What Makes a Great Midfielder?

In the next edition of our “Anatomy of a Successful Football Team” series, we look at what makes a great midfielder.

The midfield is the engine room of any football team, and midfielders are usually the fittest players on the pitch. They require brilliant all-round ability to play their role successfully and help the team achieve their goals.

Different Roles of a Midfielder

Defensive/Holding Midfielder – Will sit in front of and protect the defence. A defensive or holding midfielder will usually hold their position between their own penalty area and centre circle, looking to break down opposition attacks early and bring more advanced players into play.

Box-to-Box Midfielder – The box-to-box midfielder is the workhorse of the team, getting back to assist the defence before running the length of the pitch to be involved in attacking phases of play.

Central Midfielder – The central midfielder will look to run the game from the centre of the pitch, passing the ball about to retain possession and tracking the attacking movement of the opposition players. May be required to drop back into a defensive role or move forward into an advanced position depending on what the situation calls for.

Attacking Midfielder – An attacking midfielder will be an attack-minded player who links the midfield to the forwards. They may be required to track back and assist the defence, but their main role is to create chances, using their skill and creativity to either bring others into play or have a shot at goal themselves. This role will sometimes be known as an Advanced Playmaker or the Number Ten.

Wide Midfielder/Winger – These two roles differ slightly but are both played in a wide midfield position. The wide midfielder will usually play close to the touchline in between the defence and attack, playing a part in both defensive and attacking phases of play. The winger will usually sit in a more advanced position, in between midfield and attack, with their main aim being to put pressure on the opposition defence by whipping crosses into the box or cutting inside.

Attributes Required to be a Great Midfielder

Individual attributes will differ depending on which role a midfielder is playing, but all great midfielders require the following attributes to be successful.

Work Rate/Leadership – These two attributes go hand in hand because a great midfielder must work tirelessly and lead their team from the middle of the park. They will never give up, chasing down every ball and throwing themselves into every tackle. They will approach every game with a blood and guts, never-say-die attitude and an unmatched will to win which can drive their teammates on to a winning performance.

Fitness/Stamina – A midfielder will generally be involved in most passages of play during a match, tracking back to assist the defence and getting forward to play a part in attack. They also must try and win the midfield battle to keep control in the middle of the pitch. Therefore, they must be fitter than everyone else and have an abundance of stamina to give 100% for 90 minutes or more.

Composure – A midfielder must stay composed at all times, as they will see a lot of the ball and be involved in a lot of the action in a match. They must keep a cool head to prevent mistakes which can pile the pressure on the defence, choose the right pass at the right time to retain possession, and avoid rash challenges.

Vision/Anticipation – the midfielder must be able to read a match, anticipate what will happen next, and have great vision to turn defence into attack. They must be quick thinking and ready for anything, for the duration of the match.

All-Round Technical Ability – Not only will a midfielder need to be fit, composed, have great vision, and be a never-say-die leader, but they must also possess excellent all-round technical ability. The main abilities must be tackling and passing, although a great midfielder will be fantastic in all areas to keep the engine running smoothly.

Three of the Best Midfielder of All-Time

Because of the different roles a midfielder will play, people will have varied opinion on what makes a great one.

I believe the best midfielders will have (at-least most of) the attributes mentioned above, so here are three of the best.

Bryan Robson

England and Manchester United “Captain Marvel” who epitomises what a great midfielder should be.

Had fantastic anticipation, could read a game brilliantly, was a brave and hard-working leader, ran all day with an abundance of stamina, could tackle, was a great passer of the ball, and scored goals. He was even decent in the air.

Robson basically ran the midfield every time he was on the pitch. In fact, he was so good that former Manchester United players voted him the greatest United player of all-time a few years back.

Frank Rijkaard

Dutchman Rijkaard was perhaps the greatest defensive playmaker the world has ever seen.

Tenacious, ferocious, physical, and fast, he controlled the play from a defensive midfield position.

His intelligence meant he could read a game and anticipate every action or reaction, his great tackling meant he was rarely beaten, his vision and excellent passing allowed him to start attacking phases of play from a deep-lying position, and his stamina and work-rate meant he was at his best for the duration of every match.

Lothar Matthaus

Perhaps the most complete and well-rounded midfielder to ever step foot on a football pitch.

Matthaus was the greatest box-to-box midfielder ever, with fantastic positioning, strong tackling, pin-point passing, and great attacking play made better by lethal shooting ability.

He was named the first ever FIFA World Player of the Year and won 150 caps for Germany during a long and prestigious career.

He was a midfield dynamo who possessed every attribute required to be successful in the role, and then some. To list the attributes he had, and what he brought to a team, would take far too long. But in my opinion, he is the best midfielder to ever play the game.

Great, and Not So Great, Midfielder Moments

Sometimes, midfielders do great things and sometimes they don’t. Here are a few videos to show the best and worst midfielder moments of all-time.

Starting with the worst, it’s difficult to look past Steven Gerrard and his untimely slip in a crunch match which ultimately cost his side the Premier League title.

Gerrard was one of the greatest midfielders of all time, who led by example and single-handedly won matches for club and country over the years. However, this slip turned him into an instant meme and it will be remembered forever.

Having used Gerrard as an example of the worst midfielder moment, I feel it only fair to show some of his best moments as well.

One of the attributes required by midfielders is great passing ability, and there aren’t many who could pick out a pass quite like David Beckham.

So, to end, here’s a look at Beckham’s passing ability in a compilation of his greatest assists.


Read the rest of the series

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