OPINION: The Concept of A Box to Box and Deep Lying Playmaker

OPINION: The Concept of A Box to Box and Deep Lying Playmaker

Football has evolved, football is no longer the same, and it is always changing from coaching, rules of the game, refereeing, use of technology, kit designs, broadcasting, essentially everything.

A debate was raised in a WhatsApp known as Football Minds KE on how a number of things in football have changed. I decided to pick a few and highlight them here,

Legendary players who played in the '90s and '80s would look agonizingly amateurish in this modern-day football. From trending hashtags used to hype up matches, to the use of goal-line technology and the controversial V.A.R, to modeling Esque fitting jerseys, it is apparent that football is no longer the game it used to be.

Football has become less of a physical game than it used to be. Derbies that used to embody scenes of flying tackles, shirt pulling, fans singing themselves hoarse, have become different, save for the classic derbies in Argentina, Turkey, and Scotland to mention a few.

DM Role

The aim of this article was to highlight the dying role of the traditional Defensive Minded Midfielder and also his Central attacking counterpart. In the history of football, essentially, every conquering team in club and National team history has had one "dirty" DM whose primary role is to sniff out and stifle any danger to his defense. He screens the back four against danger, marauding and swashbuckling that zone just a few yards from the defensive line.

Most coaches preferred a characteristically tall, muscular guy, athletic enough to deal with both aerial threats and any ground movement. In my town, they are numerically referred to as the "number 6". Growing up, local coaches would instruct him to go wherever the ball is. Fitness was key. Lazybones or slow weak players were not fit enough for this role, it was tactical suicide to field a less than a 6-foot slow guy. Makelele, Roy Keane, Obi Mikel, Mascherano, Gilberto Silva, Zanetti, Gattuso to name but a few. Our own Victor Wanyama excelled in that role too.

After sorting out the defensive phase of the team, the coach had the duty to single out a mercurial, eagle eye passer, good on the ball, assist merchant, set-piece provider. Mostly these guys were characteristically short in stature, pacy and good dribblers, they could beat two people or three on the ball. In the football jargon, these are referred to as Central attacking Midfielders (CAM).

They link up the attack, they are the focal point of attack. Naturally, they had to form good chemistry with their Centreforwards. They were football twins, Musically, Snoop and Dre, or is it Birdman and Wayne (back then), yes something like that. Legendary number 10s include but not limited to Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho, Pablo Aimar, Riquelme, Mesut Ozil, Maradona, the list is endless. 

Systems that made use of both the DM and CAM to fruition are the traditional 4231 and 4411. For many decades, the success of football was pegged on having a dependable number 6(DM) and an entertaining or is it a "magician" number 10. Football was essentially phased into two, half the lot defends, the others attacked.

So in recent years, football started changing a lot, new systems were introduced or rather put into practice. In order to attack more, coaches phased out 442 and 4231 in order to have more numbers in attack.433 was preferred too. 343 and 352 were seen in many Italian clubs and a select few premier league clubs. There was no longer room for "conservative" football. Teams had to be more entertaining, more control of the ball, and quicker in transition.

Players had to be more dynamic. Attack and defence was a collective responsibility rather than departmental. Goalkeepers were no longer just goalkeepers, they were initiators of counter-attack. (refer to Belgium's third goal vs Japan in World Cup 2018, Thibaut Courtois). Fullbacks were no longer just defenders on the periphery. They were tasked with attacking through the flanks. Wingers became inverted (refer to Arjen Robben). Centre forwards became false. Football was about a high press rather than the traditional sit back and wait.


So with all these changes, a midfield was to be composed of players with the very good technical ability on and off the ball, height became a non-entity, it was brains, anticipation and quick thinking. New terms were added to the football jargon. Box to box(B2B) midfielder and a Deep Lying Playmaker (DLP).

A box to box midfielder is a midfield dynamo. He runs up the field from his own box to the opposition box. He defends, attacks and links up play from defense to attack. He has pace and power. He is quick, he is industrious. Without the ball, he forms compaction with the other B2B and DLP.

So a box to box midfielder is like a hybrid of the traditional DM with better-attacking instincts. In modern football, notable mentions of B2B, including but not limited to Aaron Ramsey, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Luka Modric, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba. They are supposed to be proper ball careers and ideally press-resistant.

The other interesting position is the Deep Lying Playmaker.No one Plays the role to my satisfaction than Pirlo in his later years and Sergio Busquets in his formative years. I think the role will one day be christened "the Busquets role".Uncharacteristically positioned where the traditional DM naturally sits. Just in front of the back four or three depending on tactics being used. Like a choirmaster, he dictates plays, recycles position, initiates attacks, he is the heart of the team. You take him out, you nullify the team.DLPs no matter their stature, their ball-playing abilities matter the most, instinctive reading of the game is essential.

The raw ability to know where to be in order to win balls is also paramount. In my view, it is the toughest position to play, but whoever plays there enjoys himself. So any midfielder playing the DM and CAM roles should reinvent themselves, to either fit in as a box to box or a DLP or worse still a Centreback, like Fernandinho.

Football is cruel, whoever does not fit in is phased out or rendered redundant. Credit to Coaches like Pep for reinventing the two Silvas into capable LCMs. The two Silvas by the nature of their physique, resemble traditional number 10s. However, they have been refined to play as LCMs or RCMs.Football no longer has space for a "pass me the ball, I score" players or the "I will intercept if they attack us in our box".

So this called on coaches to design a system that works on winning the ball high up in the opposition's half. This is by limiting opposing fullbacks in their half. Through using B2B midfielders, whilst positioning your attacking midfielder in the base of the V-shaped midfield to coordinate attacks quickly while recycling quickly acquired possession.

I hope this article solves the ever-present opinion on Kante and Jorginho swapping positions any time Chelsea drops points.