Ignoring the special individual talents that can distort any meaningful argument – in today’s world Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nicklas Bendtner (in his mind at least) – we go through cycles of believing different positions on the pitch are the single most important.
Traditionally it was always the striker. Well before the days where the cost of a match day programme was higher than the minimum wage, football was the working man’s game and the goal scorer was the obvious choice to be idolised. Throughout the Eighties the rock solid centre half was revered as being the key to any successful side, most notably in England where football was far more direct and thus they were constantly under pressure. Ask most players of the generation what made that Liverpool team so successful and most responses will focus on just how hard you had to work to even create a goal scoring chance.
As the Premiership era kicked in, it became all about the foreign playmaker/No 10. If you didn’t have one then you were just not exciting enough for the new dawn of football (to paraphrase Sky Sports). United had Cantona, Chelsea had Zola, Arsenal had Bergkamp and special mentions go to talented imports such as Paolo Di Canio, David Ginola and Georgiou Kinkladze in the earlier waves. They simply had a technique that was far and away superior to our home-grown, hard working boys and it made them the stand out players of any side.
More recently we’ve had the ‘Makalele’, although unfortunately there were very few who could actually perform this role to that sort of ability with Gilberto Silva being one that springs to mind. Pep’s Barca have brought the False Nine into the world’s football dictionary, although this is almost impossible to replicate without their beautiful and fluid tiki taka.
Each cycle is ultimately dependent on the style of football at the time, the favoured formations and the views of the average football fan. Due to Twitter the masses are no longer reduced to the dumbed down analysis of the red tops and sadly Match of the Day (don’t even get me started on ITV’s attempts at punditry). Those of us who love the tactical intricacies of a game just as much as the blood and thunder excitement can get our fix of deeper thought, just look at the number of hits the excellent Zonal Marking gets.
Thanks to this it’s now time for the players I’ve revered the most to be held in the high regard they deserve. I’m talking of the dictators, those who can control and dictate the tempo and style of a game almost single-handedly. The common switch to a three man midfield, each with more specific roles than can be applied for a two, along with a more technically driven style of play has allowed their stars to shine.
Long before it was popular I was championing Xavi as one of the best players in the world. He could never beat four or five on a mazy run, score 50 goals a season or score an outrageous overhead kick but he could control and change both the style and tempo of a game at will. Pep’s Barca are as much Xavi’s Barca for me, they would never have been able to reach the heights they did without his constant ability to find a yard of space, to slow a game down with intricate, short passing and to create a chance with a pass many of us simply would never see.
Xavi is the pinnacle, Bastian Schweinsteiger does the same for Bayern Munich and this potentially great German side whilst Andrea Pirlo is still one of the great exponents of this.Take anyone of those out of their respective sides and you will see the entire style of their teams change, for the worse. They are my heroes and finally they are getting the recognition they deserve.