Persie this past season had forced Wenger to use the talents of Hleb in the ‘hole’ on a fair few occasions and it certainly brought the best out of him.

The only BPL manager who has tried using a trequartista on a consistent basis has been Rafael Benitez, but sadly for Liverpool, I felt it was Benayoun who should have been deployed there rather than Steven Gerrard, who is much more at home when played as a conventional central midfielder. Maybe Scolari’s appointment at Chelsea will bring forth certain tactical changes and if he does sign Deco as is widely reported in the press, then there will almost certainly have to be adaptations in their team formation to allow Deco to play as the trequartista. The signing of Luka Modric by Jaunde Ramos, the Spurs’ manager, is similarly interesting as Modric is a player born to play in the ‘hole’. But even continental managers seem to get caught up with the rigidity of flat lines across the field the moment they set foot in England. The legendary Fabio Capello himself has been guilty of the offence as has been seen from the tactics used by England in their last few friendlies. Capello as England’s manager has so far failed to replicate the tactical astuteness he showed during his club management days. I would like to see England play in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Rio Ferdinand as the sweeper and either one of Rooney or Joe Cole as the trequartista.

I would equally love to see Ferguson make changes to his favoured formations to permit Rooney to play as the trequartista behind Carlos Tevez and another centre forward whom United would hopefully sign, especially if Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Old Trafford this season. I still think Ferguson hasn’t found Rooney’s best position and this is largely in my opinion due to the fact that he prefers playing a front two or a three in central midfield, thereby neglecting the ‘hole’ which would be the position where Rooney could thrive for Manchester United. Unless more innovation is brought forth by managers in England, the Premier League will never get to witness the best form of some of the most brilliant talents of world football.

16 comments:

Sroyon said...

So, starved of live football action, you've resorted to spouting general football theory so as to keep your blog going, is it? :)
Just kidding. It's a great post, and unexpectedly, I actually liked it better than some of the match reviews. Hope to see more posts on theory and strategy in future. Don't let the law firm get you down!
Oh, one more thing: do you really think Rooney is perfect for the trequartista role? My reservations stem from the fact that he prefers to run at defenders and doesn't seem to want to keep the ball as much as the great trequartistas of the past (say Zidane or Baggio) used to.

A Couch-side View said...

Hey! Thanks a lot man. Its been pretty difficult to write anything over the last couple of weeks, but I have still somehow managed to see all the important games.

As for Rooney as a trequartista, I dont think all Number 10's have to be like Zidane or Baggio. They can have their own distinct style. Maradona is considered by all Argentineans as the prototypical enganche and he certainly loved to run at defenders. I am not comparing Rooney to Maradona. Maradona is obviously in the incomparable category, but I just think you can be someone who likes to run at defenders and still play as a trequartista.

Rahul Saha said...

I agree with Sryon. I like it better than the match reviews.

ayan said...

Great post....one of your best yet...keep them coming

A Couch-side View said...

@Ayan and Saha: Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

nice post man...for me the best trequartista is totti..great player

Nazone said...

Trequartista is not dead. Its' still alive pretty well in Serie A.

Anonymous said...

Good post, but I think the hole position is being played by multiple players at Man United. In fact, any of the front 3 in its 4-3-3 formation is responsible to get in the hole between the defense and the midfield to receive the ball. The reason for this tactic is because teams like Barca and Utd have many players who can penetrate and create.

Vincenz said...

Trequartista is a great role that most teams sacrifice for speed in my opinion, because the trequartista doesnt need to be fast, but creative and needs to be quick in his decisions. I think if AC Milan can use Ronaldinho in this role due to the lack of speed (Kaka's departure to Real Madrid) at the front.

Dan said...

