Defensive midfielders, or holding midfielders, are the backbone of any team. They can either make or break the rhythm of team's performance as they are able to both fall back into defence and run into attack when needed. They often make the hardest of challenges, and take the longest of free kicks.
With the success of stars such as Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, Barcelona F.C.'s Sergio Busquets, and the European Champion Chelsea's Michael Essien, many high-profile teams are now prioritizing their defensive midfield position in their transfer lists this season.
Both Arsenal and Manchester United are among the clubs scrambling through the ranks of teams all over Europe for the next star holding midfielder, let's take a look at the big names that have been circulating the news this May.
Amongst the list of defensive midfielders set on a move this summer, Yann M'Vila has become the most discussed after Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger was reported to consider breaking the bank to sign the French International from his current club Rennes.
On 26th of May, Arsenal defender Bacaray Sagna came out insisting Arsenal should sign the holding midfielder in order to stop their skipper Robin Van Persie from departing. Even stating that the French international will find it easier to settle in North London as "'Arsenal is a French-speaking team and it will help him settle." With new interest from Serie A big shots Inter Milan, M'Vila transfer rumors will only grow as he will be watched by millions this June in the European Championship.
The highly-rated Spanish defensive midfielder has been under the radar of many top notch clubs this season including Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United. With United and Manchester City having lost Eden Hazard to Chelsea, both clubs will now focus on securing the services of Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez. However with interest from Barcelona F.C. and Real Madrid, and valued at around €30million, the 23 year old Spanish international is likely to find a new home in one of the top stadiums in the world this summer. Martinez will be seen in action this summer as an alternative to Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso in Spain's campaign to retain their European Championship title.
The Portuguese international may mainly be a central midfielder, but he often plays as the defensive midfielder for his national team. Joao Moutinho currently plays for Porto in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, and has gained the interest of Champions League winners Chelsea this summer. The 25 year old will be a vital capture for Chelsea as he can play as an alternative to both Michael Essien and Frank Lampard. With the versatile playmaker revealing he is set to leave Porto, we can expect to see a top-tier club purchase the services of the highly-rated defender, especially with the opportunity to display his versatility at the Euro's this summer.
Arsene Wenger is reportedly considering to make a move for the Manchester City bruiser this summer as the chase for M'Vila seems to have cooled down due to Euro Cup preparations. Such a move will be beneficial for both Arsenal and Nigel De Jong, as City are likely to bench the player in preference of a new defensive midfielder such as Javi Martinez if Roberto Manicini can sign him. While Arsenal will benefit from De Jong already being accustomed to the speed and style of play of English Football and life in England.
However Queens Park Rangers manager Mark Hughes is also targeting the €20 million Dutchman. De Jong's contract expires in the summer of 2013 which further predicts his departure this season from Etihad.
The Juventus defensive midfielder Felipe Melo was on loan to Turkish giants Galatasaray this past season, and now the future of the Brazilian is on the fence. Galatasaray are looking to keep the player permanently in Turkey, however Juventus are reportedly asking for €13 million, a price that Galatasaray refuse to pay for the 28 year old Brazilian international. Also taking into consideration that the Turkish Football Federation are looking into Galatasaray in max-fixing charges, and their European Champion's league chances in doubt, Melo may opt to change leagues this season.
The 27 year old French defensive midfielder has become surplus at Real Madrid this season. The former Chelsea and Arsenal holding midfielder is supposedly a long-term target for Harry Redknapp who wants to be reunited with his former Portsmouth player. Jose Mourinho is keen to offer Tottenham a swap deal for Luka Modric in exchange for Diarra. With White Hart Lane failing to make it to next season's Champions League, they may view Real Madrid's swap deal as a lucrative option if their other summer targets choose to overlook them.
Radja Nainggolan is a Belgian footballer who currently plays for Serie A club Cagliari Calcio as a defensive midfielder. The Belgian has been a breakout star in Italy this past season and now has Manchester United hot on his trails. Sir Alex Ferguson has sent his scouts to watch the player this season, and reportedly so have Manchester City. Nainggolan is set to start for Belgium as they take on England in a pre-Euro friendly at Wembley, it is a safe bet that many clubs will be closely watching the midfielder.
Arsene Wenger's cheaper alternative to Yann M'Vila is the superb Etienne Capoue. The Toulouse holding midfielder has been a long-term target of both Arsenal and Barcelona. At Barcelona he is viewed as a potential replacement for Seydou Keita, who they look to offload to Malaga. Although Capoue was overlooked by the French national team in favor of M'Vila, the player is still one of the most creative defensive midfielders in Europe today. Expect him to move to Arsenal this season as the North Londoner's cool off their chase for M'Vila due to budget restrictions.
Arsenal seem to be considering all options for their defensive midfield position this summer as they have also lined up Blackburn's wonder-kid Steven N'Zonzi. The 23 year old is worth €8.5million and also scored his first league goal in a match against Arsenal in 2009. The french footballer is also being targeted by West Ham United so expect him to move to London this summer.
Former Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish had listed Karl Henry as his defensive midfielder target of the summer. Chris Houghton is also in admiration of the 28 year old, and with Henry's current club Wolverhampton Wanderers relegated from the English Premier League, expect the English-Jamaican footballer to make a move to Birmingham or to the club McLeish joins this summer.
It'ss time for you to chime in on what you think will happen in this summer's transfer window.
Will we see Arsenal secure a high profile defensive midfielder and persuade Van Persie to remain at the Emirates, or will Wenger opt to buy a cheaper option?
Will Tottenham and Real Madrid secure a major swap deal and see Diarra return to England, or will Tottenham choose to buy a cheaper option?
Will the Brazil national team's star holding midfielder Felipe Melo get a fairytale ending to his career transfer woes?
Finally the big question, who will sign the creme de la creme of holding midfielders, Javi Martinez?