Watching Italy against Croatia on Thursday, I could only admire the silky skills of Pirlo, the Italian Playmaker. Especially in the first half, Pirlo gave a demonstration of what the Conductor role is all about. He always makes himself available by cleverly, and constantly, finding space. As soon as he gets the ball, he already knows what he wants to do next. He possesses a great first touch and can move forward, and if necessary past a player, quickly and with great close control.
On top of this, and it’s his most valuable skill and so rare in a footballer; he has a great overview of what is exactly in front of him, and what needs to happen next – and he can pick the pass that pulls a defence apart in one move. Of course, not every ball by Pirlo is a killer-pass, but he always seems to know how to move the play on with real intent and effectiveness. He gives shape and purpose to a team and Pirlo has been brilliant this season for both Italy and Juventus, with whom he just won the Italian league.
His is not the youngest, and once Croatia had levelled he did not have the energy anymore to drive his team forwards in order to get the all important winner. At an age of 33, I think he can be forgiven for this.
I love this kind of player though. They lift football to a higher echelon; they make football into poetry in motion, and they make me want to watch games of teams I do not support, or even like.
Whilst watching Pirlo, I could not help but think back about our former Spanish Maestro, our ex El Capitan: the one who left us because his home town was calling him.
Some of you might recall, I wrote an ‘open-letter post’ to Cesc last year:
I still love watching Cesc even though he plays no longer for us. I guess I still feel a bit of man love for him, a purely platonic one mind you! I am not bitter though, unlike some Arsenal supporters. He was young and felt a strong urge to return home, where they finally seemed to want him, and where they are playing the best football in the world: I probably would have done exactly the same.
When Fabregas scored his goal though, after he came on late on Thursday, I could not help but think he is not fully happy at the moment. There seemed to be some frustration there – maybe as a result of having to come on as a late substitute, or maybe because he is not being played in the position that suits his talents best.
Having watched him play at Barca in a new role this season, for which he needed to adjust considerably, I feel he has been underused by Guardiola. The now departed manager played him far too high up the pitch, where he did relatively well, but could not play his best football.
The Conductor has been asked to play the double bass, or the first violin, and to a certain extent this is fully understandable. Cesc decided to join Barcelona when they already had two of the finest conductors, and they also do not play the sort of football where there is a pivotal role for a classical playmaker. And this is where he might have made an error of judgement.
If he had stayed at Arsenal for at least another year, he could have continued in the hole – in the ‘1’ of our 4-2-1-3 formation. That is where Cesc belongs. If a player is blessed with the same skill-set as described above for Pirlo, and Cesc has these in abundance, and he finds himself in a position where he is not required to use his strongest assets, then football is being done an injustice, and a player is effectively denying himself – is not fulfilling himself. Good Playmakers are rare and they need to make the play.
And that is a great shame. Cesc is no longer cooking on gas and I wonder whether he has any regrets about his early move to Barcelona now.
Despite Cesc’s two excellent goals at the Euros and all his impressive goals and assists for Barcelona this season, he still left at least one season too early in my opinion. And I think he realises this as well at the moment.
Just imagine him last season: in front of Arteta and Song – what a season it could have been for us, and certainly also for him.
Fabregas is such a good footballer that he can be played almost everywhere and do well. But that is not the point. Barcelona and the Spanish National Team are confronted with an embarrassment of riches, and in the process a great talent is being wasted, whilst the clock is ticking.