By Bob Pearce and Mihail Vladimirov.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, Bang!
How would you define the ‘playmaker’ role?
There are two general types of playmaker. The first is the deep-lying playmaker, the so-called ‘Regista’ (from Italian ‘director’). This player will seek to dictate the tempo from deep, and set up the team’s passing flow via short, recycling passes. But he will also be tasked to channel the team’s attacks via longer balls, sometimes diagonal, sometimes straight, to the forward players.
What are the qualities that a deep-lying playmaker needs?
The ‘Regista’ would be a player who has the positioning to always stay in touch with his defence but also behind the midfield. Then he should possess intelligence in terms of anticipation, to know what is going on and what might go on around him in any given moment. He needs vision, to see possibilities for how he can proceed with the ball. This will allow him to dictate the tempo and pull the strings from behind. And good passing technique is a must so that he can offer the required passing range.
How key to this role is the responsibility of dictating the tempo?
It’s his job to first create the tempo and then maintain it in the way that best suits his team and their patterns of play. This is a huge part of the deep-lying playmaker’s briefing. This is done by first understanding the needs of the team (depending on the tactical instructions and pre-agreed tactical aims). Then as soon as he recieves the ball he will have to make a judgement whether what his team needs in that moment requires further “calming down” in order to keep the tempo slower, and let his team have the ball, in order to retain possession. He will do this by simply encouraging the recycling type of passing flow, going into passing combinations with his nearest players. But if there is a moment when a teammate is making a good off-the-ball run, and it’s clear if he is fed immediately he could pose a danger to the opponents, the ‘Regista’ will opt to feed him with one of his trademark longer passes.
He is like an explosive metronome. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, Bang!
He could select longer passes more often if his team is needing such potency and drive when chasing the result, or if he senses that the opposition is in a bad moment and his own team is building up a spell of attacking momentum.
What distinquishes a deep-lying playmaker from a recyler?
First and foremost it’s the type of passes. The recycler would pass the ball mostly via calm and assured short passes, trying to help the ball reach the midfield third from where others players will take it on and try to connect with the front players. On the other hand, the ‘Regista’ has the vision and passing range, combined with the freedom given to him as per his role, to execute those more penetrative passes from deep, effectively trying to feed the front players as the team’s main creative spark. In a way, based on the type of passes and their ranges it could be said the ‘Regista’ is a mix of a recycler and a creator/number 10.
There are differences in terms of the overall positional freedom and how both players move off the ball too. The recycler would be predominantly seen dropping deep towards the defenders in order to collect the ball and then lay it off to the players around him (full-backs and midfield partners) in order to initiate the next phase of play. Off the ball, the recycler would rarely drift away from his nominal position between the defence and the midfield. This is simply because such a player is not only the team’s deepest connector but, in almost every possession-based team, he is also playing the role of the main midfield holder and ball retriever. Logically, if he drifts away from his designated zone, the team could easily become very vulnerable on the break with the vital space between the lines now unprotected.
The ‘Regista’ is far more liberated positionally. By being the team’s main creative spark, sometimes he would be needed further up the pitch – especially if the team is not playing on the break (in which case he would sit deep and spray passes) but is aiming to build patiently and move gradually as a unit further up the pitch. In that case the ‘Regista’ would start deeper but could be seen gradually pushing forward in order to be always in touch with the ball and continue to dictate the play and channel the team’s attacks. Based on this, it’s understandable why a ‘Regista’ often plays either in a double pivot, with their partner being a proper ball-winner (see the Alonso-Mascherano pair) or as the deepest player in a 1-2 triangle but with the ‘2’ ahead of them compensating for his lack of bite and defensive presence (Pirlo at Juventus, in combination with the Vidal-Marchisio pair ahead of him are a good example).
To sum up, the ‘Regista’ is needed in the team’s attacks, while the recycler is needed more from a defensive and transitioning point of view. As per their roles within the team’s frameworks, the ‘Regista’ is much more creatively and positionaly liberated than the recycler.
And the other type of playmaker operates in a more advanced position.
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