The last defensive midfielder who won the Ballon d’Or is former Dortmund player Matthias Sammer who won the prize in 1996, more than 20 years ago.
The now retired German footballer was probably just as surprised as everybody else when France Football named him the Ballon d’Or winner, as the title is virtually never handed to a defensive midfielder and he had beaten Ronaldo and Alan Shearer to the honour. The defensive midfielder had a good campaign for both Germany and Borussia Dortmund but many believe he didn’t deserve to win and the trophy should have gone to the upcoming Ronaldo Nazario.
A successful football team needs to have a good defensive midfielder to keep the distance between attack and defense minmal. In fact, the defensive midfielder is arguably the most important position in modern football. Though in Argentina the defensive midfielder is called the number 5, in Europe we use the number 6 to address the defensive midfielder position on the field. The central midfielder is called ‘the number 8’ and the attacking midfielder ‘number 10’.
The number 8 and 10 position are certainly important, but for most coaches around the world it’s the ‘number 6’ role which is crucial in their tactics and the defensive midfielder is usually the first name on the sheet when choosing the starting 11. Though the defensive midfielder has vitally important functions, this position can sometimes go under-appreciated by fans because he is rarely the one who scores goals and certainly is not the type of player considered in the context of the Ballon d’Or.
What is his/her role?
The primary role of a defensive midfielder, as the name might suggest, is to help the center backs to help defend when the opposition is attacking. The secondary role of a defensive midfielder is to help the midfield construct their attacking play once they have retrieved the ball.
A central defensive midfielder can, in many ways, be described as the heart of the game. The main job is to break the opposition’s play. To accomplish doing this, defensive midfielders have to be able to read the game as well as perform tackling. It’s the defensive midfielders who work throughout the game to provide support to the defence as well as helping the offence if need be, helping to forge transitions between the two.
Defensive central midfielder additionally need to be skilful with the ball and sufficiently decisive to make decisions quickly, often passing the ball after only touching it once or twice. Now, let’s look at the 3 key qualities of a good defensive midfielder.
3 key qualities of a defensive midfielder
The most important quality of a defensive midfielder is having strong defensive skills. A good defensive midfielder must be able to put pressure on the opponents when they are in ball possession. Next to that, a defensive midfielder needs to be able to read the game in a way so he or she can deny entry passes, often leaving space for the opponent where they want the opponent to pass into.
A great defensive midfielder must have plenty of stamina, as they often are the players who run the most on the field. A defensive midfielder has to be able to cover the field from sideline to sideline, 90 minutes or more. When a counterattack is being set up, the player has to be ready to start running towards the opponent’s goal, even if he had to run to the other side of the pitch just moments before.
As mentioned above, a defensive midfielder has to be able to read the game and hence anticipate on what the opposition is likely going to do next. Defensively, you need to be able to close the gaps in order to stop entry passes. When playing offense, a good defensive midfielder must be able to find the space, opening up the pitch for his teammates.
The importance of a defensive midfielder is generally underappreciated, though they always work tirelessly all around the pitch. While everybody looks at Messi’s dribbles or Ronaldo’s free kicks, not many fans pay attention to what a defensive midfielder is up to during the game, on and off the ball. Though a defensive midfielder, comparable to a quarterback in American football, is probably the most important player on the field.
Most attacks often tend to originate from the defensive midfielder and a player in his or her position have a key role in distributing the ball around the field. The reason why the position of a number 6 is undervalued is because the role of a defensive midfielder is not as sexy compared to other roles on the pitch. A defensive midfielder has to put in a lot of work, though still going unnoticed and are hence are rather undervalued compared to other roles on the pitch.
If you’ve ever wondered how Colossus jackpots work, click here to watch our handy explainer video.