Monday, 21 May 2012

History suggests that Van Persie will leave

Another season has come to an end and yet again Arsenal are facing the prospect of losing their best player. Their captain and talisman Robin van Persie has one year remaining on his current contract and as expected the vultures are circling for his signature.

Initial reports suggest that he is contemplating a move away from the Emirates this summer after talks ended in stalemate last week. Having witnessed his great friend Cesc Fabregas leave the club last summer few could blame the Dutch striker for wanting to leave North London.

Unfortunately for Arsenal their lack of success in recent seasons has seen many of their top stars leave the club to seek silverware elsewhere. Interestingly most of the better players have gone on to win various trophies at their next club and this is something that will not escape RVP’s attention (or his agent’s). Even though Barcelona have failed to win La Liga or the European Champions League this season Fabregas has still already won three trophies this season (and should compete for their fourth against Athletic Bilbao on Friday).

There were of course another two high profile departures last summer with Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri deciding that Manchester City offered a more realistic chance of silverware than Arsenal. After considerable criticism from the fans both players were vindicated with City’s Premier League triumph this season. It is easy to see why many of the Arsenal players view the club as a stepping stone to future success.

If you go back even further there are even more examples. Thierry Henry enjoyed initial success at Arsenal but when the club began to stagnate he left for Barcelona where he won seven major titles as a player in three seasons. Of course there is then one of the chief protagonists in the Van Persie saga; Patrick Vieira.

After years of transfer rumours Vieira finally departed Arsenal for Juventus in 2005 after scoring their decisive penalty kick against Manchester United in the FA Cup, which was their last trophy. He enjoyed considerable success in Italy where he won six titles during his spells with Inter Milan and Juve. He is of course now working at Manchester City and will be involved heavily with attempting to lure Van Persie to the newly crowned Premier League champions.

This situation must be incredibly frustrating for Arsenal fans and everyone associated with the club. However, it is a situation they seem to continually find themselves in every year and when you look back at history it suggests RVP will leave for pastures new this summer. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barcelona need Pedro

The reaction over the last week to Barcelona losing to Chelsea and Real Madrid has verged on the ludicrous at times. It appears almost beyond the comprehension of most that this glittering club could lose two such important games in such a short space of time.

There is no doubt that Barca are not quite right at the moment. Having witnessed their performance first hand last Wednesday at Stamford Bridge it is clear to see where and why. One of the keys to Barca’s unbelievable attacking play in recent years has been the explosive moment of their players between the opponent’s lines of midfield and defence. For many parts of this season this movement has been severely lacking and it is why they seem so impotent at the moment.

Movement between the lines makes it incredibly difficult for defenders to maintain their shape and to mark their opponent. Any sudden burst of movement will then have to be imitated in order to remain with the player moving towards goal. The next problem is that usually one of your team mates follows the movement too which then leaves a Barca player free.

Two of the key exponents of this type of movement have been missing for extended periods this season; Pedro and David Villa. Indeed the one player Barca are really missing at the moment is Pedro; his knowledge and understanding of Guardiola’s methods make him such an integral part of the squad. Although he may not be the most talented forward at the club his game is based almost entirely on this type of performance.

Another one of Barca’s key weapons is the ball played from inside their own half through the line between the centre backs and the full-backs. The pass is intended for the winger who has started his run on the touch line. When possession is gained the Barca player will run inwards and then dart between the full-back and the nearest centre back. A precise pass will then take out an entire defensive line and leave the forward bearing down on goal. Yet again, one of Pedro’s trade mark runs.

Messi has become too isolated in attack and it was only the introduction of Alexis Sanchez that gave him the extra space with which to work. Once Pedro too had been introduced hugging the right touchline Barcelona finally began to resemble the threat we know they can be.

The fact that Barcelona have won everything and the fact that Lionel Messi plays for them Pep Guardiola does not always get the credit he deserves. In the modern game you cannot win knock-out tournaments by having a couple of great players; you have to have a system. The system implemented and developed by Guardiola is what made them the force they have been and returning to that tonight will serve them well. What they also require is those that know, trust and excel in that system, and for tonight that means Pedro.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Is Modric the answer?

So far 2012 has not been Tottenham Hotspur’s year; they have lost their grip on a top four place in the English Premier League and now face a battle to ensure Champions League football next season. Since hammering Newcastle on 11th February they have played nine Premier League games and won only one. After impressing so much at the start of the season what has happened at the club to make them suddenly so ineffective?

