“So f***ing under-rated… he belongs up there – i reckon i would place him within the likes of Zidane, Raul, Nesta… totally re-defined that role in modern football” – those were the words of a fellow football fan whose allegiance to the former French international is unquestionable.
As a child of the eighties and a rather young fan of the beautiful game, players such as Maldini have epitomized the defensive side of football while Batistuta, Weah and co . – lets not forget the “fat” Ronaldo – have dazzled on the offense. While these legends have grabbed the headlines over the years, football has paid far less attention to the players who protect the defense while linking up play to the other half of the field.
The defensive midfield role, better known as the Makalele role in recent years, has become an essential part of any team lending to the more conversions of the traditional midfielder or defender into this role – i.e. Gilberto Silva, the current Brazilian captain. While Gilberto Silva is void of any passing ability, the “Makalele” role requires acute defensive alertness, intricate tactical awareness, better than average tackling ability and last but not least some sort passing ability. As his playing days edge closer, several players look to claim the role as the best defensive midfielder left. Truth be told, i hate lists; absolutely despise the whole process of compiling or ranking the world’s best ….(insert “phrase” here) but as we all know life’s not all gravy and more often than not, these rather tough decisions have to be taken.
Pardon the rant!
The not so easy feat of the chosen one is quite trying thus after mild to heavy research I came up with five players whom i see to be the best at their trade. Since these lists are subject of heavy scrutiny, i have followed certain guidelines whilst compiling this list. Firstly, the likes of Marcos Senna, Patrick Viera, Gattuso, Veron and co. over 30 have been excluded form the list since their playing days are somewhat on the decline thus “holding” midfielders aged 29 and under were considered. Lastly, this is not a scientific poll.
The transfer saga of Africa’s most expensive footballer involving ex club Lyon and current club Chelsea during the 2005 /06 season was ardorous to say the least yet pales in comparison to the Real-Ronaldo-Man Utd drama. Originally signed from Bastia during the 2003 /04 season for just under â‚¬7.8 million, the Ghanaian deep lying play maker quickly established himself as Ligue 1’s best player.
After helping Lyon attain two successive domestic championships and winning the Ligue 1 player of the year, Europe’s scouts lurked about the greener pastures of the Stade de Gerland. Linked with Europe’s biggest clubs, Chelsea broke its transfer record by shelled out â‚¬24 million for his signature – that record was later shattered by â‚¬30 million star, Andrei “flop-chenko”. Essien is a box to box midfielder; his role as a strong and tough tackling holding midfielder as well as his finesse deep lying play maker and his versatility as a defensive right back makes him a treasured item.
Like his predecessor Makalele, Essien’s composure and off the ball positioning is pure class and his passing ability adds to the value of the English Premier League’s best defensive midfielder. While some defensive midfielders are paired alongside central midfielders to provide adequate cover, Essien is more than apt as the single player thus he creates more room for the attacking prowess of his teammates. It’s a no brainer – the “Bison” is a shoo-in at any football club on the planet.
Known for his mild manners on the football pitch barring a rush of blood to the head, Argentine midfielder Mascherano is also a splendid tackler. Perhaps the most defensive minded midfielder on the list, Mascherano’s marking and positioning instinct is second to none. After a dodgy loan move with fellow mate Tevez from Brazilian side Corinthians to West Ham less than two years ago, Liverpool snatched up the aggressive midfielder for a £18.6 million (pounds) and Benitez quickly immersed the Argentine as an integral part of his plans.
Known as the thinking man’s best friend, Mascherano maturity and analysis of the game is perhaps his greatest strength. Not blessed with abundant height, the 5ft 7in mature 24 yr old ever present dynamic football style is sometimes peculiar yet very effective. As a long time fan of the diminutive Argentine, it should be pointed out that he is often partnered with another deep lying playmaker in the like of Xabi Alonso at Liverpool, Fernando Gago or Esteban Cambiasso at Argentina – it seems he is better utilized when partnered with a similar player which is not a knock on his talent but rather a testament to his teamwork and professionalism.
