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This article is about an association football term. For other uses, see Playmaker (disambiguation).

In association football, a playmaker is a player who controls the flow of the team's offensive play, and is often involved in passing moves which lead to goals.[1]

In English football, the term overlaps somewhat with attacking midfielder, but the two types of midfielders are not necessarily the same. Several playmakers operate in a more central midfield role, alternating between playing in more offensive roles and participating in the build-up plays in the midfield.

The attacking midfielder, usually wearing the jersey number 10, will sit in a free role between midfield and the forwards, either in the centre of the pitch or on the wings. They will often make incisive passes to the wingers or forwards, seeing them through on goal or to deliver killer crosses, as well as scoring goals themselves. They are also usually highly technical players with good vision, shooting, passing, crossing and dribbling ability, known for scoring goals as well as providing assists and initiating attacking plays. Diego Maradona was a notable attacking midfielder.[2]

The deep-lying playmakers, usually jersey numbers 8, 6 or 5 (in South American football), operate from a deep position, in or even behind the main midfield line in a seemingly defensive midfield role, where they can use space and time on the ball to orchestrate the moves of the whole team, not just attacks on goal. Deep-lying playmakers are often known for their vision, technique and passing. Many are known for their ability to provide long passes that pick out players making attacking runs. Although several deep-lying playmakers are not known for their tackling and defensive ability, it has become more common for a box-to-box midfielder with good passing, technique, vision and tackling ability to play in this role, since it is in a similar position to that of a defensive midfielder. Xavi, Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, Paul Scholes, Juan Román Riquelme and Josep Guardiola are examples of deep-lying playmakers.[3][4][5]

The most complete playmakers are known as advanced playmakers, or free role playmakers, as they can operate both in central, attacking midfield and wide positions on the wings. Others still seemingly operate as a free second striker, playing on the wing or down the centre of the pitch, and then falling back to link between the midfield and the attack.[6] Attacking midfielder/playmaker Michel Platini would describe this more advanced and attacking midfielder role (exemplified by Roberto Baggio), allowing players to make dribbling runs, and score many goals as well as assisting them, as a nine and a half, since it was half way between a the role of a forward (shirt number 9) and an attacking midfielder (shirt number 10).[7]

A variation upon the Deep lying forward, more commonly known as a "false-9" also shares some similarities with the attacking midfielder role, although the false-9 player appears to be playing as a centre-forward rather than as an attacking midfielder. A false-9 is often a quick, creative technical player, with good vision, positioning and passing ability, with a penchant for scoring goals. The false-9, seemingly playing as a striker, will drop deep into the midfield number 10 role, drawing defenders with them, creating space for other team-mates to make attacking runs, allowing the false-9 to dribble with the ball and score, or provide these players with assists. Examples of deep lying forwards or false-9s are Lionel Messi under Josep Guardiola, Cesc Fàbregas under del Bosque, and Francesco Totti under Luciano Spalletti and Rudi Garcia.[8][9] This position is most common in a 4-6-0 formation disguised as a 4-3-3 formation.[10]

The false-10 (sometimes described as a "central winger") also shares similar attributes to a false-9, and can also function alongside a false-9 in a 4-3-3 (4-6-0) formation, or in a 4-2-3-1 formation. A false-10 is also usually a quick, offensive, technical and creative player, who is apparently playing in deeper role than a false-9 however, usually starting in the attacking midfielder position or as a winger. When other forwards or false-9s draw defenders away from the false-10s, creating space in the middle of the pitch, the false-10 will then surprise defenders by moving out of position, often undertaking offensive dribbling runs forward, or running on to passes from false-9s, leading to goals and assists. This role was effectively demonstrated by Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Özil during the 2010 World Cup.[11]

The false-10 (false attacking-midfielder) description has also been used in a slightly different manner in Italian football. The false-10 is usually a player with good vision, positioning, ball control and long passing ability, as well as being a player with respectable defensive attributes and good long distance shooting. The false-10 performs in a similar manner to the false-9, seemingly playing in the number 10 role, but drawing opposition players back into the midfield, eventually sitting in a central midfield role and functioning as a deep-lying playmaker, and creating space for other players to make attacking runs and receive long passes from the midfield playmakers.[12]

Playmakers are not necessarily constrained to a single position; many attacking playmakers in modern football play a combination of these different attacking roles, often operating in a free position. Creativity, skill, vision, technique, tactical awareness and good passing ability are the true requirements of a good playmaker. Other playmakers operate on the wings, in more of a wide position, either as a half-winger/outside forward, or as a wide midfielder, using their vision to find team-mates making runs, to whom they can then deliver long passes and curling crosses. Half wingers are sometimes played as inverted wingers, allowing them to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot and to provide in-swinging lobbed passes. In Italian football, as creative, technical, advanced playmakers are known not to be reserved to a single position.[13] Playmakers are not known for their defensive capabilities, which is why they are usually supported by a defensive midfielder. Because many midfielders and forwards have these attributes, they tend to be the playmakers of a team. The attacking playmakers are sometimes called the "number 10" of the team, as they often wear the number 10 jersey.

