In his prime, Claude Makelele was so good that he got a position named after him. He was not the first ever holding midfielder but he did show the value of such a player in the Premiership which had been dominated by the straight line thinking of the 4-4-2. The concept of a holding midfielder was nothing new to Spanish football, which may explain why even though he was part of the Galacticos, he is not held in the same awe and reverance as he is in Britain.
What is the Makelele Role?
Claude Makelele was the midfield lynchpin of Jose Mourinho’s title winning Chelsea team. Mourinho’s three to five man midfield was able to dominate games and exploit the flaws of the 4-4-2, the biggest one being the lack of “between the lines” players. Makelele played in the space between the centre-backs and the midfield (The Hole) and swept up any balls that came through the midfield. His presence meant that the centerbacks didnt have to follow strikers into midfield and the other central midfielders didnt have to run box to box as they would in a 4-4-2. Makelele was an expert at protecting The Hole and the British media seemed to have never seen such a player so they named the role after him. When in possession he would collect the ball from the centerbacks and play short simple passes to whoever was in space. He was a true holding midfielder in that he rarely looked to join the attack and accepted that his job was more destructive than creative.
The New Makelele ?
Claude Makelele currently plays for PSG in France where his role is very different. PSG play a 4-4-2 system with very attacking wingers, as shown below.
When in possession the formation becomes more of a 4-2-4, leaving Makelele in a two man midfield with Bodmer or Chantome. Being part of a two man midfield requires Makelele to cover a lot more ground even though he is now 37. As the deeper-lying of the two midfielders he is often required to orchestrate attacks from deep and make penetrating throughballs or crossfield passes to the wingers, something he is not known for. If no pass is on he will have to run with the ball or attempt a dribble, something that is definitely not associated with The Makelele Role. As a result he tends to lose possession a lot more often than he did when he played for Chelsea.
He is still very good at disrupting opposition attacks but his positioning in a 4-4-42 sometimes means that he is too far upfield to prevent the counter. He was never a pacey player but at 37 he cannot be expected to play box to box for 90 minutes. At this stage of his career he needs to be paired with a more energetic player in order to be successful. PSG are having their best season in years with Makelele being a vital part of the team so he has shown that he can adapt his game to a 4-4-2 without weakening his team.
Claude Makelele has come to define the holding midfield role but in the twilight of his career he is showing that he is not just a one trick pony. He has been asked to play in a classic 4-4-2 system and has successfully adapted to the role. His attacking play may not be the best but he makes up for it in his excellent reading of the game and his mastery of the art of disruption.