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 weave their tactical magic from deep, to Germany where İlkay Gündoğan 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.
Much like ordinary life the game of football evolves according to its needs. Traditional “Number 10″ playmakers became marked men, prior to games even kicking-off, as football has become tighter, more tactical and seen more pressing. Furthermore football formations have evolved and thus we have had the emergence of the regista and the resounding success obtained with them. Nowadays playmakers orchestrate play from deep picking up the ball from the centre backs and initiating play while still involved during all stages of the build-up. Xavi, Pirlo, Gündoğan, Alonso, Ricardo Montolivo, Hernanes and Marco Verratti 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 2012, 5 out of the 6 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. Only Internazionale who won the trophy in 2010 did not use a regista, but instead relied on the traditional attacking central midfield playmaker in Wesley Sneijder.
The regista is predominantly utilised in its purest form in Serie A. The Scudetto winners in each of the last three seasons (Juventus twice and AC Milan once) have all used one. Interestingly on each of those three occasions for two different teams, the regista has been none other than Andrea Pirlo. In the final 2012/2013 Serie A league standings, the champions Juventus, third place Milan and fourth placed Fiorentina all predominantly used a player in this way.
It is important to understand that a regista is not a position so much as a role. While initiating attacking play from a deep-lying position, the regista will thereafter be available all over the pitch to execute the mandate demanded from him. From a tactical viewpoint, the success of a regista hinges on building a team around him. Teammates should be aware and in fact will be instructed to provide him with the ball at every opportunity. The attacking 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.
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 unparalleled ability to dictate play. 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 longer passes. This tactic is contrary to the belief of maintaining good and consistent retention of the ball.
While the exemplary attributes of a regista are clear for everyone to see perhaps their biggest asset, which might not always be clearly visible, is their understanding of the game. Carlo Ancelotti, who famously converted Pirlo from an attacking midfielder to a regista, said that “He is one of the few players that you need to say little or nothing to, he understands everything by himself. For me, he is the strongest central midfielder in the world.”
As I have already mentioned, Andrea Pirlo is the epitome of the regista. The former AC Milan player has for the better part of a decade defined and embodied the role much in the same manner as Claude Makélelé defined the defensive midfielder position. The diagram below displays every pass which Pirlo made against Germany in their 2-1 semi-final victory at Euro 2012. With 61 out of 66 passes being successful, the playmaker achieved an admirable completion rate of 92.42%.
The majority of passes are short but there are a number of long passes as well. Every single long pass from Pirlo was accurate and used predominantly to switch play. This categorises the wide range of passing ability a regista requires and also how the regista controls possession.
Importantly the presence of a regista in the line-up creates disharmony in the tactical makeup of a team. Registas are given a moderate amount of defensive responsibilities and do require effective defensive positioning, however this is not enough. Having a specialised individual gifted in every aspect which contributes to the attack, necessitates the requirement for a purely defensive minded player to create balance in the team. Pirlo’s legacy for the Italian National team could not have been achieved without the defensive work performed alongside him by Gennaro Gatusso and more recently Daniele De Rossi. However this is no different to the traditional attacking midfield playmaker setup. The combinations of Zidane – Claude Makélelé for Real Madrid and Zidane – Didier Deschamps for France are examples of the playmaker – defensive midfielder tactical balance required.
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 and integrate formations, 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 flicks of the more illustrious attack minded players. 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. As football has progressed and the Zidane’s and Platini’s of this world are but a distant memory, we may have seen the end of the traditional number 10.