Which Countries Produce the Best Playmakers?
The playmaker role is becoming a key component of modern football.
Countries strive to produce creative talent. Strikers may net most of the goals, but impressive numbers aren't possible without a brilliant mind sitting behind.
Styles change across the world. Some countries produce physical specimens that charge into the box with power. Others produce sleight-footed individuals who tiptoe across the pitch with tremendous speed and poise.
Which countries produce the best playmakers? Read on to find out.
The Blueprint: Spain
We might as well start with the best. Spain have won their last three major tournaments. They have star strikers, monstrous defenders and a world-class goalkeeper.
The nation's top talent also defines what it means to be a playmaker right now.
All possess tremendous agility, dribbling ability and a laser-guided range of passing. They also score vital goals.
Spain's best playmakers are already hailed as legends of the game. Away from Xavi and Iniesta, plenty of excellent individuals are forgotten from the national team. Such strength in depth is key to the country's success. If one player takes his foot off the pace, you can be sure another is waiting to capitalise.
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal): Arteta has played as a conventional playmaker throughout his career. A shift to defensive midfield has seen his form improve this season. He has never represented Spain at senior level—just one example of quality being overlooked.
The Top Prospects: Germany
If Spain's playmakers are to be toppled anytime soon, Germany will be the country to do it.
The nation continues to produce an array of frightening talent.
Often physically strong and extremely fit, Germany also boasts an extensive catalogue of players that can change any game.
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), Bastian Scwheinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich) Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid).
Next to shine:
Marko Marin (Chelsea): Marin has become a forgotten man since his move to England. He has yet to make an impression in a Chelsea shirt, falling behind the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in Roberto Di Matteo's pecking order. The 23-year-old may have made a wrong move at this stage in his career.
The Youngsters: Belgium, Brazil.
People are talking about Belgium. The nation's current pool of talent is exciting, diverse and young.
As we've seen with playmakers such as Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens, many Belgians have become key players for their clubs. The country is sure to get plenty of backers as we head towards the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
The country that produced Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka has never struggled with creativity. Brazil's best playmakers have often received personal and club honours. As older superstars succumb to age, plenty of young players begin to make an impact on the world stage.
Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro), Oscar (Chelsea), Giuliano (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Thiago Neves (Fluminese), Hernanes (Lazio), Lucas Moura (Paris Saint-Germain), Kaka (Real Madrid), Neymar (Santos), Ganso (Sao Paulo), Willian (Shaktar Donetsk), Diego (Wolfsburg).
The Changing of the Guard: England, Italy.
Progress has been slow in England. Many youngsters within the country aren't taught to keep hold of the ball. A physical approach is often adopted, leading to an influx of midfielders that are workhorses rather than balletic playmakers.
Young playmakers such as Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere are examples of individuals adapting to the modern style. While the nation has produced a number of world-class talents in recent years, a period of transition is beginning.
Next to shine:
Gary Gardner (Aston Villa), Ross Barkley (Everton), Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool), Henri Lansbury (Nottingham Forrest), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United).
The Azzurri's success at Euro 2012 was largely down to the performances of Andrea Pirlo. He dictated each game with accurate passes, dangerous set-pieces and the calmness of a master.
Juventus' 33-year-old World Cup winner doesn't have long left in Serie A. Like the English, a changing of personnel will be initiated before too long.
Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Antonio Nocerino (Milan), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Francesco Totti (Roma),
Next to shine:
The Ever-Presents: Argentina, France, Netherlands, Portugal.
Some countries have a knack for producing quality players. The following three remain amongst the best in unleashing playmakers across the world.
Lionel Messi is the most famous playmaker right now. Alongside him, the country continues to produce gifted individuals. While Argentina hasn't performed particularly well at the international level in recent years, the talent is still coming through.
Often lacking in physicality, Argentinian playmakers are all about the technical side of the game.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Enzo Perez (Benfica), Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica), Pablo Aimar (Benfica), Jose Sosa (Metalist Kharkiv). Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Fernando Gago (Valencia).
You could be forgiven for overlooking France in recent times. At the international level, Les Blues haven't made a significant impression since Zinedine Zidane's head planted into the chest of Marco Materazzi.
The country is still producing top playmakers. Many also possess defensive qualities that align them with the likes of England.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Marvin Martin (Lille), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon), Samir Nasri (Manchester City), Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United), Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle United), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Yann M'vila (Rennes),
Dutch playmakers are amongst the most creative. Many establish themselves within the Eredivisie before heading to tougher leagues across the world.
Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Rafael Van Der Vaart (Hamburg), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon).
It's usually all or nothing for Portugal's national side. They have performed well at many tournaments since the turn of the millennium. They've also suffered some shocking results against poor sides. The recent home draw with Northern Ireland underlines such a statement.
I've always been struck by the country's lack of strikers. A shortage of quality front men means the playmaker role has been hugely important across recent years.
The Best of the Rest
The aforementioned countries are leading the way when it comes to creating effective playmakers.
Away from the elite, let's take a look at 10 individuals who could fire their nation's production line into the limelight.
Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid)
Christian Eriksen, (Denmark, Ajax)
Kevin Prince-Boateng (Ghana, Milan)
Szabolcs Huszti, (Hungary, Hannover 96)
Shinji Kagawa (Japan, Manchester United)
Jakub Blaszczykowski (Poland, Borussia Dortmund)
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland, Bayern Munich)
Arda Turan (Turkey, Atletico Madrid)
Clint Dempsey, (USA, Tottenham Hotspur)
Gareth Bale, (Wales, Tottenham Hotspur)
Which countries are missing from this list? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!