Playmaker

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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 attacking and playing in the midfield.

In Italian football, there are usually two main types of playmakers: the trequartista (playmaker in the central attacking midfield position) and the regista (deep-lying playmaker).

The trequartista, 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[2] was the elite trequartista.

The registas or 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, Paul Scholes and Andrea Pirlo are examples of deep-lying playmakers.[3][4]

In Argentine and Uruguayan football, a playmaker is known as an enganche, literally meaning "hook." In Brazilian football, the deep-lying playmaker is called meia-armador, while the attacking midfield playmaker is called meia-atacante.

The most complete playmakers are known as advanced playmakers, or free role playmakers (fantasisti in Italian), as they can operate both in central, attacking midfield and wide positions on the wings. Others still seemingly operate as a free second striker, or rifinitore in Italian, playing on the wing or down the centre of the pitch, and then falling back to link between the midfield and the attack.[5] Attacking midfielder/playmaker Michel Platini would describe this more advanced and attacking trequartista 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 and a trequartista or rifinitore.[6]

The Deep lying forward, more commonly known as a "false-9" also shares some similarities with the trequartista role, although the false-9 player appears to be playing as a centre-forward (shirt number 9) rather than as an attacking midfielder (shirt number 10). The false-9 will then drop deep into the midfield drawing defenders with them, creating space for other team-mates to make attacking runs, allowing the false-9 to dribble with the ball or provide these players with assists. Examples of deep lying forwards are Lionel Messi under Josep Guardiola and Francesco Totti under Rudi Garcia.[7][8] The false-10 also shares similar attributes to a false-9. A false-10 however, is usually a player who is apparently playing in deeper role than a false-9, more like a trequartista or a winger, but who will then make dribbling runs forward, leading to goals and assists once other forwards draw defenders away from them, creating space in the middle of the pitch. This position is more common in a 4-6-0 formation.[9]

Playmakers are not necessarily constrained to a single position; many attacking playmakers in modern football play a combination of these different attacking roles. 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 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. 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.[10] 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 passing ability. They are often mobile 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, although this is not necessarily a trait that is required to be a playmaker.[11]

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 Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Alberto Aquilani, Yaya Touré, Xabi Alonso, and Kevin-Prince Boateng in this position.[12] 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 4–2–3–1, 4–4–1–1, 4–5–1 have multiple playmakers, usually a regista (deep-lying playmaker) and a trequartista.

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 a trequartista, into the regista role behind the midfield, whilst Roberto Baggio played the trequartista role.[13] For Milan, Ancelotti made a similar move, also employing Pirlo as a regista, allowing Rui Costa and later Kaká to play as a trequartista, whilst Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso protected them defensively.[14] At FC Barcelona, 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 gave each player defensive responsibilities when possession was lost.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

The term trequartista appears in the Los Campesinos! song 'A Portrait Of The Trequartista As A Young Man.'[16][17]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]