Qualities of a good playmaker[edit]

Perhaps the most important quality of a playmaker is the vision and ability to read the game, and get into good positions making for effective reception and distribution of the ball. Intuition and creativity are other key elements of a playmaker's game, as they need to know where different players are at different times, without taking too long to dwell on the ball. A good playmaker possesses good ball control and dribbling skills, and will often hold possession, allowing other team members to make attacking runs. The ostensible role of the playmaker is to then provide or facilitate the final pass which leads to a goal.[14] In football terminology this is often known as a killer ball or the final ball and is officially recorded as an assist.

Advanced playmakers are often known for their ability to score goals as well as their technical skills, passing and chance creation ability. They are often mobile and tactically intelligent players; their movement off the ball is just as important as their movement on the ball, as they must create space for further attacking plays. Many playmakers are also set piece, penalty and dead-ball specialists, who are capable of curling the ball, although this is not necessarily a trait that is required to be a playmaker.[15]

Playmakers and tactics[edit]

Classical number 10 playmakers are not often renowned for their tackling or defensive capabilities, hence English commentators often see them as a luxury in a football team, but they retain their places due to their ability to change games. Because of this, it has become more common for box to box midfielders with good vision, tackling, tactical, passing and technical ability to play in the playmaker role, as is shown by various coaches employing Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Yaya Touré and Xabi Alonso in this position.[16] In a 4–4–2 formation, a playmaker will usually play alongside a defensive midfield player to ensure that the team is not vulnerable to attack. With different formations, however, a team may play with multiple playmakers. Most English teams usually use only one playmaker to minimize defensive frailties and also because using more than one may inhibit each playmaker's playing style. The downside to this approach is that a team lacks the necessary creativity when faced with a defensive opponent. Some contemporary teams using formations such as 4–2–3–1, 4–4–1–1, 4–5–1, and 4-1-2-1-2, have multiple playmakers.

Carlo Mazzone and Carlo Ancelotti were known for having been able to adopt their formations to allow them to implement various playmakers into their starting formation. At Brescia, Mazzone moved Andrea Pirlo, originally an attacking midfielder, into the deep-lying role behind the midfield, whilst Roberto Baggio played the attacking midfielder role.[17] For Milan, Ancelotti made a similar move, also employing Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker, allowing Rivaldo or Rui Costa, and later Kaká, to play as an attacking midfielder, whilst Clarence Seedorf and either Gennaro Gattuso or Massimo Ambrosini protected them defensively in Ancelotti's 4-4-2 midfield diamond formation.[18] Due to the strength of Milan's midfield during his tenure with the club, Ancelotti was able to lead the side to a Serie A title, 2 Champions League titles (as well as another final), and a Coppa Italia victory, in addition to two European Supercups, an Italian Supercup, and a FIFA Club World Cup.

During his spell at FC Barcelona, where he was able to win 14 titles, Josep Guardiola was able to incorporate several skillful players with playmaker qualities into his team, such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, and Lionel Messi through the use of his personal variation on tiki-taka tactics, allowing the team to move the ball around, switch positions, creating attacking runs, and retain possession. His use of heavy pressing in his 4-3-3 formation gave each player defensive responsibilities when possession was lost.[19] Guardiola also frequently deployed Messi in the false-9 role, which has particularly effective due to the frequency of attacking runs made by the Barcelona players, as well as their disciplined positioning, team-work, vision, technical and passing ability, which allowed Messi to create and score several goals.[20] Vicente del Bosque also incorporated similar tactics (such as the use of tiki-taka, heavy pressing and the false-9 in a 4-3-3 or 4-6-0 formation) during his successful run of reaching three consecutive international finals as Spain's manager, between 2010 and 2013, winning the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. His tactics allowed several playmaking midfielders, such as Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva, Juan Mata, and Cesc Fàbregas to function together effectively.[21]

During his run to the Euro 2012 final and the 2013 Confederations Cup semi-finals, the former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli often deployed either Montolivo, Aquilani, Daniele De Rossi, or Thiago Motta in the false 10 playmaking role, as well as in other midfield positions, in his 4-3-1-2 formation, which was devoid of an authentic attacking midfielder, and which was centred on the midfielders constantly switching positions. Prandelli's midfield was centred on the creative playmaking of Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo in their deep-lying playmaker and false 10 roles, with Pirlo seemingly being deployed as a defensive midfielder in front of the defense, in order to be left with more time on the ball, in an "inverted" midfield diamond (4-1-3-2). Pirlo was supported defensively by dynamic box-to-box midfielders, such as Marchisio and De Rossi, due to his lack of pace or notable defensive ability. The space created by the movement of Montolivo as the false 10 allowed offensive minded midfielders such as Marchisio to make attacking runs to receive Pirlo and Montolivo's long passes from the midfield, whilst the second striker Antonio Cassano would drop out wide onto the wing or into the attacking midfielder position behind Balotelli to link up the play between the attack and midfield. As well as functioning as a playmaker, and creating space, in the false 10 role, Montolivo was also able to alleviate the pressure placed upon Pirlo in the deep lying playmaker role, by supporting him defensively and providing Pirlo with a secondary creative option.[22]

