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Game Changers: Claude Makelele

MIchael Cox 8 Oct 2017
Claude Makelele

Looking at five players who shaped Premier League tactics, Michael Cox on how Chelsea midfielder made the role his own

In the fourth of a five-part series on players who shaped the Premier League, adapted from his book, "The Mixer", Michael Cox looks at the impact made by Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele.

Makelele mark

There are few players in history who have a position named after them, but the rise of "The Makelele Role" underlines the extent to which Chelsea's holding midfielder defined the nature of that position.

Makelele was an unspectacular player, but a tactically intelligent, disciplined and selfless midfielder who had protected the defence reliably during his spell playing alongside the "Galacticos" at Real Madrid.

When Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea in 2003 he signed a host of talented attackers and playmakers, but the decision to recruit Makelele was arguably his most important transfer coup.

With the arrival of Jose Mourinho a year later, Makelele was the perfect player for operating at the base of his three-man midfield.

The 4-3-3 formation caused a mini-revolution: at a time when most sides were still playing 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, Mourinho's Chelsea dominated precisely because they operated with a midfield triangle.


"Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side," said Mourinho. "I will always have an extra man, and it starts with Makelele, who is between the lines."

The Frenchman was renowned for his solid positional sense, effectively sacrificing his own game to allow the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien to storm forward into attacking positions.

But Makelele was also a talented passer, zipping positive balls into the feet of his more illustrious team-mates.

Many Makelele clones offered his defensive discipline but not his quality in possession, and he was far more of an all-rounder than often remembered.

"I didn't invent anything," Makelele said of his position being named after him. "I didn't do anything radically different. I am simply a more complete footballer."

See: Michael Cox's The Mixer

Also in this series 

Part 1: Peter Schmeichel

Part 2: Eric Cantona

Part 3: Nicolas Anelka

Part 5: Cristiano Ronaldo

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