In 2004, when Fiorentino Perez had sold Claudio Makelele to Chelsea, he had replaced him with David Beckham and famously proclaimed that “he had bought a player that able to pass 30 yards and had sold the player that whom can’t even make 5 yards pass”. However, Real Madrid player Zinedine Zidane at that time had said with regards to Makelele departure “Why putting another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”. Claudio Makelele later had been instrumental in helping Chelsea to win their first title since 1955 in the season 2004/2005 and astonishingly Chelsea had only conceded 15 goals in that Premier League season.
Similarly, when Sir Alex Ferguson had won the treble in 1999, he had Roy Keane as his defensive midfielder who had been instrumental in a perfect performance in the second leg semi-final against Juventus, Liverpool in their glory days in 70’s and 80’s had Graeme Souness as their defensive midfielder and Arrigo Sacchi AC Milan had Frank Rijkaard in their team. France national team had a fantastic achievement as they had become the first team to win the World Cup in 1998 and followed by a European Cup in 2000 had a player whom Eric Cantona had labeled as a water carrier Didier Deschamp. What all this player had in common? They are not fancy, flashy, skillful and being the main man but the contribution is crucial and all of them had one thing in common as they are playing as a defensive midfielder.
Makele during his Real Madrid and Chelsea time had been so good in his role until the defensive midfielder had been called as “Makelele Role”. Frank Rijkaard coming from the country that produces the football style Total Football able to help the team in attack and in defense too as he possesses an amazing speed, and a brilliant passing ability. In the 2005 UEFA Champion League final, when Liverpool had fallen behind 3-0 to AC Milan, Rafa Benitez had identified AC Milan Kaka as the dangerous man and in the second half introduced Dietmar Hamman, the results Liverpool amazingly recovered by making the score line 3-3 and with Hamman in the team, Kaka threat had been neutralized dramatically and he is unable to terrorize the Liverpool like he did in the first half.
Each team that had a successful year of winning trophies will have a solid defensive midfielder in their team. This player as mentioned is not skillful or making a headline like a striker, defender or even the goalkeeper but their contribution is important. A defensive midfielder had been created to nullify the false 9 players who like to drop deep and confuse the defender. The defensive midfielder will be positioned in between the defender and the midfielder. He will become like a shield for the defender and if the defensive midfielder had intercepted the opponent attack then they can counter attack and overload the opponent defensive line in a lightning quick pace.
A good defensive midfielder also provides a good balance in the team between the attack and the defense and make the more attack minded midfielder to be freed to unleash his attacking prowess in the opponent half. A player that had been able to perform at their best with a great defensive midfielder partner is Frank Lampard in 2004/2005 season with Makelele behind him, Steven Gerrard in 2005 final when Dietmar Hamman had been introduced, Paul Scholes when Roy Keane is protecting the midfielder, Paul Pogba during his Juventus time with Pirlo behind him and much more.
They are defensive midfielder than called as “Destroyer” where their duty is to intercept and provide a shield to defenses like Claudio Makele, Dunga, Didier Deschamp, Mauro Silva, Nemanja Matic and much more. Some defensive midfielder able to make a radar like a long pass to their team mates like Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Rijkaard and much more. This type of player usually called as deep lying playmaker but one disadvantage for these type of player is the defensive side of their game is not as good as the Destroyer type defensive midfielder. Some players like Lothar Matthaus, Frank Rijkaard, Eric Dier, Pep Guardiola, Marco Tardelli, and much more able to perform excellently on the defensive side and the attacking side of the game.
A defensive midfielder will only be known when they are not in the team as for example when Real Madrid sold Claudio Makelele to Chelsea it had disrupted the balance of the team and in the final stages of their season, Real Madrid had collapsed dramatically as they had been knocked out in the UEFA Champion League to AS Monaco and failed to defend their La Liga title as they had lost to Valencia on that season. Even in 1999 final against Bayern Munich, United had been totally outplayed and outpassed in the midfield by Bayern Munich as they missed out Roy Keane as he was suspended for the final, however unlike Real Madrid, Manchester United had won the UEFA Champion League with 2 goals in 3-minute injury time.
A defensive midfielder may not steal the headline with his goal scoring abilities, or amazing skills but they are one of the crucial positions in a team. The manager likes Jose Mourinho will have a great midfielder in his team like during his Chelsea time he had Claudio Makelele, with Inter Milan he had Esteban Cambiasso, with Real Madrid he had Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira, and currently, with Manchester United, he had Nemanja Matic.
Eric Cantona may have described Didier Deschamp roles as a water carrier in the team but in truth, they are more to this position than just a water carrier. The defensive midfielder provides a balance, a shield to the defender, deep lying playmaking abilities, helping in provide lightning pace counter attack, able to free the more attack minded midfielder, leadership like the one provided by Didier Deschamp, Dunga, Roy Keane, a hard man like Graeme Souness, and much more. They may not have any individual trophies like the Top Goalscorer, Best Goalkeeper, or FIFA Ballon d’Or but they are one of the crucial positions in the team. In simple term, they are the unsung hero in the team.