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The Pirlo, Mascherano and Makelele: An insight into the role of the Number 6

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By Ogo Sylla

The holding midfielder, or defensive midfielder, or number 6 as we can also call it, is a thankless task that often gets overlooked in today’s football of marauding fullbacks, twinkle-toed playmakers and dead-eye strikers. However what is most underappreciated about the number 6 (as we will refer to it from henceforth) are its complexities that most fail to recognize. In fact, the failure to do so can be key to why some sides may struggle to find the right balance. Indeed, the defensive number 6 sits – on a tactical sense – at the heart of the game and at the center of the pitch where everything goes through him. It is for this reason that it is important to recognize the many intricacies of that position and its numerous roles in order to better appreciate it.

It is important difference – albeit just a seemingly semantic one – between a holding midfielder and defensive midfielder. But these are just types of the number 6, which can be broken down in three different roles: the destroyer, the deep-lying playmaker (regista), and the volante. The destroyer is exclusively a defensive midfielder, while the regista is a holding midfielder. The volante, however, has the particularity of belonging to both types of the number 6. Being such a special case, we will touch on the role of the volante last. 

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