Am glad to know that someone also shares my opinion of what I think is the most improtant role in a football formation, the classic # 10.Look no further than in Argentina and Spain for the best # 10s around.
Starting with probably the greatest thats ever lived, Zizou, he was just umarkable,even when facing the toughest of defences in Italy,his movement, distribution,creativity and finishing were to die for skills. He made school kids out of grown men. Similarly I remember Arsenal playing Valencia for two seasons early his decade and they couldn't cope with the creativity that Aimar had, he found spaces in a mean defence and made Viera look like another average player, the # 10 I feel has been neglected in the EPL and consequently in the three lions squad, England has never reached the devastating attacking football they played when they had Scholes as there diamond attacking tip,a player they have never truly replaced. You look at the player meant to replace him in the shape of Gerrard and Lampard,who to the least are box to box midfielders and you're condemned to laughter.
At least Arsenal with Fabregas playing the freer role trying to exploit the #10 position and as demontrated by the 6-1 demolution of Everton, the lad and the position are two peas in a pod, no wonder Barcelona are relentless in his pursuit to replace the Magical Xavi when he eventually runs out of tricks in his bag.
Xavi is another #10 worth of mentioning in any team whether its a paralympics team or rugby. He is just so comfortable with the ball that you know when he gets it its going to be Xavi against your whole team, especially with Iniesta playing along him, its not a wonder Sir Alex had credited him and his comprande as the chief architects of there demise in Rome. During last year's Euro 08 he was just unplayerable, with Senna behind him so he didnt worry about his defensive duties he virtually tore teams apart with his precision passing,eye for goal and game control only limited to only afew players in this and past generations of football, his goal against Russia cupped a spectacular display as he had started the move from midfield.He reminded me of Fabregas playing infront of Flamini, he was just perfect and with the perfect partner. Other players worth mentioning include Aimar whom injury limited his potential but whom the playmaking skills oozed like an erupting volcano, others inlcude Arteta, Rosicky, Bergkamp, Scholes and Luka Modric, who destroyed England with his display during the two leg qualifying rounds for the Euros.
Over and above all the EPL should adopt this kind of player as they are key breaking rigid defences. This role offers a breath of fresh air to the kind of football played in England and it wouldn't hurt to try it out, after all it it appealing to the eye and wouldn't have to stay up late waiting for La Liga to see this kind of textbook footballproged

akugbe myers said...

nice piece,i really enjoyed it

Vishnu Chari said...

great article. Rooney's role in the man united formation is still yet to be finalized. even after scoring 30+ goals this term as a lone forward. I would love united to play 3-4-1-2, with rooney attacking from midfield, with the license to shoot from distance as well. However, that requires hargreaves to come back to the fold, and regain his old RWB spot, or for raphael to really develop defensivly.

Suhrith said...

@Vishnu: I'm a great admirer of the 3-4-1-2 formation, but not sure it would work in these times. It requires tremendous tactical discipline and as Jonathan Wilson has constantly pointed out in his column in the Guardian, the formation is almost dead. But, Brazil under Dunga tend to shift to a 3-4-1-2 with the full backs pushing on and Gilberto Silva who normally plays as the right sided holding midfielder tucking back into central defense.

But Rooney seems far more settled now as a goalscorer and it seems unlikely that he would be deployed behind two other forwards.

Vishnu Chari said...

yeah, i see ur point about rooney, but it might still be useful, if we have berba in the whole, or maybe gibson, or "hamsik"

Sid said...

Hey i was just searching for trequartista and bumped into your blog. Great post, but my view is that it's another of those Italian inventions like Catenaccio (albeit invented or designed by the Argentine Hernando Herreira, it was put into practice in a typical tight Italian environ like Inter) which seems to be going out of mode. Especially after WC 2010, 4-2-3-1 preferred by the Germans and Dutch or the more adventurous 4-3-3 or more practical 4-2-2-1-1 loosely adopted by the Spaniards are truly new age formations, if they may be so referred to. A 4-3-1-2 trequartista set-up requires selfless and lionhearted play makers, which is a dying species.

Suhrith said...

@Sid: Yes, the role of the trequartista is going through a metamorphosis of sorts. Greater versatility is required from playmakers these days. `