World Cup Scouting – The Playmaker

By Lawrence Ostlere

The playmaker is a vital role in any soccer team. He is the creator, with the vision to spot a run, the accuracy to make a pass and the intuition to know when to do so. The playmaker does not have a specific position on the soccer pitch – he can be out wide, in the centre of midfield or in attack – but every playmaker has the same creative responsibility.

Many of the greatest soccer players in history have fulfilled the role, like Figo, Zidane and Ronaldinho. Often this is the type of player to light up a tournament, so who could it be in South Africa? Here’s a guide to some of the main playmakers to look out for in the World Cup this summer.

Spain – Xavi

Xavi is arguably the best playmaker in the world. His first touch always brings the ball under control whilst his passing is unerringly accurate – Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said he didn’t think Xavi had ever given the ball away in his life. The Barcelona man proved his quality in this season’s Champions League, completing 105 passes in the quarter final second leg against Arsenal, 41 more than any other player on the field. Could win player of the tournament if his true genius shines. And of course Xavi’s partner in the midfield for Spain, Iniesta, isn’t too bad as a playmaker either.

Brazil – Kaka
Kaka’s relatively subdued performance against North Korea suggests he may be struggling for match fitness. Time will tell, but the former World Player of the Year has the quality to produce magic and is essential to Brazil’s World Cup challenge.

Argentina – Juan Sebastian Veron
Aged 35, Veron has been written off many times in his career. But his form for Estudiantes got Argentina talking about him once more, and now he finds himself at the heart of Diego Maradona’s plans for World Cup glory. Arguably Argentina also have a playmaker in Messi, whilst one could make a case for Angel Di Maria too – one thing is certain, it is a highly creative team with the ability to beat anyone.

England – Wayne Rooney
England have Gerrard, Lampard, and Joe Cole, but Rooney is the focus of their play. He drops deep from attacking positions and looks to pull the strings in the hole between opponents’ defense and midfield, and like so many playmakers, holds the key to his teams’ ability to create and score goals.

Germany – Mehmet Ozil
For a relatively young player, he has a maturity and confidence to his game that helped him win man of the match against Australia. Ozil plays further forward than Xavi, for example, behind main striker Klose and thus will have opportunities to score as well as create in the tournament. One to watch.

France – Yoann Gourcuff
Tipped to be a new star of the World Cup stage, the Frenchman has been in terrific form this season for Bordeaux, scoring some outrageous goals as well as creating for teammates. However, he needs France to improve in order to make his mark on the tournament.

Netherlands – Wesley Sneijder
The Dutchman has always shown talent for Holland and Real Madrid, but has really come into his own as the main man for Inter Milan this season, helping them to Champions League glory. Has the potential to light up the tournament with his array of passing, skill and powerful shots.

Italy – Claudio Marchisio
The young midfield player has big boots to fill in the form of Andrea Pirlo, who won man of the match in the World Cup final four years ago, but after an eye-catching season with Juventus, Italian expectations are high for the 24 year old.

Portugal – Deco
Whilst some might consider Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal’s playmaker, he is not a passer of the ball. Deco has built his career on the guile and craft of a playmaker. However, he appeared too slow for the pace of the game against Ivory Coast, which was a key reason for Portugal’s poor performance, and thus coach Carlos Quiroz could turn to Raul Morales for the role of creator in the games ahead.

United States – Landon Donovan
Not a traditional playmaker, but uses his pace and skill in wide areas to beat defenders and link up with teammates. Will be vital to US fortunes in South Africa.

Mexico – Giovanni Dos Santos
The young wide player can dribble, pass and shoot and looked a constant threat against South Africa in the opening game of the tournament.

Chile – Matias Fernandez
The attacking midfielder showed excellent touches on the ball throughout their opening match against Honduras. With the talents of Jorge Valdivia and 21 year old Alexis Sanchez alongside the Sporting Lisbon star, Chile have the potential to score plenty of goals as they proved in qualifying, scoring more than Brazil and Argentina.

Lawrence Ostlere is a freelance writer and can be reached at: