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The term "Midfielders" in football are used to describe a selected crop of players whose primary role is to operate within the hub of a football field.
It is no doubt that midfielders are the engine room of all football teams, a football team without a dominant midfield will struggle to win matches.
The role of playing in midfield requires high technique, tenacity, vision, stamina and a great skill set to execute and command.
There are 3 major types of midfielders namely;
These Midfielders are tasked with nullifying the opposition threats... in other words they are charged with the recovery and the breaking up of opposition attacks. Alongside the central midfielders, they also command play at the centre of the pitch.
These midfielders are charged with the function of keeping their team in possession, while also looking for pockets of space to create chances for their attackers. The central midfielders usually dictate the tempo(high or slow) of a football match.
These midfielders are usually positioned in a slightly more advanced role than the central midfielders. Originally, these gifted midfielders are charged with the function of creating clear-cut goalscoring opportunities for their attackers.
Although the functions of midfielders have immensely increased overtime as football have advanced with different generations of players and coaches, the primary function of a midfielder irrespective of their role on the pitch still remains; connecting the back line (defensive) and the front line (attacking), while also bringing stability and swagger to their team at the center of the pitch.
Having said that, let's take a look at 10 of the greatest midfielders in football history, irrespective of the position and functions they played in the middle of the park.
Claudio Makelele (Defensive Midfielder)
Makelele began his playing career in his homeland france with Brest at the tender age of 15, but signed his first professional contract with Nantes as an 18 year old in 1991. Makelele soon made waves in ligue 1 and was subsequently snapped up by Celta vigo in Spain.
His big money transfer move came at the turn of the century when Real Madrid paid €14 million pounds for his signature.
Makelele who was initially bought as a squad player, became a first team regular for the los blancos after fine performances, and it was reported that the Real Madrid squad were upset when he was sold to Chelsea in 2003.
Makelele who also played for the French national team in a glittering career would go down as one of the best defensive midfielders ever.
Steven Gerard (Central Midfielder)
"Steven G" as he was popularly called by the English media will go down as the greatest midfielder in the history of Liverpool football club and one of the best midfielders of his generation.
The midfielder talents were there for all to see when he debuted in 1998. In no time, Gerard was named Liverpool's captain, the English born midfielder captained his side to the 2005 champions league glory and other numerous trophies, although the Premier league trophy elluded him throughout his career.
Xabi Alonso (Central Midfielder)
It is unfair that Alonso misses out on our top 10. The now retired Spanish midfielder was simply a player loved by all irrespective of the team you support.
Alonso excelled in central midfield for Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at club level. While he was also a core player in that famous Spanish midfield (alongside Xavi and Iniesta) that dominated international football for 8 years.
Alonso who now coaches Real Sociedad B in the Spanish Segunda B division will forever be remembered for his mind blowing long range goals.
Basten Schweinsteiger (Central Midfielder)
The 2014 world cup winner is a rare talent, Schweisteiger would probably have sneeked into our top 10 if not for the injuries that ravaged the German midfielder in his playing days. Still, the former Bavarian captain earned much deserved praises for the lofty standards he set at the middle of park whenever he turned out for both club and country.
Schweisteiger was a midfielder of the highest class when he played, the ex Manchester united midfielder passion and commitment to football was there for all to see when he kept on playing, despite having a bloodied face at the 2014 world cup final.
Incredible leader, incredible player
Clarence Seedorf (Central Midfielder)
Dutchman 'Seedorf' first debuted for the Ajax senior team at the tender age of 16 in 1992, and by the time the Midfielder was 18, he had already won the champions league with the Eredivise power house.
A king of long range screamers, it didn't take long before a big move to Real Madrid came calling, with the midfielder winning his second Champions league at the Spanish capital before moving to Italy where he turned out for both Milan clubs.
Seedorf who also won the champions league on two occasions with AC Milan is the first and only player in history to have won the trophy with 3 different clubs.
Luka Modric (Central Midfielder)
Modric is a modern day great, and one of the only two active midfielders on our list.
Modric has established himself as one of the best central midfielders in the world after moving to Real Madrid in the summer of 2012 for £30 million.
The Croatian captain who has been a core part of Real Madrid's sucess in recent years also led his country to the world cup final in 2018 where they lost out to France.
He was subsequently awarded the golden ball as the player of the tournament in Russia, while he also scooped the Fifa world player of the year award and the coveted ballon d'or trophy in the same year.
10) Zico (Attacking Midfielder)
Perhaps Portugal will be enraged that Zico choose to play for Brazil, a Portuguese by birth, Zico would go down as one of the greatest midfielders to play football.
The attacking midfielder started playing amateur football in Brazil at a very young age. Zico later got his big break-through when he signed for Brazilian side 'Flamengo' in 1971.
Zico was called up to the national team not long after that, becoming a key player to the Brazilian side that failed to lift the world cup in 1978 and 1982. Still, he had done more than enough to earn the player of the tournament on both occasions.
9) Frank lampard (Central Midfielder)
When you hear the current Chelsea boss harshly criticize his midfielders, it's because he knows a thing or two about playing in midfield for one of the biggest club in the world.