The obvious answer is of course that Harry Redknapp has had his head turned by the England job. It is quite remarkable that in this media frenzied world a manager with his recent record is blameless in the national press. It is clear the press have decided who they want as the new national manager which leaves the players as the scapegoats. The players have clearly been deeply upset about the prospect of losing the ‘great’ Harry Redknapp and simply cannot continue to play at the same level. This is of course utter rubbish; the reason Spurs have imploded is that confidence has gone to certain player’s heads’ and others simply haven’t got close to the standards they set themselves earlier in the season.

One extenuating circumstance has been that Aaron Lennon has missed several games which clearly disrupted their balance. Normally Spurs employ two natural wingers, who, when aided by the over lapping full-backs created chaos for defences earlier in the season. Unfortunately for Spurs Gareth Bale’s form has dipped massively since he was granted freedom of the pitch and his continual presence on the right of the attack makes the team lopsided. Whilst there is no doubt Bale is an immensely talented player his ego appears to have grown disproportionally to his performance level. He is, and always will be a left winger who needs space to be most effective; until he remembers exactly where it was that he flourished his performances will continue to be below par.

However, there is one player at Spurs who continues to under deliver; Luka Modric. Last summer figures of £40 million were being branded around for the Croatian midfielder. Similarly to Bale there is no doubt that he is a wonderful player; brilliant first touch, lovely passer of the ball(his pass completion percentage currently stands at 87.5 in 32 games) and can beat people for fun. However, he doesn’t contribute enough in terms of assists and goals to command anywhere near that fee. In nearly four completed seasons at Spurs Modric has 12 goals and 15 assists in 121 league appearances. That is the kind of return you used to expect from Fabregas, Gerrard or Lampard in a single season, let alone four!

For a player of Modric’s ability those statistics are alarming. He is deployed in a central midfield partnership with Scott Parker where he is expected to be a combative, yet creative. This is simply not his game as his display of air tackles against Manchester City recently demonstrated. He needs to be given a platform further up the pitch where his creative attributes can come to the fore and be expressed as we have seen with Croatia.

Much of this will also lie with the manager. Redknapp has tinkered a little bit with formations this season but his midfield is incredibly ineffective defensively; Bale, Lennon and Modric are all luxury players to some extent. This has resulted in Scott Parker having a much greater workload than he should have had. Great defensive midfielders, it was always said, should be anonymous as Makelele was; why therefore is Parker always so noticeable?

If Spurs fail to qualify for the Champions League there is little doubt that we will see a repetition of last summer with the Modric will he/won’t he rumours coming round again. It should not be forgotten that in a poor Premier League season Spurs have been one of the few positives. However, they must now push on and secure a Champions League place or they could be rebuilding their side again over the summer. I feel they deserve a place in this season’s top four but at the moment they are not quite there and at this stage of the season the league table doesn’t lie.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Ronaldo to the rescue

On Wednesday night during a dramatic second half at the Vicente Calderon Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly wrestled back the La Liga title for Real Madrid. It was a phenomenal performance from the Portuguese superstar when his side most needed it. Having dropped six points in recent weeks the title looked for a brief second to be within Barcelona’s clutches but Ronaldo quite clearly had other ideas.

It was another virtuoso performance from Ronaldo who is continuing to break all records as his remarkable career continues to flourish. He now has 40 goals in 32 games in the league this season with another 11 assists; the word phenomenal is usually sufficient in an example like this but in this instance it still doesn’t cover it.

Unfortunately for the Portuguese player he is playing at the same moment as one Lionel Messi who has won the last three Ballon d’Or titles ahead of him. If he had been playing in any other era he would be heralded as the greatest of his generation and certainly one of the best players of all time. Instead he is widely regarded as a amazing player but remains inferior to Messi in many people’s eyes. Certainly during his spell at Manchester United there were elements to his game that were selfish and a little immature but his development in the last three years at Madrid has turned him into the perfect modern day football player.

Standing at a little over six feet tall he is remarkably good in the air and is one of the biggest aerial threats in football. Playing in England during his late teens and early twenties has also toughened him up to the physical demands of the game and his strength on the ball is staggering. When you also throw in the fact that he is very competent on his wrong foot and is able to take free kicks with immense precision (his free-kick accuracy has been poor this season until a few weeks ago, he has since scored directly from three free-kicks) is surely enough to make him the world’s number one player?