Although Helenio Herrera's infamous catenaccio tactics during the years of "La Grande Inter" in the 60s were primarily thought to be associated with defensive yet effective football,[23] creative playmakers played a fundamental part in Inter's success during this period. Herrera and former Grande Inter players, including Mazzola and Facchetti, would state that they felt the Grande Inter side to be more offensive than it was often made out to be, and that imitators of Herrera's catenaccio tactics had often replicated his pragmatic style of football imperfectly.[24] Luis Suárez Miramontes (formerly an offensive playmaker, who had first flourished under Herrera's more fluid, offensive tactics at Barcelona) was the primary creative force of Herrera's Inter side, functioning as a deep-lying playmaker, due to his ball skills, vision, and passing range.[25] Sandro Mazzola, in the role of a winger, attacking midfielder, inside-right, or supporting striker, and Armando Picchi in the Libero or sweeper position, would also function as secondary playmakers. Aside from the strength of the almost impenetrable defence, some of the key elements of Herrera's Inter side were the use of vertical football and very quick, efficient and spectacular counter-attacks, which would lead to goals being scored with very few touches and passes.[26] This was made possible due to Herrera's use of very quick, energetic, offensive, two-way full-backs to launch counter-attacks, such as Giacinto Facchetti, and Tarcisio Burgnich.[27] The quick, technical tornante wingers (Jair and Mario Corso) and offensive midfielder/supporting striker (Mazzola), would also occasionally move into deeper positions to support the midfield, leaving the fullbacks with space to attack, which frequently caught the opposing teams by surprise. In Herrera's flexible 5-3-2 formation at Inter, four man-marking defenders were tightly assigned to each opposing attacker while an extra sweeper would recover loose balls and double mark when necessary.[28] Under Herrera, most frequently during away matches in Europe, the highly organised and disciplined Inter players would usually defend by sitting patiently behind the ball, often leading to very closely contested victories. Upon winning back possession, Picchi would often advance into the midfield and play long balls to the forwards, or, more frequently, carry the ball and play it towards Luis Suárez, whose playmaking ability played a crucial role in Inter's adeptness at counter-attacking football. Due to Suárez's outstanding vision and passing ability, he could quickly launch the forwards or full-backs on counter-attacks with long passes once he had received the ball, usually allowing the fullbacks to advance towards goal and score, or to help create goal-scoring chances.[29] Under Herrera, Inter won 3 Serie A titles (2 of them won consecutively), 2 consecutive European Cups, and 2 consecutive Intercontinental Cups, also reaching a Coppa Italia final, and another European Cup final. Herrera was given the nickname "Il Mago" due to his success and tactical prowess.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ playmaker - Definitions from
  2. ^ "The Number 10".
  3. ^ Cox, Michael (19 March 2012). "Paul Scholes, Xavi and Andrea Pirlo revive the deep-lying playmaker". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  4. ^ "The resurgence of the deep-lying playmaker". Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  5. ^ "The Question: What is a playmaker's role in the modern game?". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 October 2014
  6. ^ Mancini, Roberto. "Il Trequartista". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "Platini: Baggio, Il Fu Nove E Mezzo". Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  8. ^ "Barcelona's False-9". Retrieved 2012-06-15. 
  9. ^ "Was Guardiola trying to replicate Roma’s resplendent 2007 striker-less formation under Luciano Spalletti?". Retrieved 2012-06-15. 
  10. ^ "The False-10". Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  11. ^ "The False-10". Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  12. ^ "Horncastle: Riccardo Montolivo straddles both sides of the Germany/Italy divide". Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "The Fantasista". Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  14. ^ FM-Tactics - Brought to you by Football Manager Britain
  15. ^ Mancini, Roberto. "Il Trequartista". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Tactics, Their. "Are Midfield Plungers the New Play-makers?". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  17. ^ Mancini, Roberto. "Il Trequartista". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  18. ^ Tactics, Their. "Two years into the Mourinho project and a league trophy to show- Where does Madrid go from here?". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  19. ^ Tactics, Their. "Comparing Marcelo Bielsa to Pep Guardiola". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  20. ^ "Complete Guide to the False 9 and Who Plays It Best". Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Spain vs. Italy: Analyzing the 'False Nine' and 3-Man Central Defence". Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  22. ^ "Horncastle: Riccardo Montolivo straddles both sides of the Germany/Italy divide". Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  23. ^ "Obitaury: Helenio Herrera". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  24. ^ "Mazzola: Inter is my second family". Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  25. ^ "Great Team Tactics: Breaking Down Helenio Herrera's 'La Grande Inter'". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  26. ^ "Helenio Herrera: More than just catenaccio". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  27. ^ "Helenio Herrera: More than just catenaccio". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  28. ^ "La Grande Inter: Helenio Herrera (1910-1997) – "Il Mago"". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  29. ^ "Helenio Herrera: More than just catenaccio". Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  30. ^ "La leggenda della Grande Inter". Retrieved 10 September 2014.