Frank lampard who joined Chelsea from boyhood club West ham in 2001 was one of those midfielders who made the now famous "box-to-box" midfield role more prominent.
Lampard was a better goalscorer than most strikers, scoring an amazing 272 goals from midfield, while also laying on another 139 for his teammates.
Popularly called "Super Frankie", the sharp shooting midfielder's career blemish, would be the fact that he ended his football career without a world cup goal despite appearing in 3 different editions of the tournament.
8) Lothar matthaus (Defensive Midfielder)
This list wouldn't be complete without the 1990 world cup winner.
Matthaus has been described by many as the most complete midfielder of all time, because of his ability to break up play, keep his team in possession and also score goals at the same time.
Matthaus who played for Bayern Munich and Inter milan at club level captained West Germany to world cup glory in 1990, he was the first recipient of the prestigious Fifa world player of the year award.. Till date, he remains the only German to have won that award.
7) Luis Figo (Attacking Midfielder)
Luis Figo was the footballing reflection of Johan Cruyff. Figo mostly played in the attacking midfield in his career, but would more than often be drafted as a winger or a classic No 10 on the pitch. The Portuguese utility player ended his five year association with Sporting Lisbon to sign for Barcelona in 1995.
Figo would make one of the most controversial transfer moves in the history of football when it was confirmed that the portugese had accepted a world record €62 million move to bitter rivals Real Madrid in 2000.
Figo who would go down as one of the greatest European midfielders of all time won the Ballon d'or in 2001 with Real Madrid. He moved to Inter Milan in 2005 where he retired 4 years later.
6) Paul Scholes (Central Midfielder)
Look, when it came to pure footballing talents as a midfielder, no one on this list beats Paul Scholes.
The Englishman was known all round the footballing world for his insane passing technique, It never mattered if you were positioned in the stands, Scholes will still find you with a pass.
Scholes technique and vision with the ball was second to none, he was by a mile the greatest English midfielder of his generation. Paul Scholes was also famous for that long range goal from midfield against Barcelona in the 2007 champions league semifinals.
He hasn't been replaced till date by Manchester united and the English national team.
5) Andres Iniesta (Attacking Midfielder)
Iniesta was so good that even rival fans applauded and acknowledged his greatness.
The midfielder who still plays professional football till date in Japan, was a major part of the two best teams in the early 21st century.
At Barcelona, alongside fellow countryman 'Xavi', he formed one of the greatest midfield partnerships in football history. Were they dominated every single clubside that faced them with a possession based style of football called "Tiki-Taka".
In the Spanish national team, he was the hero, the crown jewel of the Spanish national team, he was the player who won them the world cup in 2010.
Iniesta is the last of a dying breed of highly gifted midfielders.
4) Andrea pirlo (Central Midfielder)
Oh pirlo! How were you so good?
The Italian maestro was a master of the arts, with a passing range that is only rivaled by that of Paul Scholes and a technique that can only be compared to that of Zinedine Zidane, Pirlo was one of the finest midfielders to ever play the game.
The 2006 world cup winner insane accuracy from set pieces also sets him apart from other midfielders in our list.
Pirlo was under-rated during his playing days, but the world cup winning midfielder set the standards for the modern day midfielders of today. The Italian is one of the most loved footballers of all time.
3) Johan Cruyff (Attacking Midfielder)
The only reason why the flying Dutchman isn't top of our list is because he was more of an utility player who would sometimes start in the attacking midfield role or part of a front three as a classic number 10.
The Dutch legend was one of those generational players who changed the outlook of football. The famous ajax captain possessed an exceptionary technique, he subsequently shared his brand and vision of football known as "Total football" with the world. One of the best players who never won the world cup.
2) Xavi hernandez (Central Midfielder)
A graduate of the famous "La Masia Football academy", the central midfielder made his first team debut in 1998. Xavi who would go on to make a club record 700 appearances was the heartbeat of the Catalans' midfield for about a decade and half.
Xavi alongside Spanish teammate 'Andres Iniesta' were the players who successfully executed the famous "Tiki-Taka" style of play invented by then-Barcelona manager "Pep Guardiola".
Xavi collected a host of numerous trophies for Barcelona while he also scooped back to back European championships and the world cup with Spain. His glittering career for Barcelona ended with a treble in 2015, after which he moved to Qatar to continue his playing career.
After hanging up his boots in 2019, the midfielder took up the coaching role at the Arab club and has been tipped to coach Barcelona sometime in the near future.
1) Zinedine Zidane (Attacking Midfielder)
Nicknamed "Zizou", the Frenchman was famous for his outstanding technical abilities and elegant ball control. Only few players could mentally read the game in the same way Zidane did.
The attacking midfielder who held the record for the most expensive transfer in Spain for eight years, possessed the skill set of a footballing god at his feet.
With relative success at clubside, Zidane also won the European championship and world cup with France in an international career that was full of high and lows.
Even the event that constituted the premature ending to his football career cannot overshadow the 1998 ballon d'or winner's place amongst the greatest players in the history of football.
Arguably the best midfielder ever.
Feel free to drop a list of your top 10 best midfielders in the comment section below.
If you do not agree with our list, you can also make your thoughts know in the comment section below.
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