Although many in England still dislike his arrogance and will never forgive him for winking at the TV cameras after getting Wayne Rooney sent off against England he must, and should be appreciated by any football fan, whatever your allegiance. He is said to be a very personable and amiable man off the pitch and clearly just loves playing the game. His talent was always noticeable, especially during his early years at Manchester United and it is wonderful to see that it has blossomed and developed into what it has today.

In a world obsessed with comparisons and rivalries it is a shame Ronaldo’s talent is not appreciated as much as it should be. He is a truly great player and is achieving things at Madrid that may well never be equalled. It is a great shame that the shadow of Messi looms over the Portuguese star at times and it is almost impossible to mention one without the other anymore. At this moment in time we have Messi and Ronaldo performing to levels not seen before and it should be enjoyed to the fullest.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Will Mancini last the summer?

There is no way to avoid it, Manchester City have literally fallen to pieces in recent weeks. The disastrous performance at the Emirates on Sunday summed up their fortunes since Christmas; there was no significant goal threat, their passing was laboured in midfield and without Yaya Toure (who was injured early on) or David Silva there was no thrust to their play. The side was screaming out for width and for their manager to make a tactical change that could have hurt Arsenal, neither happened and they lost.

Whilst much of the criticism has centred on Mario Balotelli’s controversial behaviour (yet again) a sizeable percentage of the blame must lie at Roberto Mancini’s door. A manager, it must be remembered, who enjoyed most of his managerial success in an almost unopposed Serie A following the Calciopoli scandal. There is nothing worse than a knee jerk reaction to sporting outcomes and Mancini is certainly a competent manager but there must now be serious doubts about his ability to revive City for next seasons’ challenges.

It has not been a straightforward season for the Italian manager; firstly he has had to deal with want away striker Carlos Tevez and then in recent weeks has attempted to control the troubled Mario Balotelli. I seemed to be one of the few people that genuinely believed the Tevez saga benefited Mancini and City; he had been outstanding the season before and at points had lead the club single-handedly to qualify for Champions League football. However, the rumblings of his unhappiness in Manchester etc had not gone away and it seemed almost inevitable that something would come to a head at some point. The situation would also help Mancini to deal with Balotelli who you could see snarling on the bench at the start of the season. With one striker less he was then able to play them all enough to ensure they remained content at the club.

However, dealing with Balotelli has proved to be one step too far for Mancini. He has an unbelievable knack of grabbing headlines for both the right and wrong reasons but it seems his luck has finally run out. With the threat of a long ban looming it may prove to be more beneficial for City to cut their losses and let Mario return to Italy; just imagine a front line at AC Milan of Balotelli, Cassano and Ibrahimovic – that would be worth watching and would certainly keep Massimiliano Allegri on his toes!

In all seriousness though these situations have been undermining Mancini and have resulted in Manchester City falling apart so dramatically. The early season form of David Silva has disappeared and the Spaniard has looked absolutely shattered in recent weeks and didn’t play at Arsenal on Sunday. He was sublime at the start of the season but Mancini did not protect him enough and also underplayed Samir Nasri which has slowed up his progression at his new club. When Nasri made the move last summer he appeared the obvious choice to step in for Silva if tired/injured but when you consider he has only started 21 league games this season the picture becomes clearer.

The loss of Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations and the injury/suspension to Vincent Kompany have also been key factors in City’s decline. However, the key decisions have still been with Mancini and it is why it seems unlikely he will be in charge next season. Some of his tactical decisions and game strategies have been puzzling to say the least; going to the Emirates for a point when Arsenal are there for the taking was foolish and underlined his negativity, his overuse of two defensive midfielders at various stages again this season has stifled the side and some of his substitutions have been simply odd; bringing on Kolarov to sure up the left was fine but why were his attacking options only introduced with minutes remaining. The game had been crying out for Tevez to make his introduction against an Arsenal defence that still gifts the opposition several clear cut chances a game but it came too late again.

One factor that may help Mancini is that Sir Alex Ferguson has been his counterpart; very few have got the better of him initially. He has seen off every manager the Premier League has thrown at him (apart from Jose Mourinho – but one feels that battle could restart in the not too distant future) in his 20 odd years at Old Trafford and his experience and nous is what will win United the title this time round. Despite what the inventors of modern day football (Sky) tell us this Premier league season has been unbelievably poor at points and City being unable to raise the bar has been a big letdown. It would be refreshing to see Mancini given time to correct his errors this year but it seems hard to believe at this stage.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where do Arsenal go from here?

