Through the ages, football as a sport, has evolved and spread all over the world as The Beautiful Game. Just like any other sport, football has different aspects and technicalities in itself which adds to the beauty and brains of the game. With increasing popularity, the game has grown more and more competitive and stakes are on an all time high. With competition, resulted development and evolution of new field of strategy. Managers started tinkering with formations. With changing set ups players with a particular set of skills and who can perform a particular set of roles more efficiently became more important than others, whether it be flying fullbacks, or total footballers, swashbuckling No. 10s, or speedy No. 7s. In the modern game, with the rise of Barcelona (and Spain post 2008), one such important yet underrated role is that of a Regista.
A regista – or a deep-lying playmaker, as it is more commonly known as – is a position which has really taken off of late, although in truth it has been around far longer than 2005 – the year many often pick out due to Xabi Alonso’s major role in helping to pull off the biggest turn-around in European football history with Liverpool, lifting the Champions League in Istanbul.
The deep-lying playmaker. This position from which a player conducts his orchestra is known as the regista to Italians. From Spain where Xavi and Xabi Alonso used to weave their tactical magic from deep, to Germany where İlkay Gündoğan and Sami Khedira plies his trade, the regista is the modern day phenomenon that has taken football by storm. Perhaps the player who first brought the position to prominence is the elegant Andrea Pirlo: the regista above all other registas.
The playmaker has always been the primary attraction in football; the one that draws the crowds and in essence captures all that we love about the beautiful game. Through the decades, playmakers have graced the fields displaying their passing, decision making, tactical intelligence, movement and composure. Rivelino in the 1970’s, Michel Platini in the 1980’s, Rui Costa in the 1990’s and Zinedine Zidane in the late 90’s, early 2000’s; to name just a few.
All the playmakers listed above imposed their genius in the centre of the park connecting the midfield with the attack and provided all the creative thrust for their respective teams. To a large extent playmakers had always been given a free role in central midfield or behind the strikers.
With the growth of football, and the growing prominence of these playmakers, the traditional “No. 10” players became increasingly marked. Their roles diminished and their ability to make an impact diminished. The rise of deep lying midfielders, players with vision to see a killer pass and the technical ability to provide that pass, compensated for the loss of creativity upfront.
Nowadays playmakers control the tempo and orchestrate play from deep within their own half, picking up the ball from the centre backs and developing a move play while still involved during all stages of the build-up. Xavi, Pirlo, Gündoğan, Alonso, Carrick and Busquets are some of the modern day registas who have become masters of their trade.
Italy won World Cup 2006 using a regista (Pirlo), Spain won Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 using a regista (Xavi) and both Italy and Spain reached the final of Euro 2012 using the regista. Furthermore between 2007 and 2015, 8 out of the 9 Champions League winners used a regista. For Manchester United and Chelsea, champions in 2008 and 2012 respectively, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard who might not have been “traditional” registas played a very similar role for their teams. Schweinsteiger played a similar role for Bayern Munich in their Champions League triumph in 2013 and also in Germany’s World Cup winning campaign in Brazil in 2014. Only Inter Milan who won the trophy in 2010 and did not use a regista. Inter Milan instead relied on the traditional attacking central midfield playmaker in Wesley Sneijder.
The deployment of a regista stems from teams increasing desire in modern day football to control possession and dictate the tempo of games. Registas ultimately possess unmatched ability to dictate play and control the tempo. Without a deep-lying playmaker, there is no specific player to bring the ball out of defence which can lead to teams struggling to work the ball forward from the back, and instead having to play long balls to a target man.
Regista is not so much as a position as it is as a role. After receiving the ball, a regista looks for a move, make a pass and thereafter will always be available over the field to receive the pass back and orchestrate the game. An important aspect of this game is that a regista must always be available for a pass and the complete team revolves around him. In fact, from a tactical viewpoint, the success of a regista hinges on building a team around him. Teammates should be knowing and in fact must be instructed to provide him with the ball at every opportunity. A regista is the linchpin of the team. A player who holds the game together. The forward moves will originate from the regista who will remain at the pivot of every attacking play. In essence the regista becomes the focal point as well as the organisational mastermind of a team. In no circumstance, however, will a regista move in a way so as to disrupt or destroy the positional and organizational structure of the team. The use of Regista is also for maintaining the balance and shape of the team. This is of utmost importance while defending against top teams. The defensive success of a team having a regista lies mainly on their positional and structural discipline. This, however, doesn’t necessarily imply that a regista are burdened with a lot of defensive responsibilities as a mid-fielder. No, their main aim is to hold the team together, structurally, and orchestrate the game.
All this unparalleled ability to read, see and control a game from their own half comes with an incredible set of brain cells. Their biggest asset, which might not always be clearly visible, is their understanding of the game. For this very reason, deep-lying playmakers are typically given a moderate amount of defensive responsibilities, but they are granted positional freedom to dictate the play as it evolves, as well as attempting longer, riskier balls to the forward players. All this without compromising the structure and discipline of the team. Their game sense and intelligence compensates for their whatsoever lack of defensive abilities. Michael Carrick is an example. His positional sense and reading of the game makes him a hard man to by-pass through. Defensively he’s neither an ardent tackler nor a swift sprinter. But his positional sense is second to none as you’ll always find him at the right place at the right time to either intercept or block the path of a pass.
Pirlo and Xavi are two of the most influential players of their generation. They have redefined the role of the playmaker and marveled fans worldwide with their football intelligence. Quite ironically, in a game that has become so complicated with False nine’s, inverted wingers, counter-pressing, high line and offside trap, it has been their simplicity which has allowed them to stand above the rest. The regista’s understanding of the game allows their pure, simple football to be more attractive at times than the step-overs, back heels and rabonas of the most atrocious kinds. While not all teams around the world use registas there has been a definite evolution in the role of the playmaker. Players like Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Juan Mata are different examples of modern day playmakers (not registas) who can play anywhere in midfield, wide or central, can play between the lines and are physically robust (robust and not physically imposing). They can last 90 minutes and some minutes more as they have intelligently spent their reserves of energy. As football has progressed and the Zidane’s and Platini’s and Cruyff’s of this world are but a distant memory, we may have seen the end of the traditional number 10.