What is the one thing which is common between players like Graeme Souness, Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira, Roy Keane, Lothar Matthäus, Bastian Schweinsteiger, etc? They are all defensive midfielders who were/are extremely hard working, with very little glory and whose true effort did not go unnoticed, at least by the 10 guys around them on the pitch. They could/can boss the midfield like no other.
The function of a defensive midfielder has changed noticeably over the last few decades. In the past it was purely about protecting the back four through any means possible. But in today’s time, one is also expected to provide assists, make sure that they can visualize the runs of the wingers and of course, score goals. Hence, one would require the vigor of an ox to get from box to box.
As an experienced midfielder at a collegiate, Amateur, and semi-pro level, here is what I believe are the crucial elements to being a respected player at that position.
You have to put your teammates first. Simple. Your role is not to achieve fame but provide opportunities for others around you. You are the focal point of the team, so the passing and tackling should be flawless. And obviously, when doing the latter, you need to make sure you focus on the ball rather than your opponent’s body parts.
God’s has blessed you with a “Frontal Lobe” so use it:
Being tactical is supreme. You hold the team together; you are vocal on the pitch and always think first before doing. You are at the right place at the right time and cover gaps between the midfield and the back four and track the wing-backs when they surge forward. You see the game through a developed vision and always find spaces. Spaces, spaces, spaces. The ability to constantly conduct an active search meaning turning the gaze and head away from the ball to prepare themselves by attempting to pick-up as much information about the immediate environment (movement of teammates and opponents).
Physicality is a vital part of being a defensive midfielder. If you can impose yourself and intimidate your opponent, you win games and the best part is that you don’t have to be tall or big boned. All you need to do is make certain that the first tackle you make is the strongest one. The rest falls into place. Aggressive dribbling, quick (often one touch) passing and the ability to hit those killer Beckham-esque long balls can help you turn the defense into attack.
PS: This piece was written on the basis of a discussion I had with a few kids on bossing the midfield.