Once again, for the umpteenth year running Arsenal Football Club find themselves facing another trophy less season. The humiliation they suffered last week in the San Siro against AC Milan was repeated at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland on Saturday where they went crashing out of the FA Cup in an all too familiar show of disarray. The distinct lack of quality, aligned with a clear lack or purpose and leadership now means it is seven years since the club last won a trophy. For a club that consider themselves to be one of the top sides in Europe this is simply not good enough.

We all know that they of course lost two of their best three players last summer which would cause any side to enter somewhat of a transitional phase. However, the replacements that the current manager Arsene Wenger brought in before the season began are quite simply not good enough for a team with title aspirations. The season of course couldn’t have started any worse but did improve for a time; however, these recent results will no doubt be the end of their season and there is a distinct possibility that they could collapse again as they have done for the past two seasons.

It is not just the departures that have severely affected the club; the goings on behind the scenes appears to be approaching the farcical stage as reports emerging in recent days suggest serious financial mismanagement. Reports from the club suggest that the wage bill currently stands at £130 million a year which is hampering the club from signing new players because the club simply cannot afford to pay them. Two examples of this are Abou Diaby and Denilson who are both pocketing £60,000 a week; when you consider one is permanently injured and the other one has been sent to Brazil (in an attempt to sell him) this is truly staggering. It has also been revealed that the club employ 71 professionals who are all on the wage bill – 71! Something has gone seriously wrong at the club and a quick fix seems unlikely.

Another interesting and decidedly worrying fact is that the club only earn £14 million from their shirt sponsors. The modern day football world is primarily about making money and for a club of Arsenal’s stature I find this unbelievably incompetent; Liverpool, themselves in turmoil on the pitch, earn £40 million a year – and they don’t even play in the Champions League. How can these things be allowed to happen at a club who pride themselves on their financial prudence?

The problems on the pitch are there for everyone to see. They seriously lack the quality to remain in the top four this season and unless Chelsea and Liverpool’s malaise continues they will not finish in a Champions League place. The distinct lack of defensive quality is now beyond a joke and how they have managed to ignore this when it is clearly something that has hindered them for years must now be put down to ineptitude rather than anything else. The fans barrack Squillaci and others for their individual errors but collectively they stand and together they should all fall. The Belgian Thomas Vermaelen who was regarded as their stand out defender has looked hopeless recently and clearly didn’t deserve his £600,000 loyalty bonus last season (another shocking financial decision as he hardly played).

There is no doubt that Wenger was a fantastic football manager once upon a time but he is managing a sinking ship at the moment and failure against Spurs this weekend should signal the end of his tenure in my opinion. If he cannot galvanise his troops and instil more enthusiasm and effort they surely have to find someone new to develop a new team. However, with the astronomical wage bill and serious lack of quality who would want it?

We have all been lead to believe that Arsenal were going to be the example of how to run a football club off the field and this statement simply has no credibility at the moment. Unless something dramatic happens at the club in the coming months the on field problems could have a lasting effect on the club’s future. Everyone associated at the club called initially for patience but surely that is waring thin now, something has to change, and fast.

Monday, 20 February 2012

How good are Spurs?

This season must be the most enjoyable Tottenham Hotspur fans have had in recent memory; they lie third in the Premier League and look set to be involved in the European Champions League again next season, for only the second time. Having spent many years investing in youth the fruit of their labors is finally there to be enjoyed and the style of their football has probably been the best in the league so far this season.

During the summer they added the experience of Brad Friedel in goal, the rugged determination of Scott Parker in midfield and the much maligned Emmanuel Adebayor up front. All three signings have been integral to their success this season and playing alongside the likes of Gareth Bale, Ledley King and Luka Modric the club appears to be going from strength to strength. After a sluggish start to the season they then went on a ten game unbeaten run which was only ended by Stoke City in December. In January they strengthened their attacking options with the loan signing of Louis Saha from Everton.

Some of their attacking play in particular has been breath-taking; with Bale and Lennon on either wing and Adebayor proving to be an immense spear head the goals have come thick and fast but it has been the manor of them that has really made people sit up and take notice. Bale has been a revelation this season and has given them the balance on each wing that they have been striving for. The wingers have also enabled Spurs to allow Modric to truly express himself in the centre where the addition of Scott Parker has taken defensive duties away from the playmaker and allowed him to flourish.

However, the Premier League is an odd place this season with at least three of the supposed top sides going through somewhat of a transition. There is no doubt that Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are not at the level expected of them and there is even enough doubt to suggest that the current Manchester United team is not as strong as those we have seen in the past. At the start of the season Spurs lost convincingly to both sides from Manchester and are about to enter the crucial stage of their season. By the end of March they will have played Arsenal, Chelsea and United in the return games.

