The Water Carriers




Modern 21st century football has lead to the birth of a new type of position, the evolution of a new type of player. It’s a much specialised position, with a wholly different kind of skill sets required to succeed. I’m talking about the “defensive midfielder” or the “front sweeper”, also jokingly called the “water carrier” of a team.

The Water Carriers

The Water Carriers

This position is hardly a glamorous position. There are hardly any opportunities to score or to execute Hollywood style tackles. To the footballing layman, the job profile appears simple.Protect the back four. But ofcourse, it ain’t that simple. The most important skill sets required for the position is tireless running and an acute game sense. Game sense is probably the most important skill to have here. One has to know exactly what the opposition is trying to execute on the field. Now days, this position also involves man-marking the opposition’s No. 10 as well as building up the play from the back. Getting the ball from the centre and wing backs and passing it forward to the more attack-minded midfielders or to the strikers. If this position is manned well,it greatly curtails the creative play of the opposition.

Undoubtedly, the man who made the position famous was Claude Makelele, the former French international, who enjoyed hugely successful spells with the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid. Probably not appreciated enough during his spell at Madrid, his transfer to Chelsea worked wonders for his career. He became an integral part of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team, sitting in front of the back four and mopping up all possible opposition attacks. He became a master of this craft, with exemplary game sense and a good passing range to boot.

Thus the emergence of the defensive midfielder. Not showing much attacking intent, and linking the play from deep.

Slight variations also emerged from this. Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso have signalled the arrival of a deep-lying playmaker. Now, their duty was also to make the play and dictate the tempo when they had the ball, and perform the duties of a normal defensive midfielder when they didn’t.

Another quality seen in modern-day defensive midfielders is the ability to hound the opposition. The likes of Patrick Vieira, Gennaro Gattuso and Nigel de Jong instantly come to mind. With their imposing attitude and no-nonsense style of play, they had the ability to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition.

A defensive midfielder I personally wanted to see more of was Owen Hargreaves. I admit I haven’t seen much of him playing for Bayern Munich, but he was lavishly praised for his World Cup 2006 performances for England, and there must be something in him to justify the 17 million pounds or so that Sir Alex Ferguson paid for him to bring him to United. He only made a handful of appearances for United, and that too in different positions. His versatility was typically exemplified when he started the Champions League final 2009 vs Chelsea on the right side of midfield. To add to his tireless running and awesome game reading abilities, he also possessed a deadly right foot from dead ball situations. He is now all set to leave United on a free transfer this season.

Today, hardly any team plays without one,or maybe even two,defensive midfielders shielding the back four. And having them doesn’t always have to mean a defensive mindset. The fact that they are there and will thwart any possible counter attacks gives the creative players the license to go for it.

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