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The rise of the defensive midfielder

One of the things that stood out for me at the World Cup in South Africa is the importance of the modern defensive midfielder.The rise of the technically limited “reducer” has led to players like Nigel De Jong of Holland taking up prominent roles in elite teams.

The modern defensive midfielder first came to light through Claude Makélele. Jose Mourinho used him in the position and his role in Chelsea’s success can be seen as the jumping point from where other managers took up the idea.
In terms of tactics Makélelé’s role was to break up attacks through timely tackles or interceptions in the gap between midfield and attack. However he would also be required to effectively cover the full-backs when they pressed higher up the pitch to support the forwards. It it is very effective against modern teams that use quick counter attacks.

However, it has been condemned by pundits for promoting players with a big physical presence over skilful ones.

This is something that is very evident in youth teams – players that are big and physical they are more likely to play. It is these teams that spark the debate over the role of defensive midfielders in the modern game and cause worries over the development of young players.

There are exceptions – look at Jack Rodwell in the Everton team, a player with the physical capacity to play at the heart of a Premiership midfield or defence he also has sublime technical skill and has the talent to develop into a true box-to-box midfielder in the mould of Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira in their prime.

In a world where teams like Spain, Germany, Barcelona or Arsenal have the ability to turn defense into swift attack the deep defensive midfielder is a must. In youth teams they will not face that kind of swift attack the “reducer” is less effective, especially if they are keeping a more skilful player out of the team.

Remember the way De Jong stopped Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final in South Africa? Watch it below…


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