There is no doubting that Spurs are a side in the ascendance and thus are a rare commodity in the Premier League. Indeed, if it weren’t for Manchester City I genuinely believe Spurs could have won the title, as it is they look likely to cement third place in the coming weeks. However, there are several things they have to improve on if they are to mount a title challenge next season.

Both of their first choice strikers are on loan from parent clubs which means they could leave at the end of the season and not return. With Jose Mourinho expected to reappear in the Premier League next season Adebayor’s future could be in doubt after the two worked successfully at Madrid last year. It has made such a difference having a focal point who can hold play up and play in the likes of Bale, Lennon and Modric and having finally acquired it they don’t want to lose it.

It is imperative that someone tells Gareth Bale to remain on the left wing! Every time I have seen Spurs recently he is playing through the middle and it is not his area. He is at his best when he is steaming up the left wing and whipping a ball across the six yard box. There is a feeling he is being advised to play more centrally to score more goals but for the meantime it is detrimental for the team (and yes I did see the Norwich goal).

I do not intend to be disparaging about Spurs; they have been a breath of fresh air this season and it will be fascinating to see how they get on in the coming months. A couple of key signings in the summer could well see them established as one of the regular top four and with a new ground on the horizon the future looks bright for Spurs. It is however difficult to assess just how good they are at this moment in time.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Valencia provides the spark

In the last seven days there have been glimpses that Manchester United are beginning to approach their best form. Their second half performances at Stamford Bridge and this afternoon at Old Trafford have been noticeable for the goals of Wayne Rooney; however, it is Antonio Valencia who is providing the creative spark the United talisman has been craving all season.

The top sides this season have been really struggling for creativity and it has been refreshing to see Valencia returning to his best form. He is tremendously quick and is built perfectly for modern day football; he is strong and slight whilst remaining incredibly fleet of foot which makes him very difficult to play against. The Ecuadorian winger is predominantly found hugging the right touchline where his crossing ability can be demonstrated to full effect.

What makes Valencia so integral to United’s current set up is his understanding with Rooney. A couple of seasons ago the winger was responsible for assisting many of the striker’s goals and their understanding is clear for everyone to see. More than once this afternoon Rooney drove one of his trademark passes out to the right touchline where Valencia would control the ball, beat a defender and then find his teammate in the area with a delightful cross. His assist for Rooney’s second was his ninth of the season and it looks like more are on their way.

Many of the Premier League’s other strikers would kill for the service Valencia provides. What separates him from many of his counterparts is his fantastic selflessness which enables his strikers to score so many goals. One of the biggest problems that Fernando Torres has is that many of Chelsea’s players will do something themselves after creating an opening rather than play in the Spaniard. At United once Valencia has an opening he usually finds a red shirt to score the goal. This unerring selflessness is one of the defining features of this current United side and is one of the key factors in their success.

This is his third year at United after an injury ravaged second season and he is proving once again that he is one of the best wingers around. In a recent interview Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola actually stated he believed he was currently the best winger in the world; if his form continues like this until the end of the season he could well be proved right.

It appears that the title will be remaining in Manchester this season but its exact location will remain a mystery for the next few months. It must worry Manchester City and their manager Roberto Mancini that United are beginning to crank up through the gears as the title race enters the final stages. Few would back against United if the gap remains small until the later stages and with Antonio Valencia in this kind of form goals are not going to be hard to find.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Mourinho damned either way

The fall-out from last week’s Clasico battle has centred almost entirely around Jose Mourinho and his influence on the current Real Madrid side. Although the club remain five points clear in La Liga and could well win the title the fact that they remain so far behind their eternal enemies Barcelona in terms of quality is proving too galling for many to accept.

For possibly the first time in his career Mourinho maybe made to vacate his position before world domination is obtained. It is a peculiar situation given all that he has achieved during his tenure in Madrid but the fact remains that the club are still languishing behind their most bitter rivals. He has seen off Jorge Valdano, he has broken club records left, right and centre and could even win La Liga this season, but it is still not enough.

During the pre-match build up last week former Madrid player Michel Salgado was debating his former club’s plan for the match with the Skysports panel. He stated that this club is not somewhere where win at all costs counts; the fans and board demands a certain style is adhered to and currently Mourinho is falling short of this when they play Barca. However, at half-time, with Madrid one nil up he changed his stance and praised the players, and the manager. Clearly the fact that I don’t reside in Madrid limits my ability to have my feelings on the pulse of supporters’ thoughts but I would imagine this echoes their thinking too; they play great football against all other sides but then become incredibly negative when playing Barca.

