In modern sport, every team needs the players that are going to do the “donkey” work, as it is known, to allow their more expressive and offensive minded players put the points on the scoreboard. Just look at Ireland’s recent adventure for 6 nation glory in France. After the French match, there will not have been many people shouting “Jeez, Chris Henry was outstanding today”, however when you look at the statistics and see his tackle count was the highest at a whopping 16, it is clear that his impact was huge. All around the world, great sport stars like him live in the media shadow of the more attractive, fancy players such as BOD and the likes. Without the grafters on a team, there would be no platform for other players to show their true talents. It is only truly appreciated by coaches at elite level and the Average Joe won’t be able to notice that Sergio Busquets’ 10-yard square pass to hold onto possession was in fact the correct thing to do at that moment.
Former Fulham manager Chris Coleman once said that the trick to beating Chelsea was to stop Claude Makelele getting on the ball:
“Makélelé is more than a mere defensive midfielder, but is actually Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker, and Chelsea’s attacks are all channelled through him. Thus, denying him possession was instrumental in unravelling Chelsea today.”
It is no coincidence that Chelsea’s success in the early 00’s revolved around the emergence of the “Makelele” role in football. Never in a million years will you see the likes of him be nominated for an individual award. Football is not like that. We like to see goals, fancy passes and outrageous bits of skill. It is refreshing to see in the NBA that they have awards for Defensive leaders and even players with the greatest impact off the bench. They recognise that the uglier bits of the game are just as important as the windmill slam dunks.
Makelele may never have scored more than 2 goals during his years at the club, but he won more tackles, made more passes and interceptions than any other player at the club. His hard work in midfield allowed the likes of Lampard to score a ridiculous amount of goals from midfield for years. A similar situation occurred between Keane and Scholes at United. However, if you asked people who would they prefer in their team; Makelele & Keane or Scholes & Lampard, the majority would go for the latter option. In my opinion, I reckon their success and elevation to world-class status has been based on the unsung heroes that work around them.
So I say to you, the next time you see Xabi Alonso making an interception in the middle of the field followed by a simple pass to a team-mate in a more advanced position, why would you not cheer as if it’s a goal? You can be sure that in 10 seconds time, a Ronaldo or Bale will have put the ball into the net and gone off on an extravagant celebration to the delight of the fans. Alonso will get a high five and run back to his position to resume his role of the hidden superstar.