Often considered cynical, aggressive, rash and undervalued, the defensive midfielder holds the key to the fortunes and success of a team. Defensive midfielders act as a shield to the defence and goalkeeper, harrying defenders and committing fouls. They provide a link between the defence and midfield and most attacks tend to stem from their feet.
What prompted me to write this article was the brilliance of Alex Song in the game against Everton. Time and time again he was present at the right place to make interceptions, blocks and tackles.
That's basically what the defensive midfielder has to do. The DM provides a stability at the back and provides a smoother transition from defence to attack. He has to be at the right place at the right time and cannot afford to get caught in the opposition's half too many times.
The defensive midfielder has to relieve the pressure of the back four. Many times people tend to associate the DM as a player who puts in rash challenges and commits fouls.
The DM does commit fouls but only for the sake of the team. A foul can put an end to a promising move and give the defense the time it needs to regroup and reorganize. The DM has the key role of covering the defenders and full backs who get caught out of position or ball watching.
It has been evident over several seasons that a stringent defense is key to the title aspirations of the team. However good the defense of a team may be, it requires a person who can relieve the pressure of their backs, a person to break up the attacks and dispose of the attackers.
The DM of a team must have an exceptional positional sense, anticipation and work rate. When a DM lacks this, the defense gets caught often, especially on the counter. A defensive midfielder has a key attacking role to play as well.
Most attacks often tend to originate from the DM. The DM has the key role of distributing the ball further up the field. But DMs tend to go unnoticed or are extremely undervalued.
This is because the role of the DM is not the most attractive roles on the pitch. He breaks up the flow of the game with tackles, which, although not pleasing to the eye, are invaluable for the team. The DM has to put in a hard-working performance, which sadly goes unnoticed.
It must be no coincidence that very often the transfer or the retirement of a defensive has led to a decline in a team's performance. Real Madrid and Arsenal are the perfect examples of this.
Ever since the sale of Patrick Viera, Arsenal have failed to win a major trophy. In the last two years, Arsenal have once again started challenging for major trophies and Arsenal's steady improvements have coincided with the rise of Alex Song.
The Cameroonian's rise has provided Arsenal with some much needed steel. Real Madrid is another case of how vital the contributions of a DM are. Ever since the sale of Claude Makelele, Real Madrid have failed to win the UCL.
Teammate Steven McManaman had this to say on Makelele:
"I think Claude has this kind of gift—he's been the best player in the team for years, but people just don't notice him, don't notice what he does. But you ask anyone at Real Madrid during the years we were talking about and they will tell you he was the best player at Real. We all knew, the players all knew he was the most important. The loss of Makélelé was the beginning of the end for Los Galacticos…You can see that it was also the beginning of a new dawn for Chelsea. He was the base, the key and I think he is the same to Chelsea now."
Every championship winning team has had a truly inspirational DM who pulls the strings of the team: Marcos Senna and Segio Busquets for Spain and the latter for Barcelona and Essien for Chelsea.
This just goes onto highlight the fact that how much flair and skill a team possess, it always remains incomplete without the hardwork, effort and tireless running of a defensive midfielder.
Zidane perfectly summed up the value of a defensive midfielder when speaking on the sale of Makelele: "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"