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Villarreal USA Roundtable: What’s the most important position in football?

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How you answer says a lot about your football philosophy.

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Let’s say you are starting a football club, you go out to recruit players and have a limited budget, so you need to plan carefully how you construct your roster. What position are you going to recruit first? What position is the most important one on the pitch, the one that just has to be right if anything else is going to work? We asked some of our writers for their opinions.

Allen

I’d like to say the Makelele/Senna holding midfielder role, but that really depends on formation and style. So I will go with center back—if you have a stud there who can win one-on-one challenges and clean up and the back, you can make up for so many mistakes ahead of you. And often that player is the guy who holds the team together. Think of Carles Puyol in his prime, with both Spain and Barca, or (ahem) Diego Godin with Atleti in his prime. Giorgio Chiellini. A center back who can rally the team around him is the most important player on the pitch.

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Raul

Well, to put it simply, midfielders. Football positions are sum up on what we could say lines of action: goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards. The role of the midfielders is simple but important at the same time, as they are the ones connecting the defense with the offense, so you can expect them to be the ones with more kilometres ran on average in a team.

If we take a closer look towards midfielders, they can be classified on a more definite position and role, so we have defensive midfielders, which tend to favor defensive skills and you have there the holding midfielder as one archetype of it, although you have also had Pirlo which was a playmaker working as defensive midfielder. More towards the opponents goal you have the center midfielder that can be further classified as box-to-box, for example, and will try to keep the pace of the match thanks to passes and looking for the attacking midfielders or forwards of the team. The wings go to the wing midfielders which tend to work that wing trying to make a cross, while inverting them (footedness) is a possibility. And finally, attacking midfielders, which can also be said as playmakers, who will try to set scoring chances for them or their teammates either by passes or by dribbling.

From there, picking one it’s a bit difficult, but I feel a good central midfielder (Xavi, De Rossi, Lampard, Vidal) can be the glue of the whole team, with their contribution in defense and in attack, while the attacking midfielder can even be quite flashy and important at the attack, but I’m going to go with the central midfielder for this one.

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Robin

Centre Defensive mid. It is key to protection of the defenders. It is also crucial when you want to break very quickly. It also frees up defencive duties for that creative midfielder in front. The two most successful players I have seen do it Claude Makélélé who practically invented it. The other I would say is our very own Bruno.

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Sid

Most important...I suppose it has to be the #9. You’ll only go as far as your striker takes you.

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Zach

I think the answer to this question is generally systemic, but that in general central players are more important that wide players. Some teams may rely on their fullbacks more than their center backs but everyone plays CBs a not every plays traditional fullbacks. Some teams may rely more on their wingers for goals than their central forwards but not everyone plays wingers and everyone plays central forwards. Some teams like a 442 with wide midfielders that contribute a lot forward and in defense but everyone has central midfielders.

In the middle of the pitch, I like to think of the central midfield positions in three general categories, the six, the eight, and the ten. You can play any of these main positions in a variety of ways but generally your six does some combination of defensive shielding/deep lying distribution, your eight runs some sort of box to box role, and your ten is a more forward creator.

Not all teams play tens, and in fact, as Cesc Fabregas recently noted on Twitter the traditional ten role is dying. If you play 442 or 433, there’s not singular creative midfield role. Likewise, not every team plays a true six. I think of Real Madrid in 2014-2015, Xabi Alonso had left, Toni Kroos (an eight) was brought in, and the midfield was some combination of Kroos, Modric, and James Rodriguez.

Every team needs an eight, no matter the formation. Sometimes that eight is a high energy ball carrier like Zambo Anguissa (when he’s not being forced out of position), sometimes he’s like Xavi and just sets a metronome like tempo to the entire team, and in more recent years the ‘free eight’ like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva at City or our own version of it with Trigueros and Santi when we run a 433. This player can dribble, create, and contribute defensively. There may be individual systems that rely on other positions more, but because every system needs an eight I label it the most important role on the pitch.

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So, how did we do?

What position do you think is most important? Why?