So You Want To Be A Central Midfielder?
When you hear the words "central midfielder", certain players pop up and come to mind; Xavi Hernandez, Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, Zinedine Zidane, Austin Okocha,Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets, etc...Who or what is a central midfielder? What does he do? Why is he important? What are his primary duties? What skill set does he need to possess? And most importantly, what does he need to know, learn, and understand about this position to make him play better? Or to make him appreciate it better. If this applies to you, then you're in the right place my friend..
The very first thing you need to know is that "central midfielder" refers to a position on the pitch, the skeletal zone the player occupies; That means the centre of the field. So there's "position", and then there is "role". What is the role of a central midfielder? This is where the different types come into play. For the purpose of this write up, I'm going to use "central midfielder" as one big umbrella. Under this, you have the different types according to role; The defensive midfielder DM( there are different types too like a DLP, tackler, etc ), the none defensive midfielder ( creator CM, controller CM, etc ). Now don't be alarmed, I won't go deep in all that because for very type of role he can have, the Central Midfielder must possess some basic attributes, skill sets, and understanding of the position, which is what I want to talk about here.
When I was younger, me and my older brother used to perform an activity many times during the week. He would take me to the field, go as far away from me as possible, and start sending long passes. The goal was for me to "control" the ball as perfectly as I could. Do you know how many passes he sent to me each day? You can't know because I don't even know. But we did it, thousands of times. I missed some, I got some, but by the time I went back to boarding house, I don't think there was anyone better at ball control than me. Which brings me to the first point; the central midfielder must know how to control the ball.
He must understand the dynamics of bringing the football to rest ( or taking it in stride ) from its moving position. From the air, on the ground, in peace, under pressure, balanced, off balance, etc. If it takes you renting a brother to throw passes at you, do it. But you must be as close to perfect in this as much as you can. If it takes you throwing or shooting the ball vertically upwards as high as you can, then controlling it with your feet as it lands, do it. Understand the different parts of your leg and how they relate to the ball, understand the spin of the ball, understand the weight of the ball..In essence the ball is your wife, and you must have a good rapport and romance with it.
Back to me and my brother, I'd call him E from now on. I mentioned E threw different passes at me so that I could control yes? So how did E get the ball back? We were only two, and we had only one ball (those were them days). There was only one way, I had to pass it back to him. And when I did, it had to land exactly at his feet, if not I'd get an earful. This leads me to the second point; the central midfielder must know how to pass a ball.
Passing the ball comes in two parts, first is actually knowing how to pass, second is knowing where to pass to
(your choice of pass based on the game dynamics in that period ).
Knowing How To Pass: You want to know how to pass? Go out there and practice sending the ball to a target, preferably a human ( inside of the foot, outside of the foot, one touch pass, control and pass, etc ). You must vary the ranges and positions, and you must strive to hit the target perfectly. The central midfielder must know how to pass in peace, under pressure, balanced, off balance, etc. He must know how to find his teammate, without making it impossible for his teammate to reach the ball.
A pass has 3 components; The timing, the weight, and the distance; if all 3 are 100%, then you have a perfect pass. Out of all 3 though, if I was to pick the most important, I would pick "timing". That ability/ 6th sense to pass at the right time. Every second counts, and a chance can be lost if a second is wasted. Nothing pisses me off than when a pass isn't played at the right time and an opening is lost.
Knowing Where to Pass: Take a moment to watch Kevin De Bruyne, he rarely ever makes the wrong choice of pass. There may be 5 options, but he picks 1. There may be 3, he picks 1. There may be zero, and he holds on to the ball(more on this later), waiting for the right chance. So what influences his choice? The central midfielder must be able to analyze the current "instance" in a game, visualize how each possible decision made will play out, compare which one is best, pick it, and then actually carry out this decision perfectly; all in a few seconds or less than a second.
Many people ask me one question all the time, "Is it possible to teach things like this?" Sometimes maybe they see me play and do a crazy dribble or pass, or score a goal..they ask me this question. To be honest, I really do not know for sure. This visualization in seconds and picking the most beneficial course of action is really deep. Maybe that's what separates the greats from normal players. At the very least though, you must possess the basic ability to do it, and this is something I can teach, the speed of thought is another matter ( I also think it's possible to practice and practice and increase the speed of thought ).
Have you ever owned a prized possession? Maybe a toy as a kid, or diamond as an adult? What is the natural reaction when someone else wanted to take your toy? I hope it was to protect/hide the toy rather than get in a fight. If it was protect/hide, then you're in the right place my friend. Which leads me to my 3rd point; the central midfielder must know how to protect the ball.
He must treat the ball like a prized toy/diamond. Nobody can take it from him when he is in possession, and when he loses it, his pride must be hurt so that he strives to do better next time. Protecting the ball boils down to always placing the ball at angles that your opponent cannot reach without fouling you(Marco Verratti and Paul Pogba are super awesome at this). In order to do this, you must first know where your opponent is at all times. Spatial awareness is key, from this stems ball protection. Your body, how you pivot, how you swivel, how you dribble, all contribute to protecting the ball. It can be done stationary, or in motion when dribbling or driving(and waiting for the right pass like Kevin De Bruyne). Again, practice makes perfect.
There are so many things I'd like to add, but I have to stop here. I will leave you with one last thing though, knowing what to do with the ball before you get it is super important and you must train your mind to think 2 steps ahead. On another write up soon, I will talk about the primary duties of a central midfielder according to his role ( so you can adequately judge and compare them when you watch them ).
Thanks for reading guys, I hope you enjoyed this.
P.S: My favorite central midfielders of all time are Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandez, Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, Zinedine Zidane, and Andres Iniesta.
Also, I turned out to actually become a better footballer than E ( he doesn't like to hear this though ).