Where are the warriors?
Why skill and flair has taken over from the midfield hardman approach
AS MANCHESTER CITY bring Patrick Vieira back into the Premiership, the question is… where are the warriors?
It is a dying art; the role of the midfield warrior, the destroyer whose job it was to break up the play and stop the danger man on the other side.
The game has changed with the change in rules.
The days when you could hit someone like a juggernaut and take out the opposition’s star turn are gone.
Strange to think now that an opposition player would have the job of doing that!
The hatchetman would leave his calling card – we all remember Vinnie Jones squeezing Gazza in a sensitive area – and it was like a message: “I’m here, remember that the next time you try to get tricky, son.”
I grew up watching players such as Graeme Souness and, later, Steve McMahon for Liverpool.
We’ve all seen footage of players like Ron Harris and Billy Bremner. That Leeds team of the late 1960s and 1970s could play, but they would batter opponents, too.
When I played, Arsenal were a big, strong team, with Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit as their enforcers in front of the back four.
United, of course, had Roy Keane. And I’ve also got to mention Paul Scholes.
I remember talking to Keane about Scholes. I’ve always had a theory that it’s a myth when people talk about his mistimed tackles, so I asked Roy: “Does Scholes really mistime his tackles?”
He looked at me and said: “Yeah, right. Do me a favour! Scholesy is worse than me.”
Scholes has an edge and nastiness to his game. He wasn’t a legbreaker, but he would come after you. If you caught him late or left something on him, he would get you back. He was – and still is – a midfield general, like a Souness or a Bryan Robson.
More recently, we had Keane, Paul Ince and Vieira. I wonder how different the Premier League will seem to him when he returns to Manchester City?
Let’s try and see how he keeps up with a Cesc Fabregas.
Now teams are made up of quick midfielders, who cover the ground and can also intercept the ball. It is considered a disadvantage to go to ground.
Counter-attacking is the name of the game, midfielders are encour- aged to spot the pass, read it quickly, intercept and then start their own advance.
The game is losing traditional centre forwards; old-fashioned playmakers, such as Glenn Hoddle, are few and far between and so, too, is the playmaker’s adversary, the hatchet man.
Glenn would love to have played now, with the freedom of the park and without a Souness barking at him.
Look at the Barcelona midfield of Xavi and Iniesta, who are small, quick, can pass with both feet, read the game and counter at pace. that is a typical modern midfield.
Arsenal have that type, too, in Fabregas.
Liverpool have a different type of player at the point of their midfield in Steven Gerrard. They are more matchwinners than old-style central midfielders.
In years gone by, anyone skinny was sent to the wing. Now we are seeing players such as Ryan Giggs and James Milner coming inside, so they can get on the ball more.
Gerrard could have been another Souness and when he first came into the Liverpool team, he was renowned for some painful challenges, but he has adapted his game.
There are still powerhouses lurking. Michael Essien is a player who could have played 20 years ago, while Wilson Palacios loves a tackle. He’s like a bear and enjoys being in the thick of things.
Arsenal have Alex Song, who characterises the athleticism of the modern midfielder.
One final plea is that tackling should not be lost to the game.
A full stadium, noisy supporters and the crunching sound of a 50-50 challenge is still one of the great pleasures of our sport.
A clever midfielder hitting a 30yard diagonal ball will get supporters excited, drawing a ripple of applause, but hear their roar when two fully committed players dive in to try and win the ball.
It’s part of the game we should not lose. – Daily Mail
CRUNCH TIME: Wayne Rooney gets the ‘Patrick Vieira treatment’ in a match between Manchester United and Arsenal in 2004… the French midfield destroyer signed for Man City yesterday.