Wednesday, September 24, 2008

No need for Makeleles


Previously, I had written about the demise of the ‘trequartista’ in England, a player who pulls strings from the hole between the midfield and the defense of the opposition. A position, however which is very much alive and kicking in England is that of a holding midfielder, a player who is deployed between the back four and the conventional central midfield arrangement of the team. The position has attained such enormous craze that it is sometimes described as the ‘Makelele role’. I for one despise the role and wouldn’t disagree with Cantona’s description of Didier Deschamps as the water carrier of the French national team. I fail to find the logic in statements that trophies cannot be won without a spoiler in the middle of midfield. Manchester United have won silverware for years now without having a single defensive midfielder in their team. Even Owen Hargreaves who was signed last season to offer greater solidity to the team has more often than not been deployed in wide areas to ensure greater discipline. Of course I wouldn’t dispute the presence of a 'Makelele' when the rest of the team is brimming with pure attacking flair and a great deal of defensive indiscipline to go with it, like the last great Real Madrid team did. A manager should however as far as possible be looking to build a team with all round abilities rather than a team with five players possesing glittering attacking talent and one player who spoils and is only of passing the ball five yards to his left or right.

The great Manchester United and Arsenal teams of the 90s did not possess a single spoiler in them and this is testimony to Ferguson and Wenger’s philosophy of building teams that look to win rather than destroy. No doubt the Arsenal versus Man United games witnessed fantastic physical battles between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, but both of these players in their prime possessed immense stamina which enabled them to contribute tremendously to the attacking causes of their teams. Keane for me was the most complete player, the Premier League has ever seen. He was never the most naturally gifted, but he could tackle, pass, head, finish and over and above these qualities, he had the sort of commitment that saw him bully many a midfield battle over the years. Players like Keane, no doubt aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but there are several players who can play from deeper positions in midfield and at the same time contribute to the team from an attacking perspective. Unquestionably, with the rigidity of the everyday back four, managers can seldom sacrifice on the defensive aspect of their central midfielders, but that’s no reason for insisting on one-dimensional players like a Gattuso or a Mascherano in your line-up.

I am not for one moment suggesting that managers should do away with holding midfielders. In fact there is no greater joy than watching the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso bossing the middle of midfield with their bright passing abilities. I am just not one for having a spoiler. The need for such a player has in my mind arisen largely because of the persistence of managers with a four man back four which requires a shield in front of the centre backs to avoid being unlocked with consummate ease by players who drift into the hole between the midfield and the defense of the opposition. In my opinion though this job of acting as a lock in front of the defense can be easily performed by players who are equally adept at creating cross field balls of the most supreme level and therefore there is no real necessity to have someone in your team sheet who can do nothing but ruin the opposition’s play. Spain’s recent triumph at the European Championships is indicative of the fact that success can be earned without installing a player as a spoiler in the middle of midfield. Marcos Senna who anchored the midfield for Spain was equally effective with his distribution as he was with his defensive duties. Fernando Gago of Real Madrid, Daniele De Rossi of Roma and Michael Carrick of Manchester United are all players who can act as an effective lock and at the same time display outstanding attacking attributes. Gago is much like Fernando Redondo in so far as his style of play is concerned. Redondo who anchored Real Madrid to their Champions League victory in 1998, their first since 1966 was a player of the highest calibre who owned supreme passing skills and fine football intelligence leading him to being described by Fabio Capello as a ‘tactically perfect’ player.

Having said that, I do understand the necessity to play spoilers on the odd occasion, perhaps to nullify a truly phenomenal talent such as Kaka for instance, but I find no requirement for such a player day in and day out. The modern phenomenon of insistence on defense minded central midfielders is taking the fun out of the game and managers need to realize sooner rather than later that they can win football games without having a single-minded defensive midfielder in their team.

8 comments:

ayan said...

Completely agree with you. The preference towards a more defensive-minded game seems to be building up. Just look at the French lineup - they play two defensive midefield players, regardless of the situation or the opposition.

Rahul Saha said...

Well it really depends on how the rest of your team is. Look at England when they play with both gerrard and lampard, a bit of defense in midfield wouldn't hurt.

A Couch-side View said...

@Ayan: Yeah looking around 4-2-3-1, with two sitting midfielders has become commonplace in modern football.

@Saha: I have always maintained that Gerrard and Lampard cannot play together. Barry alongside one of them seems to have worked quite well for England so far and Barry is hardly defense minded. I just think sticking someone like a ledley king next to them as Sven did or basically playing someone who doesnt have a single attacking bone in him would be a mistake.

A Couch-side View said...

And Saha, the other point to be kept in mind is that England rarely play Gerrard and Lampard as a central midfield combination, one of them, more often than not Gerrard, is played out of position to accomodate the other.

Rahul Saha said...

I agree but someone like hargreaves with either lampard or gerrard would be better than I barry I think. Especially agaist ultra offensive teams.

A Couch-side View said...

I dont think there is an 'either' there. if gerrard is fit, he has got to play in my opinion and i agree with you that hargreaves will be a good choice at times. but hargreaves isnt like makelele or gattuso in so far as he has nothing else to his game. he has a good right foot, he is a danger at times from set pieces, and also has a decent passing range.

Rahul Saha said...

I would also say that there is no either there but lampard had a half decent game against croatia and england, for once, demolished a side. It was without Gerrard.

A Couch-side View said...

Most of Gerrard's problems stem from discipline. A lot of times the great work that he does going forward in terms of creating and scoring goals makes up for his slight defensive indiscipline in my opinion. He's a decent tackler no doubt, but at times he doesnt track back as well as he should and it costs the team. Thats the reason why he is stuck on the right or in the hole by Benitez. But having said that Gerrard over Lampard for me anyday.