However, only last season Mourinho took his Real side to the Camp Nou with an attacking edge and plans in place to beat Barca. This couldn’t have turned out any worse as they were humiliated five nil. They were simply outclassed in every aspect and were taught a lesson in some senses. It was during that embarrassment that he decided he could not compete with them on an attack minded front. The majority of the Barca players have played together for years and have an incredible understanding that simply cannot be bought. The likes of Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro and Xavi know each others game inside out which makes them incredibly difficult to play against.

Rumours have also surfaced of a training ground altercation between Casillas, Mourinho and Ramos which could be the beginning of the end for the Portuguese manager. Those two players are stalwarts of the club and will not take kindly to disagreements with their manager. Over the course of history players have always been more powerful than the coaches at this club and although it has changed slightly I cannot see it being any different this time.

Tomorrow night’s game will be a fascinating watch, although one already feels like it is a forgone conclusion; Barca should win the game and advance to the next round. Mourinho left out several of his more defensive players at the weekend and could do again tomorrow night. If he goes there and attempts to contain Barca he will be criticised and if he goes there and attacks they will be ripped apart; he simply cannot win. What seems clear is that things are not well in Madrid and although they still remain top of the league the main goal still appears to be toppling Barca, with or without the Special one.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The modern day defensive midfielder

There was a time in the not too distant past when the defensive midfielder was thought of as an unskilled position. It was where you would deploy your terrier, someone to harry and disrupt the opposition. In recent times however, it has become one of the most important roles within the side and when done well is an integral part of a successful team.

Although the position suggests it is predominantly defensive we are seeing more instances of players becoming far more offensive. In fact in some cases there is even cause to suggest the position can be undertaken by the playmaker, which is probably best demonstrated by Andrea Pirlo of Juventus and Italy. He is able to make space for himself in tight situations and then dictate the pace of the passing when his side breaks forward. Being blessed with a fantastic range of passing enables Pirlo to truly pull the strings for his team.

I still remember the first time the defensive midfield role really made me sit up and take note; it was Fernando Redondo’s performance for Real Madrid against Manchester United in 2000. The way he conducted his team was like something I had never really seen before; he tackled, he passed, he did an amazing trick to assist Raul for Madrid’s third at Old Trafford and became my favourite player overnight. It was a complete contrast to seeing someone like Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira who were the leading exponents of that role in the Premier League. Its not that they were bad players, both are probably two of the leading examples of central midfield play in England but they didn’t have that little bit extra; they would not have had that extra thought to outfox an opponent and provide that creative spark.

This position is now more crucial that ever before with the advent of the ‘false 9’ position which is becoming ever more popular. With fitness levels ever increasing the space between the midfield and defence is getting increasingly hard to marshal with runners coming from central and wide positions. The finest defensive exponent of this was Claude Makelele who has been paid the biggest compliment of all by renaming the position as the ‘Makelele role’. The best players are always the ones who make things look easy and Makelele made the defensive midfield position integral to Madrid’s Champions League triumph in 2002. Their defence was not the best and it struggled often for numbers as the full backs were usually found rampaging up the wings. The discipline Makelele had enabled the side to play to their attacking strengths and with him in place the defence was not exposed as frequently as it could have been.

Having mentioned some notable players already it is now time to look at the latest of the leading defensive midfielders in world football. Although he is not the most potent attacking threat his ability to read the game, change position and to keep the ball moving makes Sergio Busquets the ideal modern day player. Of course he is aided quite considerably by playing for Barcelona who are currently the best club side in the world. His manager Pep Guardiola is continually trying new tactics and testing new formations. He is extremely lucky that Busquets is such an intelligent player; often when the Barcelona full backs attack he will drop deeper to form a defensive trio alongside Pique and Puyol. For a side that dominates possession and generally play in their opponents half this ability is so vital to the way they set up and play.

Everyone was able to witness how Manchester United were torn apart by Barcelona in the Champions League final last year and how they lacked someone to shield the back four. This position is specialist and there are very few truly great players in that position playing at the moment. With football evolving and adapting as the years go by it will be fascinating to see how the role develops in the coming years. I for one would imagine that the role will become more creative as the game evolves; the game is moving away from the defensive side of things and goals are what everyone wants these days.