With the way in which modern soccer has evolved, the need for a technically gifted midfield has become the prevalent way to build a team. Gone are the days of a classic number 10 who simply makes plays in attack and does barely anything on defense; gone are the days of pure “destroyers” who sit in front of the defense and simply tackle everything in sight. Today’s best midfielders are capable of playing what the Dutch of the 1970’s called “total football”. From passing and receiving the ball, to moving all around the pitch, to dropping back in defense, the modern midfielder is a complete footballer. Here are ten of the most dynamic midfielders playing in this summer’s European Championships:
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Muller (Germany), Mario Gotze (Germany)
10. Sergio Busquets, Spain- While Busquets receives a lot of criticism for his diving and play-acting (deservedly), he makes for a great holding midfielder. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was recently quoted as saying Busquets would be the player he would most want to be like. The youngster, 24, has been raised through Barcelona’s youth system and passes seamlessly throughout the pitch. Even better, he is capable of dropping back to play as a third center-back while the full-backs bomb forward.
9. Xabi Alonso, Spain- The 30-year old Basque may be one of the greatest long-distance passers the game has ever seen. Although he is just past his prime, Alonso is still a spectacular force for both Real Madrid and La Furia Roja. He will most likely play as the base of Spain’s midfield, allowing him to play in a defensive-minded role but still distribute the ball to either flank. He is one of the classiest players of our generation.
8. Steven Gerrard, England- The captain of the Three Lions may have his last opportunity to bring a trophy home to England. Gerrard has been playing on the international level since his debut in 2000 and his years are limited. A club legend at Liverpool, Stevie G is best known for heroic goals, including the famous half volley against Olympiacos and 30-yard rocket against West Ham in 2005 and 2006. A classic central midfielder, Gerrard will need to play at his highest level if England wishes to advance in the tournament.
7. Andrea Pirlo, Italy- For Italian football, a player of Pirlo’s caliber truly comes once in a generation. One of the most impressive midfielders in Italy’s history, Pirlo can still play an amazing ball over the top. He is arguably one of the greatest passers in today’s game and can deliver a quality set piece as well. A key player in Juventus’ title season this year, the 33-year old Pirlo will look to continue his form as he leads the Azzurri.
6. Luka Modric, Croatia- Croatia is viewed as one of the potential dark horses of the tournament, and Modric is a big reason for that. He is one of the finest playmakers in the Premier League for Tottenham, and his signature is heavily-desired by many clubs across Europe. His relationship with fellow compatriot striker Eduardo can guide the Croatians to an upset or two this summer.
5. Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands- Sneijder would be a little higher on this list if his 2011-12 campaign was not mediocre. However, injuries and a struggle to play consistently in Inter Milan’s coaching carosel left Sneijder a bit out of form. Although ending the season in better shape under Andrea Stramaccioni, the Dutchman is ready to continue his international form, one that led the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup Final. One of the best traditional playmakers in Europe.
4. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany- Schweinsteiger has developed incredibly well as a complete player. As a young 21-year old winger, he scored 2 goals in the 2006 World Cup. Today, he is much more polished and plays as a deep-lying playmaker, acting as a holding midfielder who can also distribute the ball and charge forward in attack. After ending Bayern Munich’s domestic season with a missed penalty in the Champions League final, Schweinsteiger is looking to rebound for his national team.
3. Mesut Ozil, Germany- Ozil’s rapid rise to football superstardom was catapaulted by his impressive 2009-10 season for German club Werden Bremen. His transfer to Real Madrid was met with incredible statistics. In the 2011-12 season, he led all European players with 25 assists in all competitions. This past season for Madrid, he led La Liga with 17 assists. Ozil is an incredible playmaker who can pick out a teammate with a pass at almost any time. He can also put it in the back of the net, as his laser shot against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup proved.
2. Xavi Hernandez, Spain- Xavi is the heartbeat of Spain’s team and is perhaps the greatest player to ever wear the red of Espana. Everything that is associated with the “tiki-taka” of both Spain and FC Barcelona is epitomized through Hernandez and his playing style. He is the metronome and ideologue of his club and country, being the sparkplug for this revolutionary brand of football. If this is his last international tournament, we will be watching the end of a legend’s career.
1. Andres Iniesta, Spain- For all the honors and accolades Xavi has received, Andres Iniesta may actually surpass him and become the greatest Spanish player of all time. Blessed with every skill you could ever want in a footballer, Iniesta has made some of the most Youtube-worthy dribbles and first touches that simply no one else can do. Add in the fact he scored the World Cup-winning goal in 2010, and his track record is incredible. Capable of playing in central midfield or on the wing, the 28-year old Iniesta is simply one of a kind; if Spain wins the tournament, he will most likely be the winner of the Golden Ball.