When we think of modern day holding midfielders then we are talking about the likes of Vidal from Juventus, Alonso now with Bayern Munich, Khedira from Real Madrid, Matic from Chelsea, Fernandinho from Manchester City etc. There are many more established stars who are playing holding midfield roles with a certain degree of success across all the leagues.
Some key strengths possessed by holding midfielders are
- They love tackling
- Very good in passing
- Very good at Ariel duals
- Commit fouls to break opposition’s rhythm
- Making interceptions
- Equally good at marking players or space
- Body strength
England’s make shift options
Where are the English players who have these qualities? At the moment, the answer we are made to believe is that they are nowhere to be seen. Why? Because in a friendly game with Norway and the Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland the role was given to Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. A creative player who is known for his dribbling, taking the players on, intricate football in and around opposition box, lovely defence piercing balls. Yes, he likes a tackle and he gets stuck in but the mentality required for a holding midfield role is totally different than attacking midfielder role.
In the last couple of years the role was done by ex-England & current Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Now that is debatable if he did it successfully or not. Again, a player who has changed his playing position for his club and country after making his name as an attacking midfielder. In Steven’s case one can argue that with age the legs slowed down plus bundles of experience gave him the maturity to read the game and also the necessary temperament to play in that position. This position is also not suited for Jordan Henderson, as some will suggest. He has played in a role further ahead of Gerrard in the Liverpool formation.
One player who could have done the job for England is Michael Carrick. He has been doing this role for Manchester United for a few years now. He did play in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2014 but he is known to have told FA that he does not want to be a bit part player in the England set up. He is only called upon if there is an extreme situation. Playing for your country and there has to be a rider attached? Forget it.
A place up for grabs
Nowadays, in fan’s eyes, a player has to be playing for the top six-seven clubs to be even considered as international quality. I do not agree at all with that perception. If you are good enough in a role for your club team in the top flight then you should at least be given a chance in the international squad rather than converting existing players from other positions. Just my view, you can agree to disagree.
There are not many options but there were two players who were playing on Monday night in the Premier league. Hull City’s ( not to be confused with Hull City Tigers) Tom Huddlestone and West Ham’s Mark Noble. Both are 27 years old and have age on their side. Gareth Barry has not been considered by Hodgson because he wants to go with younger players. Barry had a very good last season with Everton and many believe that he has been dealt a rough hand.
Tom Huddlestone has been doing well in this role, for Hull City, under manager Steve Bruce. Tom has adapted well to life at Hull and has become a pivot in Hull’s formation. He has the range of passing and has also shown the maturity to sit deep and curb his attacking instincts. Tom has already got 4 England caps and will be itching to get another chance to prove his worth to Roy in the England set up. He has some of the attributes mentioned above. He isn’t shy of a tackle, he has the discipline to mark the space or the player and he likes to get into duels. Plus, he has the physical strengths and stamina. Like Gerard, Tom also has an eye for a long diagonal balls. One statistic that he would need to improve is his passing success. It is 78% and to be a success at the international level this needs to be addressed. Top holding midfielders have a very high pass success. In short, they are more likely to retrieve the ball back from the opposition and pass it on to a team mate. In Premier league this season he has 9 tackles, 2 blocks and 4 interceptions to his credit. Former Spurs man can and should improve his numbers in this Hull team. It will only help his and England’s cause.
Mark Noble has been with West Ham as a youth player from his early teens. He is the longest serving player in the current Hammers setup having made his senior debut for the club in 2004. He has represented England in all the age groups. He played in England u16, u17, u18, u19, and under 21 teams. Playing under Big Sam, Mark is one of those players who loves a scrap in the middle of the park. Like his cousin, former Leeds United man Lee Bowyer, he rarely backs out from a tackle and his industry over the years has been well received by the hammers faithful. Mark has a very good engine on him and always puts a shift in. In Premier league, he is very good in ball distribution and has that ability to create chances as well. He has 87% pass completion success and has already created 5 chances. He also has won 13 tackles and has 5 interceptions to his credit. About time he is considered for England role. There have been reports that he has been considering playing for Republic of Ireland, as he is eligible through his grandparents. England’s lost opportunity might be Republic’s gain.