World class “water carriers” – The importance of holding midfielders


Back in the 1990′s, flamboyant France and Manchester United star Eric Cantona derisively labelled Didier Deschamps, the captain of the 1998 World Cup winning French team, a ‘water carrier’. The current Les Bleus coach, who used to play as a central defensive midfielder, did not for sure have the skill and panache of a Zinedine Zidane, Cristophe Dugarry or a Youri Djorkaeff. But his importance to the side lay in the fact that his constant presence in front of the back four enabled the likes of Zidane and Djorkaeff to focus on their attacking game, and paved the way for the French team’s first and so far only ever success in the competition. Employed in a similar role at Juventus, Chelsea and Marseille among other clubs during his career, Deschamps is a true success story, maximising his potential for the best of his team.

The fast-paced, pass-and-move nature of football today makes it more and more difficult for a pure defensive midfielder to find a spot in top quality sides. The focus is now more on the sort of player who presents a wide range of pin-point passing, capable of sitting in the hole between defense and attack and orchestrating play from that role.

Spain is an example of a national side whose international success has been driven by just that sort of a formula. When they won the Euro in 2008, Marcos Senna provided the muscle down the centre, enabling Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and the rest to do what they do best. Busquets certainly provides a lot more for Spain than Senna and fits seamlessly into the system employed by the La Roja and Barcelona.

The partnership of Alonso and Busquets is critical to Spain’s success, probably even more than the attacking players in front of them. If a Xavi or an Iniesta is out injured, the likes of Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas and others can fill in. But it would be quite a hard task to fill the boots of Alonso or Busquets.

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