The holding midfielder role that is still known as the “Makelele Role” named after Claude Makelele, a former Real Madrid, Chelsea and PSG midfielder, is almost a hidden position on the football pitch. Holding midfielders are underrated and usually unappreciated, but here is the importance of their role on the pitch.
The holding or defensive midfielder is the player who plays behind the midfield like a sweeper but in front of the defense. It was named after Claude Makelele who played in the first Galacticos team formed at Real Madrid alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Raul and others. His role was underrated and so Perez let him go in 2003 saying that Real will not feel his absence, and they did. Their team was not the same for years until Perez returned. Why is this position so important?
The position of the holding midfielder behind the midfield line allows him to stop attacks of teams that get past the midfielders. Just like the sweeper or libero that used to play behind the defense when there was no offside rule, the “Beckenbauer Role” behind the defense was to clear any ball that gets past the defensive line. This position however is rarely used because the position of the sweeper allows attacking players to be onside behind the defensive line. The holding midfielder is a sweeper for the midfield line who does not interfere with the offside line because he has a set of defenders behind him. His absence in the squad allows some space to be exploited behind the midfielders.
Moreover, the defensive midfielder has a role of cleaning up the mess of his teammates. Star players and goal scorers lose the ball while trying to build an attack and often are unable to go back and support the defense. The holding midfielder has to stop the counter attacks by tackling or fouling the opponent. The tactical foul is often discussed by the manager to stop a dangerous attack from the opposition.
The previous two roles were the defensive roles of the holding midfielder. The Makeleles of football have also an attacking role that consisits of building up attacks that start from the defense and providing the link between the defenders and the midfielders. Also, when switching the play from one flank to another, your main man is your holding midfielder. This switching plays is mostly adopted by Barcelona, where every ball goes back to Busquets who switches it to the other side.
Not all tactical formations applied by managers today include a holding midfielder. Germany’s Euro 16 squad used three different formations that did not have a holding midfielder as Kroos and Khedira are known to play a bit forward and needed a Makelele to play behind them. The 4–3–3 formation used by Zidane at Madrid using Casemiro as a holding midfielder behind Modric and Kroos proved to be a brave and successful decision. Other holding midfielders in the game today are Sergio Busquets, Daniele de Rossi, N’Golo Kante, Xabi Alonso and many more.