Where have all the central midfielders gone? The English Premier League used to be the host of some of the finest central midfielders in the game of football, but has quickly fallen behind when compared to other leagues.
While Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga thrive in this position, the English Premier League hasn’t produced many world class central midfielders, and the ones that have come through – the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Luca Modric and Xabi Alonso, for example – have been sold without much afterthought. In the era of midfield-heavy football, the EPL has struggled to control the midfield, especially against sides from the Bundesliga.
Taking a look through the rosters of English outfits, there are few central midfielders of note, with Yaya Toure, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshire the most promising of the bunch. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are well-established local players, while Ramires, Lucas Leiva and Sandro make up the Brazilian contingent. The newest faces coming into the Premier League include central midfielders like Paulinho and Javi Garcia, but besides that, the EPL’s central midfield roles are often filled with hardworking but exceptionally ordinary players.
Let’s take a look at Serie A, first, where central midfielders are not only defensively capable but offensively creative, capable of splitting defences in half with a clinical through ball.
These players include the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Ricardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi. Over in Spain, F.C. Barcelona’s threesome of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta rule the roost, but there are many more noteworthy players, even within Barcelona, like Fabregas and Alex Song.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Modric compete for two spots in central midfield, and are often switched around to change tactics or style of play based on the needs of the club. EPL outfits rarely have this luxury. In the Bundesliga, you’ll find the industrious midfielders that support the fast-flying, no-looking-back offenses of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, amongst others. You have the brothers Bender, Sven and Lars both proven commodities, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ilkay Gundogan anchoring the midfield for their teammates, too. Looking through the list of names, it’s hard not to envy the central midfielders of other leagues. The question that needs to be asked is, why does the EPL lack world-class central midfielders?
Is it simply a case of the grass being greener on the other side? Perhaps.
However, there is an undeniable gulf in midfield quality when teams like Juventus take on a side like Arsenal. Wilshire and Arteta are capable midfielders but compared to Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, the difference is night and day.It may not be a huge problem today, but a lack of midfield strength can cripple teams. The Real Madrid Galacticos era arguably came to a halt when Claude Makelele was sold, and the rise of Barcelona can largely be attributed to the emergence of Xavi and Iniesta. While forwards like Lionel Messi and co. will always be seen as the heroes of the team, they cannot produce unless they have a midfield behind them capable of mopping up when required to, linking the ball through the most congested part of the field and, most importantly, finding them with a clinical pass.
EPL outfits must start identifying quality central midfielders once more and invest money in them over the long term in order to succeed in the future. There are many options to choose from, of course, and this is an area that Arsenal has, in particular, exceeded at. The list of central midfielders playing in Europe is long, but it would not be a stretch to imagine the likes of João Moutinho, Borja Valero, Fredy Guarin, Igor Denisov or Nemanja Matic playing in the Premier League.
Beyond that, the money that is being offered to sign players like Wayne Rooney from within the league would be well spent on identifying long-term regulars like Javi Martinez, whose quality was obvious from a much younger age and was picked up by Bayern Munich, who committed a proper sum to sign him. While the English Premier League remains one of the top leagues in the world, an influx of central midfielders would help cement the league’s position as a global hotbed of football. It would also make English teams much more competitive in the UEFA Champions League. A central midfielder isn’t the most glamorous player in the bunch, but every team needs one or two, and, like a good pair of cleats, it’s best to get a quality pair that will last!