The rise of the Defensive Midfielders

We are living in an era where the central defensive midfielder role is one of the most important but underrated positions. Kante is about to become the first player to win consecutive Premier Leagues with different teams. So what exactly is a DM supposed to do? Why is Kante considered world-class? What are the different types of DMs you can find?

The first and obvious answer to the first question is: regain possession, stop attacks and intercept passes. Let’s start off with a player playing in the Makelele role. Makelele was yet another underrated defensive midfielder. Florentino Perez heavily criticized him for being a simple player with no extraordinary skill who passes the ball only side-wards or backwards most of the time. Funny thing is, that is what a defensive midfielder is supposed to do, stop attacks and play it simple, not try anything fancy as you are most vulnerable to lose the ball when you just gain possession. Kante can be called a modern-day Makelele. He runs front, runs back to regain possession and then plays it simple to launch an attack. Another type of a rather attack oriented midfielder in the same position would be a deep-lying playmaker, like Pirlo or maybe Toni Kroos before his time at Madrid where he now plays ahead of Casemiro. Yes, these players too acted like a shield to the defense like defensive midfielders are meant to. But their vision and better passing skills allowed them to venture forward and give those trace-perfect passes to the front-line directly. Thus living up to the tag of deep-lying playmakers. There are more variations to this position but the most common trait which all DMs must posses is a good footballing brain, as they are the fulcrums who balance the attack and defense.

Let’s talk about Sergio Busquets now. Someone who has watched him for 7+ years and has spent matches focusing on only him can confirm that he is a player and a half. He does his defensive duties like he is supposed to. He runs back, sorts out the defense, picks the ball and starts the attack. Forget what I said about a DM not being allowed to do fancy tricks and flicks while keeping the ball in possession, for I am talking about someone who fools world-class midfielders with the simplest of touches, dummies and passes. You can’t call him technically gifted as such. He is not a magician. He is not a show-boater. He is the simplest footballer you will ever find. But as Cruijff said, “Playing football is simple. Playing simple football is very difficult”. He not only masters the Makelele role but also acts as a deep-lying playmaker sometimes. Maybe he is not better at it than Pirlo or Kroos, but it is very rare to find a deep-lying defensive playmaker (if you want to call it that). This is why he is a player and a half. Also, he is the one who directs play. He is the one who decides which side to attack from. He is the one who decides the tempo of the game. In a way, he is an on-field coach. Spain and Barcelona are extremely lucky to have this genius but simple footballer who has revolutionized this role. Del Bosque rightly said, “You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You see Busquets, you see the whole game”. Strange that he is not appreciated enough. Lad needs to play in England. One through-ball, two turns, three fakes, four interceptions should give him enough media hype for a month. Funny, given that he does all this every 10 minutes for Barcelona. Missed it? Probably you were watching the game and not Busquets. Also, Busquets can never have a bad game, that’s a footballing rule. If Busquets is having a bad game, then there is something wrong with the system, as exposed repeatedly at Barcelona this season. Busquets never had bad days, it was Luis Enrique who had them. This must be the best indicator for any coach. Busquets isn’t playing well? you’re going wrong somewhere, mate.

This is not a comparison between these players. They might be playing the same position, but they are playing completely different roles, comparison would be meaningless. It would be a crime if Carrick isn’t mentioned here. He is up there, but could have been way better in a system where the midfield was the most prominent part of the pitch and if he had more freedom and did not have to make hasty decisions while on the ball. Lad should’ve played in Spain. This generation is lucky to witness tons of excellent defensive midfielders, all underrated unfortunately.

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