The word most commonly associated with the deep-lying playmaker (or regista, if you’re fancy) is ‘class’, and it’s quite easy to see why.
Deep-lying playmakers are often the background operators, akin to the conductor of an orchestra. They can dictate how the movements of their team, and can change the course of a game with just one pass or movement. As a result, these players have to possess a certain degree of intelligence – and with that comes the humbleness and graceful style-of-play which leads to them being labelled as ‘class’.
They also must be excellent passers, preferably the best in their team and should have incredible vision and positioning, which all the players in the below list possess in spades.
With further ado, here is 90min’s list of the greatest deep-lying playmakers of all time.
One of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the game, Xavi was a key part of Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka’ revolution under Pep Guardiola, with his precise passing, excellent ball control and outstanding footballing intelligence.
A product of Barcelona’s youth system, Xavi spent the majority of his 22-year-career at the Nou Camp, winning 25 trophies in the process – with most of these coming after Guardiola’s arrival in 2008. So important was he to the Catalan tactician’s implementation of the ‘tiki-taka’ style that Johan Cruyff once described him as the player that allowed the team to “function”.
He was also crucial to Spain winning the 2010 World Cup, having recorded an astounding pass success of 91%, while his incredible work-rate was exemplified by the fact he covered more distance than any other player in the competition.
Nils Liedholm, his manager at Roma, once described Falcao as “the man who conducts the orchestra on the pitch. All I do is write the music for him.”
A complete midfielder, Falcao was able to assist his team offensively – due to his excellent creativity and long-range scoring ability – and defensively – due to his imposing stature and his ability to read the game. As with many deep-lying playmakers, the Brazilian was a humble, quietly intelligent player, demonstrated by the fact he wasn’t an especially flamboyant player but still displayed excellent passing and vision.
Despite the fact he is considered by some to be one of the greatest Brazilian players of all time, Falcao’s career wasn’t trophy-laden, though he did manage to win a Scudetto with Roma in 1983.
Toni Kroos’ incredible vision and passing ability have led to him being nicknamed “Garcom” (waiter in Portuguese) by the Brazilians, due to his ability to consistently deliver accurate passes to his teammates.
Having begun his career at Bayern Munich, Kroos’ stock rose even further following a move to Real Madrid, where he has established himself as one the best midfielders in the world. The German World Cup-winner is has become known for his ability to dictate the game, thanks to his work rate, physicality and creativity, in addition to his passing and vision.
He’s also won nearly every trophy available to him, including: three Bundesliga titles, a La Liga title, four Champions Leagues and a World Cup.
It’s only natural that one of the world’s greatest tacticians – Pep Guardiola – was deployed as a deep-lying playmaker during his playing career, as the role demands excellent reading of the game, something which the Catalan had both as a player and manager.
Johan Cruyff was known to be a big admirer of Guardiola, and it’s easy to see why: he had an excellent attitude towards the game, possessed creativity in spades, and was an adept passer. Cruyff’s appreciation of Guardiola saw the Catalan be named in his all time XI – lining up alongside the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.
Guardiola spent the majority of his career with Barcelona, where he made 382 appearances, winning six league titles and a European Cup in the process.
An unfashionable and under-appreciated midfielder, Michael Carrick was more key to Manchester United’s success in Alex Ferguson’s final years than he is often given credit for. He was a calming, at times unnoticeable presence on the field, and possessed an incredible reading of the game.
He made up with his lack of physicality and tackling ability with this intelligence, alongside his passing and capability to dictate the play of the game. As a result, Carrick has often been the recipient of praise, with Pep Guardiola referring to him as “one of the best holding midfielders I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Carrick also enjoyed a trophy-laden career, winning five league titles as well as the Champions League in 2008.
Though Luka Modric is capable of playing anywhere across the central midfield, the deep-lying playmaking position is where he has thrived best, thanks to his ability to change the game with his incredibly accurate passing and reading of the game.
A selfless player, Modric also possesses excellent pace and dribbling ability, traits which have enabled him to become one of world’s most well-rounded players – and indispensable for Real Madrid throughout the 2010s.
He has holds the distinction of being the only player other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or since 2008, winning it in the same year he led Croatia to the World Cup final.
A product of Barcelona’s youth system and heralded as Xavi’s successor, Thiago Alcantara has spent the majority of his career at Bayern Munich, with Pep Guardiola naming him as his number one transfer target following the Catalan’s takeover at the Allianz Arena in 2013.
Much like his coach at Barcelona and Bayern, Thiago has a propensity for accurate passes, thanks to his excellent vision and creativity, while he is also a good dribbler and is capable of playing both as deep-lying playmaker and a more advanced playmaker.
Like many on this list, Thiago’s trophy cabinet is brimming, having won multiple German and Spanish titles, the Champions League and a variety of domestic cup competitions.
One of the greatest midfielders of his generation, Xabi Alonso proved a crucial player for three of the biggest clubs in the world: Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. This was courtesy of his outstanding tactical intelligence, work rate, strength, long passing and set-piece ability.
Universally well-liked due to his humble personality and style of play, he was lauded as being the best midfielder he had ever played alongside by Steven Gerrard, while his former coach at Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti, stated he held “the key to everything” and had “a rare ability to see what is going to happen before it does.”
Xabi Alonso collected three German titles, a Spanish title, and two Champions Leagues during his career, but the Premier League always eluded him during his time at Liverpool.
“If you watch the whole game, you won’t see Busquets, but watch Busquets and you will see the whole game.”
That quote – from Sergio Busquets’ former Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque – sums up his style of play perfectly. Often overshadowed by the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, Busquets operates more in the background, demonstrating an excellent understanding of the game and possessing the ability to distribute accurate passes.
As one can expect, having played for Barcelona and Spain for over a decade, Busquets is a highly-decorated player, having won nearly every trophy available to him for both club and country.
It wouldn’t be too controversial to state that Andrea Pirlo is the greatest deep-lying playmaker of all time.
Initially an attacking midfielder, Pirlo struggled due to his lack of pace, causing Brescia coach Carlo Mazzone to move him to a more deeper role, where he excelled. Why is he the perfect deep-lying playmaker? Because he can do everything. He’s an incredibly accurate passer, possesses an excellent understanding of the game, can retain the ball if needed and is an exceptional dribbler.
Part of Italy’s legendary 2006 World Cup-winning side, Pirlo also won multiple Scudetti while at Juventus and Milan, also winning a Champions League title at the latter.