To tear through a well-guarded defense in soccer, it takes a special type of player. It is more than just mere speed, or step-overs that is needed to confuse some defenders.
Instead, it has more to do with having the intelligence to see openings that are concealed from everyone else, matched with impeccable passing techniques to take advantage of the tiny, invisible opportunities when they present themselves in the opposition’s defense.
In modern-day soccer, there are players who are solely trained to tear the defense apart called the playmakers.
In this article, you will learn all it takes to make a great playmaker, and even look at some players who have executed this position excellently.
The term playmaker has been used loosely in recent years to describe any midfielder who can connect the play between midfield and attack. Nonetheless, a playmaker and a midfielder are two, totally separate definitions. You see, a midfielder is a player who plays on a certain position on the soccer pitch, while playmaking is the quality of an individual player who is normally known as the playmaker.
The two terms are often confused since most playmakers are normally attacking or holding midfielders.
The main difference between a playmaker and an attacking midfielder is that the playmaker will tend to limit their movements behind the strikers or attacking midfielders, remaining mostly unconcerned about getting into goal scoring positions. Instead, playmakers tend to plan the game using their vision and passing to set up chances for the attack.
As such, most playmakers operate from one of two positions; deep or slightly advanced.
A deep-lying playmaker refers to a midfielder who holds his positions just behind the other midfielders, hence commanding the play to all areas of the pitch. A fine example of a deep lying playmaker is Andrea Pirlo.
The slightly-advanced playmaker will maintain his position behind the attack and slightly in front of the other midfielders. A good example would be Juan Roman Riquelme.
As a playmaker, there are several skills and concepts that you have to master in order to be effective and make a significant difference in the team:
Firstly, playmakers have to perfect both long and short passes in order to pinpoint anyone on the pitch when necessary.
They must also have great vision, which allows them to split the defense using undefendable through balls and pin-point passes.
Given their accuracy in passing, playmakers will often be the team’s free-kick specialist and may also find themselves scoring long-range goals from outside the penalty area.
A playmaker should be able to control the ball on first touch to allow them to gain command of the ball quickly – a skill that no-one has perfected better than Ronaldinho on his prime days at Barcelona.
A perfect first touch will give the playmaker enough time to make a dissecting pass to the intended player while giving the opposition’s defense very little time to react.
Dribbling is another key quality that any playmaker worth their salt should possess. The playmaker will often need to buy some time before they can release their passes to the best positioned players, and this takes having some tricks up the sleeve.
A playmaker needs off the ball intelligence to know how to position themselves so as to dictate the tempo of the game and be available for passes from all sides of the pitch.
For instance, the advanced playmaker tends to drop into the space between the opposition’s midfield and defense to take advantage of any opportunities to set up a successful attack.
At this juncture, it is important to note that playmakers aren’t expected to be chasing around the ball, and even if they make a tackle, that would be treated as a plus since this is the work of the remaining midfielders and defenders.
For this reason, some football critics view a playmaker as more of a luxury position since they don’t seem to be doing as much work as the rest of the teammates.
On the other hand, some coaches build the whole gameplay of the team around this player. These coaches understand that the playmaker is likely to set the tempo for the whole team, and therefore, when at his optimum, the rest of the team will work at the same level and score goals.
As you may have noticed by now, a playmaker is more of a state of mind than a soccer position since after all, any player can create goal scoring opportunities.
The subtle difference is that a playmaker is the type of player whose specialty is simply creating goal scoring chances for the attacking unit.
Players who are deployed to play this position are normally admirably skillful with the ball, not to mention outstanding technical superiority which allow them to outmaneuver defenders with modest yet quick and clever passes that create a lot of space for the attackers.
Here is a list of drills that can help you become a better playmaker when practiced often:
This drill consists of two teams of four each with the playmaker as an extra player and wearing a different colored bib, making a total of ten.
The playmaker plays for the team in possession and the play has go through the playmaker for either team to score a goal.
