Regista: Football’s latest tactical phenomenon
AC Milan had one. Manchester United and Liverpool both had one. Barcelona have done it twice with one: Four giants of the Champions League, and all have something in common – they’ve won Europe’s most elite title with a regista within their ranks.
A regista – or a deep-lying playmaker, as it is more commonly known as – is a position which has really taken off of late, although in truth it has been around far longer than 2005 – the year many often pick out due to Xabi Alonso’s major role in helping to pull off the biggest turn-around in European football history with Liverpool, lifting the Champions League in Istanbul.
Beaten finalists that year, AC Milan, followed suit a couple of seasons later with the aid of Andrea Pirlo – the true master of the position – who took up the regista role in the side. The heartbreak and triumph for Milan was sandwiched by Barcelona’s success, with the Catalan giants picking up the trophy in 2006 – though it must be said their victory against Arsenal in Paris was achieved without predominantly fielding a regista, but more of a truer defensive midfielder in the shape of Edmilson.
Ironically, on the bench that evening for Barcelona was one Xavi Hernandez, a player who has since – to use a cliché – made the role his own – winning two Champions League finals between 2009 – 2011, in one of the finest sides to have graced the sport.
Xavi, much like Alonso at La Liga title rivals Real Madrid, prefers to set up attacks from a more withdrawn position, mainly due to the duo’s ability to spread play and dictate the game from these deeper positions. Despite this, they are not classed as standard defensive midfielders in the same way as Claude Makelele, for example. This is because defensive duties such as tackling and intercepting are not their main function as such (though more and more modern day regista’s are required to help out defensively too, though most sides will still field a second holding-midfielder such as Sergio Busquets, Sami Khedira, etc – known as a double-pivot), instead they are left to dictate the tempo of the play and start attacks.
Inter Milan have also triumphed in the Champions League in recent years, and of their key players was Wesley Sneijder – a man who has repeatedly been linked with a move to Manchester United to help fill a role currently occupied by Michael Carrick, in the space of Paul Scholes – another player who had taken up this deep-lying role for the best part of 15 years in the Premier League, though is not what you would refer to as a ‘traditional regista’.
Sneijder is often seen as an attacking midfielder, but during the summer of 2011, former Inter manager Gian Piero Gasperini experimented with the Dutch midfielder, playing him in a regista role on various occasions. During the Dublin Super Cup in July of that year, Sneijder excelled in this new position which further strengthened the Red Devils interest.
Nothing came of this move however, but with the club undergoing somewhat of a transition at this moment in time after Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, the Galatasaray midfielder could still be a viable option.
Another domestically strong English side, Manchester City, have repeatedly struggled to make any sort of impact in the Champions League following their success domestically. It had been well documented that Roberto Mancini lacked a real regista, and thus failed to get a grip on games against the continent’s elite sides.
The signings of Owen Hargreaves, and later Javi Garcia helped change that, though the latter has struggled to truly adapt, while Hargreaves couldn’t overcome injury issues. City still have strong and smart box-to-box midfielders in Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, but no true regista – a big disadvantage when it comes to European fixtures, as highlighted when they faced Bayern Munich earlier this season.
One of the sides the Citizens have lost to in their failed Champions League campaigns of the past is Napoli, now managed by Rafa Benitez. The Italians didn’t field a true out-and-out regista when the sides met, though more of a defensive midfielder with attacking intent: Walter Gargano.
As highlighted by the Stats Zone app below, the Uruguayan had a huge impact on the game:
The right-hand side of the screen shows why he is not predominantly seen as a deep-lying playmaker, but instead as more of a defensive midfielder – making eight successful tackles for his side. The image on the left helps show the passes made by the midfielder, which, as you can see, the majority fall just inside the opposition half. It’s a position that still to this day Manchester City struggle to deal with and need to look to strengthen for ties such as this.
Moving away from the Champions League, it is clear to see the position being used right across the major leagues in Europe, including our very own Premier League – whether it’s a side at the bottom of the division, or one of the more well-known names, more and more teams are now looking to field a regista to adapt to the modern game.
Deep-lying playmakers are typically given a moderate amount of defensive responsibilities, but they are granted positional freedom to dictate the play as it evolves, as well as attempting longer, riskier balls to the forward players. It’s a part of the field that is being talked about more and more of late, and examples of regista’s are easy to come by all across Europe. It could be a position that sees certain players in very high demand in the near future.