Go back five years and talk in the school yard was dominated by football discussions. And today, it still is. Strikers, wingers, and players that ran forward with skill and panache, were the ones whose names were used by boys across Europe to imitate their heroes. Zidane, Giggs, Henry and the now big boned Ronaldo were just a few of the all conquering, free scoring players that were the centre of heated debate, while their surnames graced the back of many a shirt.
In five years a lot has changed. Still, the wing wizards, now; Ronaldo, Ribery, Messi, and lavish strikers, Torres, Rooney, Villa, remain on the tip of most teenagers tongues, Yet their appreciation, along with that of many armchair pundits, has broadened. No longer do we just admire the step over kings and speedsters, but we now take more time to look at the men behind the scenes, the directors and producers of the blockbuster goals.
The position now most discussed, and coveted as one for those with a cavernous understanding of the game, is the ‘quarterback role,’ or more traditionally, the deep lying play-maker. Make no mistake, these are not your box to box men, ala Hargreaves or Essien. Nor the protectors of your back four, like Gattusso or Mascherano. These are the men who pull the strings, earn the silent plaudits, and make man of the match contributions without the headlines, for those with a cultured appreciation.
Step forward Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Carrick, and of course their modern day founding father, Andrea Pirlo. While others run, these gentlemen, for gentlemen they are, walk. They do not argue, nor do they get their hands dirty. No position is more played in the brain, such is the quantity of variables that need considering. Pass weight, offside traps, swerve, player runs, and opposition movements. Meteorologists have an easier time predicting the weather.
Then there is the fact that deep play-makers do things with the minimum of fuss while still presenting everything with a glossy finish. The best among them manage to play velvet touch passes on the most minefield-like of pitches, while maintaining the accuracy of modern day missiles.
Just by writing this article, I may have offended a couple of them; such is their humility and indifference towards the limelight. Defenders be warned, no matter how secure your penalty areas are, the popularity of the locksmith is increasing....