In this drill, the playmaker will get many encounters with the all and have to make many technical decisions.
This repetition is what will improve your passing and receiving techniques as well as decision-making skills.
When the opposition is at your goal, it is crucial to ‘switch play’ and get the ball to the other side to relieve the pressure on your team.
A switch of play is a drill that teaches how to use the wings for a quick attack which may involve a 1-on-1 encounter with a defender.
The switch up drill is meant to improve a players’ range of passing and dribbling techniques and teach how to move the ball from one side of the pitch to the other quickly.
As a playmaker, you will need to be very comfortable with the ball in situations where space is limited, and defenders are closing in on you. The four vs two possession exercise helps in improving passes to retain possession and confident in creating space to provide and receive passes.
The playmaker is considered fundamental in soccer game plays that utilize the position, such as in South American soccer where he even has a special name, the ‘Enganche’.
Since the playmaker is deployed to link up play between the midfield and attack, they are often considered the pivot of most teams that include this role in their formation.
Playmakers often build up the play by orchestrating an organized attack and by positioning themselves in the space between midfield and attack to ensure that they can receive balls directly and initiate an attack on the opposition.
The playmaker will normally stay in his zone as much as is required, so as to hold on to possession until other teammates can take their offensive positions.
The importance of a playmaker can be well illustrated by the outstanding performance of Manchester City’s David Silva against Chelsea on the 8th August 2015.
Silva acted as the central midfielder with enough freedom to dictate the game’s tempo and constantly feed the ball to the winger, Raheem Sterling and the striker, Sergio Aguero. His performance was fundamental in securing the 3-0 win they enjoyed on that day.
A playmaker possesses excellent vision and superb passing range. As a result, one of his biggest roles is picking out target players who are making a run into the opposition or those already in space.
Having these two skills also ensure that possession is retained as opposed to being lost due to an inaccurate pass. On that note, playmakers are expected to be excellent holders of the ball and have the intelligence to make only correct passes (passes that could turn the fortunes of the game) and express confidence on the ball which will spread to the rest of the team.
Since this role requires little involvement in terms of defensive work, it may work against the team to have a playmaker especially if the team is struggling with defense.
Nonetheless, playmakers are often amazing to watch thanks to their sensational skills, technical prowess and the capability to outwit the opposition using unique tactics.
As shown above, the playmaker is a fundamental part of how his whole team plays, and if a team has a good one, watching them is nothing short of amazing.
One of the legendary playmakers who symbolizes class is Andrea Pirlo. This Italian player can place the ball anywhere he wants it, when he wants it with pin-point accuracy.
Whether he is using his right or left foot, Pirlo is a master at his craft, with a calm and collectedness of the truth.
More so, he has the vision to assess the whole pitch and pick out his next target even before the ball reaches his feet, and it will leave even faster.
Another outstanding playmaker in modern football is Andreas Iniesta, the man who made Barcelona’s ‘Tiki Taka’ form of play famous across the world.
Also known as the man behind Messi, Iniesta showcases excellent ball retention even when surrounded with a host of defenders from the other team, he makes it seem like he’s playing a virtual game.
After it was clear to all that Messi had the ability to literally break-down a whole defense, opposing teams worked overtime to down his skills. However, Messi turned this into an advantage since he could attract all the central defenders to himself then pick the perfect moment to let loose a pass that releases a teammate into an empty space, one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Another playmaker worth looking at is Cesc Fabregas, who builds up play by passing accurately from deep within the midfield. He can also connect the play through the center of the field and create a superb chance for attackers when he drops further into the offense.
He has hawk-eye vision, able to link with everyone in the team, after distracting the defense with simple passes, he will release a sinister ball that will catch even the best defenders by surprise.
There are many more playmakers who have made this position in soccer to be as acclaimed as it is today.
These include David Silva, Dimitri Payet, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos, Claude Makelele, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Luka Modric and many others.
Modern-day soccer has a good number of awesome playmakers, and they continue to make sure that the we love watching ‘The Beautiful Game’.
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