In 2012, with Real Madrid beating Manchester United 3-2 on aggregate and Bayern Munich tipping Arsenal 3-3 on away goals, it was the first occasion since 1995-96 that Premier League had no representation in the Quarter Finals from the biggest club football competition in Europe. This feat was again achieved last season with Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, all failing to clear their Round of 16 hurdles. Manchester United couldn’t qualify for the tournament finishing 7th last season and Liverpool, who replaced themselves in Champions League, were ousted in the group stage itself. In the words of Fabio Capello, “no-one has taken the place of United” that season.
From providing three semifinalists in three consecutive seasons from 2006-07 to 2008-09 to no Quarter Finalist in 2012-13 and 2014-15, the English football has taken a hit at the European front. English clubs have been playing catch-up in Europe, demonstrated by their poor showing in the big competitions last season. Analyzing such a run of poor performances points out different reasons in several directions, some related to topics on the field, like style of play, intensity of game and tactical naivety and others to off the field topics like glamour, cash inflow, competitiveness at the domestic front, fixture pile up/no winter break, etc. Excluding off the field topics, as they are not in either player’s or manager’s hands, all the on-field reasons for lack of English dominance in Europe, from absence of style and swagger in play, to failure in controlling the tempo of the game and tactical ineptness, can be attributed to one particular reason- Lack of A Complete Midfielder.
This is one particular role that has, until now, been overlooked by a succession of managers blind to the tactical and technical shift across world football. As the fluidity of the tactical system increases, and as traditional boundaries dictated by formation grids become increasingly redundant, it is the elite-level central midfielder that has undergone the greatest transformation.