Alongside Essien, Mascherano is head above shoulders best holding players in the English game and one of the best world football. “He’s probably the best central midfielder in the world” were the words an Argentine football philosopher uttered when asked to describe his fellow country man. Hard to argue with a philosopher!
Daniel De Rossi
Remember the bloody head at the last World cup? No? Well American soccer fans remember the moment when Italian midfielder De Rossi elbowed striker Brian McBride in an chilling affair which ended up with three sending offs. Plying his trade in this birthplace Rome, the Roma midfielder is known as one of Europe’s brightest talents. A product of the Roma youth system, the 25 yr old strong player is set to inherit Totti’s role as Rome’s most beloved son.
The athletic 6 ft player possesses great direct passing ability of that akin to attacking play makers such as Lampard or Gerrard and his rigid style of play works wonders for Roma’s touch and go football. One of the more striking things about the holding role is the peculiar anonymity during play; everyone raves about the goal poachers playing further up the park as well as great defensive play by the sweepers yet the man who does most of the dirty work is rarely praised or more often than not unrecognized.
Unlike his fellow comrades, De Rossi is the leader type – he’s a very visible character on the pitch thus his play is more scrutinized than any other deep lying playmaker in today’s game. Although i greatly admire his talents, the Italy international seems to drift in and out of many games – when Daniel De Rossi is good, he’s the best in the business but when he’s off his game, he can be quite bad.
Seems like he’s been around forever. The hardworking ex Real Madrid midfielder is having the form of his life with his current club Inter. Signed a more than decade ago by the Galacticos, the Argentinian hard man has loan spells at Independiente and River Plate after failing to break into the Real Madrid first team. After an extremely successful loan spell at River Plate in 2002, he gained a spot at the Bernabeu. His last two seasons at the Spanish giants did not go quite as planned as he often failed to live up to high expectations.
Fancying a change of scenery, Cambiasso signed for Inter Milan in 2004 and his time in the fashion capital has been blinding. The free scoring holding midfielder has been an ever present figure during his time at Inter. While his fellow country man Mascherano is timid and mild mannered, Cambiasso is a midfield general running up and down the length of the field. Despite playing in the defensive midfield position, El Cuchu wanders up the pitch often placing himself in goal scoring opportunities. Blessed with excellent football vision and immense lung power, he hardly ever goes unnoticed when he plays for either club or country.
I reckon i just let the cat out of the bag! The almost gray haired 25 yr old French international has replaced the legendary Patrick Viera in the French national team albeit Viera has succumbed to the physio room. Signed as a replacement for Mammadou Diarra in the Lyon line up, the ex-Nantes midfielder works wonders on the ball. Labeled as coy and humble, Toulalan’s demeanor and technique on the football pitch is simple yet extremely effective.
He rarely has a bad game; his tackling, ball awareness, positioning, creativity, composure and work rate are top notch. The extremely gifted holding midfielder hardly ever loses the ball and distributes simple through passes across both sides of the pitch. Jean Michel Alaus, chairman of Lyon, snapped the agile star in 2006 for â‚¬ 7 million and Toulalan has not disappointed.
Known for its defensive tactics and few goals, French domestic league boasts great defensive midfielders such as Jean Makoun, Alou Diarra, Lorik Cana, Rio Mavuba and the highly rated Stephen M’Bia. Despite being coveted by top European clubs, the midfielder has stated his desire to remain at Lyon and recently signed a 5 year extension on his current contract.
I’m not a betting man. Never have and never will be but if my life depended on it, call me insane but i might just be willing to stake it on Jeremy Toulalan as heir to Makalele’s throne and i wouldn’t be completely insane if i argued he might be a clone of the French legend. Quite scary, isn’t it?
P.S. – yes i know Pirlo is not on the list. Pirlo is world class but isn’t exactly a true defensive midfielder!
Who do you think is the best player today in the ‘Makalele role’?