The significance a Premier League manager places in fielding a traditional midfield anchor akin to former Chelsea star Claude Makelele is fading and, for Tottenham Hotspur coach Les Ferdinand, that represents two great steps forward as the former Real Madrid defensive shield's transfer to the top tier in England was 'the worst thing to have happened in the league'.
Players like Makelele at Chelsea were, at the time, regarded to be so influential on the pitch that the position began to be known as 'the Makelele role'. He was not the first, however, as the year before the Blues signed Claude, Arsenal had bought Gilberto Silva, fresh from a World Cup victory with Brazil in 2002.
The importance of the Makelele role has diminished over the years as the game has opened up to place more of a focus on pass and movement. As such, the midfield shield has evolved into players who can hold and also pass - such as Michael Carrick.
'I know there’s a lot of talk about holding midfield players, and I’m always arguing with Tim [Sherwood] about this – and [he] agrees,' began Ferdinand in the Tottenham Journal, before indicating that his midfield preference would be a double pivot tactic - with famous examples being Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger at Bayern Munich, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba at Juventus or, more closer to home, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho at Manchester City.
'I don’t like holding midfield players. I like players to understand that if one goes forward, the other one tucks in for them. I don’t want someone who just sits in front of the back four and doesn’t go anywhere, but that’s just my own personal view.
'I was saying to William Gallas when he was here, the worst thing that happened in this league was Claude Makelele. Everyone went ‘right, we’ve got to have a holding midfield player’ - and what we’ve done is produce a crop of players who don’t want to go over the halfway line, who don’t want to pass over the halfway line and are happy to just sit in front of the back four.
'Having played the game, I know that if you’re a right winger and you come back and sit on the toes of the full-back, he won’t push you on. He’s happy to have that protection. It’s the same all around the field. If you’ve got a player who defends - a player that will come and sit in front of you and make the centre forward’s life difficult - he’s happy to have that, rather than defend on his own.'
Ferdinand and Spurs head coach Tim Sherwood are tasked with coming up with a midfield strategy that gets the better of City's double-pivot as Tottenham take on the Premier League title hopefuls on Wednesday, January 29.
'Do City play with one [an anchor]? They’ve still scored 100-odd goals. People say Yaya Toure is a holding midfielder. No he isn’t, he’s getting forward and getting goals - but if someone else goes he’ll stay in there. Fernandinho’s scoring goals. Why? Because he’s a holding player? No. They’ve just got an understanding: ‘If he goes, I’ll hold, and if I go he’ll hold’.”
image: © sachab