Football Tactics for Beginners: The Makelele Role

The Makelele Role
Claude Makelele
Dec 2020 Update- Spurs under Jose Mourinho are currently top of the Premier League and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is one of their standout performers so far operating in front of their defence à la Makelele.

Very rarely are football terms named after the footballers themselves, one example is, of course, the famous Cruyff turn,but the most famous of our generation is “The Makelele Role”.  The Cruyff turn epitomizes the skill and the footballing brain of its inventor, but total football’s most famous man has an unlikely successor. Claude Makelele’s role(The Makelele Role) at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho when they won the Premier League title was named after its inventor.

Unlike Cruyff, Makelele is a player who Arsene Wenger may call an anti-footballer. He is there to break up attacks, to hold the shape of the team.  But the Makelele role is different from the traditional defensive mid-fielders, who used to be hard tacklers and generally used to scythe down opponents. The Frenchman was simple, efficient, had great positional sense and was highly disciplined. Whilst at Real Madrid, he was regarded as the most important player by his teammates, who needed a calm and disciplined influence on the pitch. They won the 2002 Champions League with a host of attacking talent like Figo, Zidane, Raul and Roberto Carlos.  Going forward Madrid were brilliant, they attacked like bees, and were a neutral’s delight.  But it was when they lost possession and the opposition countered, Makelele came into his own.  When the opposition attacked he was all alone, with none of his midfield partners doing any sort of tracking back, he kept his calm and broke downplays. His calm presence and slow passing were a key factor in Madrid’s success. He then demanded a new and a bigger contract but Florentino Perez refused to give him one and eventually he was sold to Chelsea. 
Perez harshly criticized the Frenchman saying

We will not miss Makelele. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres.”
Of course, Perez was wrong as he discovered later.  All the more Real bought Beckham as a replacement which led Zidane to say

“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”

But Makelele’s move to London proved a highly successful one. Under Jose Mourinho, he excelled in his role and this time the world noticed it. There was admiration all around and The Makelele Role was born.
Mourinho in of his interviews said

‘Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things’.
Claude first struggled to settle in the Premiership under Ranieri but after Jose’s arrival, his role in the team became more well defined and Makelele’s best years were played out under him. The following comments sum up Makelele for you.

“It’s the ultimate honour to have it (The Makelele Role) named after me, I suppose it shows that I have achieved everything I have worked for,” he says. “I really learnt how to play that role at Real Madrid where, if we were losing 1-0, we would say ‘Right, lock up shop’. The four at the back and the one in front of them – me – would concentrate only on defence and let the others go and do what they had to up front. They would take the risks, I would take care of the opposition’s attacks.

“In every team you need to know what your role is and one of the keys to my role is to keep the balance of the team right. So when Didier [Drogba] goes here, I do this. When Frank [Lampard] goes there, I go there. Same with Michael [Ballack]. When one person moves out of position, then someone else comes in and covers for them.

“When you play in my position you have to enjoy it. You can’t be thinking  I don’t get any goals’. You just enjoy it, you enjoy playing football, tackling, giving the ball. Just enjoy it. When you are small you have to tackle at the right moment. He might be tall, he might be strong but if you tackle at the right moment you’ll win it. It’s about timing.”

Sergio Busquets is a modern-day version of Makelele, he can do what the Frenchman does but he can pass the ball too.  Nowadays a holding midfielder only to play the Makelele Role is not sufficient as you must be able to pass the ball and occasionally hit the long ball too.  Michael Carrick and Sami Khedira(Who primarily play in a double pivot) are prime examples.  Not many players who form the defensive backbone of the team get credit for their work like Makelele got, but it will some time and it will take a great doing for someone to invent a role and have it named after himself.

You can read the first article in the series-Football tactics for Beginners-The False 9
See also  Why Kobbie Mainoo is a Must-Starter for England in the Euros

4 Responses

  1. Sergio Busquets is not that good. The guy can barely stop opposition attacks, and I say that as a Barca fan. Mascherano mostly covers him, if Mascherano would be missing, then you’ll see Busquets flaws.

    1. I beg to disagree, Busquets has been a crucial part of both Pep’s and Lucho’s teams. I felt in Tito’s team, he was a little exposed. He is not someone who tackles strongly or is the all action defensive midfielder but he has redefined the DM role with his intelligent positioning,awareness and fantastic vision. There was a clasico when he actually played in between the center back under Pep allowing both the wing backs to attack relentlessly.

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