Sun | Dec 9, 2018

Jeffrey Mordecai | It’s the midfield, stupid!

Published:Sunday | July 29, 2018 | 12:15 AM
Mordecai

Whenever I’m stupid enough or sufficiently bored to get into a discussion about the greatest footballer of today’s generation, Messi or Ronaldo, I annoy the supporters of either candidate by announcing that Andres Iniesta, by any objective and sane standard, is a more valuable player than either Messi or CR7.

In my view, Iniesta and other great midfielders always do the one fundamentally important thing in team sports that both Messi and Ronaldo often fail to do: they make the players around them perform better individually and collectively.

If your immediate reaction is to dismiss my view and its provocative and annoying conclusion, consider the following facts, or fake news, and see if you can dismiss them as coincidence or just plain wrong or stupid.

Claude Makelele was the much underappreciated winner of many titles at Real Madrid, including the Champions League, and left for Chelsea, to Zidane’s dismay, where he transformed them into winners at the same time that Beckham’s move to Real Madrid produced a four-year drought. Incidentally, the single most important position in world football today is modelled after Makelele, and when abused by Brazil, playing two ordinary players (Casemiro and Paulinho/Fernandinho) to keep Douglas Costa on the bench, resulted in their predictable downfall.

Patrick Vieira was the rock around which the great Arsenal sides of the early 21st century were built, of which the greatest were the ‘Invincibles’.

N’Golo Kante won the Premier League in his only season at Leicester City and won the Premier League the very next year after moving to Chelsea, plus the FA Cup this year. Did I mention the World Cup?
 

Modric and Rakitic were the reason I predicted Croatia to be in the World Cup final. These two giants in midfield have been facing each other in El Clasico over the past few years. They have five Champions League titles between them, and Rakitic has the distinction of winning the Europa League at Sevilla and his only Champions League (relegating Xavi to the bench) at Barca the very next year.

Brazil were false favourites, as they insisted on keeping two defensive midfielders on the pitch (Casemiro/Paulinho/Fernandinho) rather than using Douglas Costa and/or Firmino as skilled players after losing Dani Alves. Their coach took a year off to go to Europe but inevitably lost a World Cup in Europe by trying to out-Europe the Europeans.

Messi does not perform for Argentina! “It’s the midfield, stupid!” Before Messi, Ronaldinho was, in my view, the best player in the world. Is it mere coincidence that the Xavi-Iniesta dream midfield created the canvas on which two great individual talents could flourish? Take Messi out of that unique environment in which he grew up and his influence diminishes so dramatically. All of you saw it in 2014 when Mascherano was by far the best player on the Argentine side in the World Cup, but Messi was selected best player of the tournament.

Ronaldo (CR7) has won five Champions League titles, a European Cup with Portugal, and dominates the headlines, but save some attention for Iniesta, Xavi and Kroos who have all won 4 Champions League titles and a World Cup, and Iniesta and Xavi who also won two European Cups with Spain.

Jamaica has never produced a world-class midfielder. We have produced great goalkeepers, defenders and a couple of attackers, but never a world-class midfielder. If you say Whitmore, forgive me and I apologise for wasting your time. I don’t know him personally, so ask him and see if he agrees with me.

Doubt my point? Well, on my analysis, I picked France (in writing) before the World Cup, had a 100 per cent record of selecting the knockout winners from the quarter-finals, and got the two-goal margin right in the third-place game and the final (in writing).

It’s the midfield, stupid! And N’Golo Kante for me was the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. However, as reasonable people can reasonably disagree, I accept Modric.

Aside from wasting your time and insulting your intelligence, what’s my point?

You cannot understand the world game if you look at it the way Americans look at the NFL. Ask any American who is the best NFL player and 10 times out of nine they will respond: a quarterback.

To fully understand the world game, we must learn to ask which group of players are the most important. It’s the midfield, stupid!

To fully develop and improve Jamaican football, if we are serious about copying fellow 1998 debutants Croatia and Japan and getting back to a World Cup in 2022, or later, we must improve the quality of all our playing fields, invest in great coaches (Did we really miss Pekerman by preferring Milutinovic?) and ensure the development of young players through youth academies, foreign and domestic (not US colleges). But even if we do this, we will just be doing what our competitors are doing. So what can we do different to beat the competition?

It’s the midfield, stupid!

- Jeffrey Mordecai is a lawyer and racehorse owner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jeffreysmordecai@gmail.com.