The Importance Of A Midfield Powerhouse
Throughout the build up to the new season, and even last season, myself and some of the other Ballsy Banter writers have been discussing Manchester United’s lack of a midfield powerhouse. Last night, it was painfully obvious just how much they required one, as Marouane Fellaini completely capitalised on United’s lack of strength in the middle. His performance showed exactly why last year’s runners up need a player to dominate the midfield, break up attacks and chip in with a few goals. These players are vital to what makes teams so successful and if we take a look back through recent history (sorry, Liverpool fans), we can see just how important these midfield powerhouses are.
Arguably the Premier League’s first midfield powerhouse that was vital to his team was Roy Keane. Say what you want about his disciplinary record, but the Irishman was key to United’s dominance in the nineties. He didn’t just break up attacks. He scored vital goals for his team, none more so than his header in the semi-final of the Champions League against Juventus in 1999. That goal helped secure United’s place in the final against Bayern Munich that they would famously win.
Without Keane, they struggled. The season before his Champions League heroics, he missed most of the campaign due to a serious knee injury caused by Alfie Inge Haaland. We all know what happened between them in later years, but this injury was a huge blow to United, who squandered an 11 point lead over Arsenal to concede the title. Would they have done that with Keane in the squad? Probably not. He came back stronger the next season and was awarded the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year award. Many will see the bad points in his career, but when he was actually on the pitch, he was immense. To this day, United haven’t adequately replaced him, and despite winning titles in this time, it is an area they need to strengthen. When he retired in 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson said “Over the years when they start picking the best teams of all time, he will be in there.” He would definitely be in with a shout.
It is quite fitting to follow on from Roy Keane with his usual arguing partner of so many years, Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira. A £3.5 million signing from Inter Milan in September 1996 is probably one of the best deals in Premier League history. Vieira’s imposing height, his strength and his unbelievable stamina meant he fit the league like a glove. He was instrumental in Arsenal’s double winning season in 1997-1998, forming a great partnership with play-making compatriot Emmanuel Petit. Like Keane, Vieira didn’t score that often; his highest tally was six in the league but his ability of breaking the play up and pushing his team forwards was crucial. When he did score, his goals were usually important and spectacular, and his goal at St James’s Park is one of the all-time great strikes.
By far, his best season for Arsenal was leading them to the title in 2003/04, when the Gunners went the entire season without defeat. His leadership and never-say-die attitude is what typified his team, and he has to go down as one of the Premier League’s all-time greats. It has to be said that similarly to Manchester United, Arsenal have not replaced their former captain, and it’s worth noting that they haven’t won a trophy since his departure.
Chelsea’s Michael Essien arrived on the scene in 2005 and, although he took a season to adjust, the following season he was magnificent, scoring goals like the one against Arsenal in December 2006, and like Keane and Vieira, breaking down attacks. Sadly, serious injuries have cost him from being considered in the same vein as the two, but if he had stayed fit, he would no doubt have been considered a great.
Finally, we come to today’s midfield powerhouse, who has been his team’s rock for the last two seasons – Yaya Toure. For reasons myself and the footballing world don’t know, Barcelona sold him to Manchester City for £24 million. It seemed like a lot for a player like Yaya, as he was a bit of an unknown in this country in terms of what position he played in, after spending so long playing at centre back for the Catalans. The Ivory Coast player soon showed just what a good box-to-box midfielder he really was, and was especially important in City winning their first Premier League title. His strength, his vision and even his finishing is superb – if anything, he is the most complete player I have ever seen. He can seemingly do it all.
It was towards the tail end of last season where he really came alive, though. His brace against Newcastle meant that his team leapfrogged their bitter Manchester rivals into first place with just one game to go. His performance was superb and this one game proved to be the difference between finishing first and second. Without Yaya in their team, I don’t think they would have won the title. He was that crucial to them last season and will prove to be for this campaign too.
Strikers may get all the plaudits because they score the most goals. But these three midfielders have been key to their teams winning trophies, and in the case of Vieira especially, teams are much weaker without them. The rule appears to be simple. If you want to win a title, sign a powerhouse.