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Main Listening Report: The Holding Midfielder

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The Holding Midfielder

On this week’s main report we continue our look at the various positions on the pitch by focusing on a specialist midfielder, called the holding midfielder. You can listen to the report by clicking on the link below, while vocabulary support (in bold) appears at the foot of the report.[/gss-content-box]


The holding midfielder has now become a fixture of most teams around the world, with some teams even using two holding midfielders. A holding midfielder’s position has several names: the screening role, the defensive midfielder, anchor, and sometimes ‘destroyer’. Whatever their name, the holding midfielder plays just in front of the defensive line, in a central position and their job is primarily to strengthen the defense by breaking up the oppositions attacks before they reach the back line. But the best, can also act as a springboard for attack, using their position as the fulcrum of the team to play the ball forwards to the forwards and attacking midfielders. Below, we have chosen five of the best players in this position, past and present.

Claude Makélélé

For the past decade, people often call the defensive midfielder’s role, the Makélélé role – as he was seen as the classic example of a defensive midfielder. The high point of his career was at Real Madrid and Chelsea in the first decade of the 21st century. His intelligent positioning , strong tackling and simple ball distribution allowed those in front of him be confident they could take risks. His teammate at Real Madrid, Zidane said when the Frenchman left Spain, ‘Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?‘ Makélélé, like all good holding midfielders, certainly was the engine of the team.

Sergio Busquets

The Spanish and Barcelona player is arguably the best holding midfielder playing today, in probably the best team in the world over the last five year. He sits behind the creative midfielders like Hernandez and Iniesta, receiving the ball from them when they are put under pressure and playing quick, short balls to get the play moving again. His play is based on pressing the opposition and recycling the ball quickly when they make mistakes. He also knows how to slow the game down, often being accused of over-reacting to fouls in order to break up the opposition’s rhythm.

Patrick Viera

From the late 90s to 2005, Frenchman, Patrick Viera of Arsenal was probably the best holding midfielder in the Premier League. Unusually tall for this position, he was a rugged tackler and broke the mold of a traditional defensive midfielder, because he was capable of barnstorming runs through the midfield into the opposition’s half – because of this he was a box to box midfielder more than a purely defensive one.

Graham Souness

The Scottish international was an invaluable member of the Liverpool side of the 1970s and 80s that were dominant in England and successful in Europe. A traditional hard man midfielder, Souness was feared by opposition for his uncompromising tackling. His ability to intimidate the other team made his teammates raise their game. As well as his tackling, Souness could pass the ball with great accuracy and also score goals. Skillful and hard as nails.

Lothar Matthäus

Perhaps occupying a position a bit further forward than a traditional holding midfielder, nevertheless, Matthäus’s roles included breaking up the oppositions attack, man marking the opposing team’s most potent threat, and threading balls through to the front line. One of the best players of all time, Maradona, described Matthäus as the best rival he has ever faced after being neutralised in the 1986 world cup final. The German was a leader and the complete package.

Vocabulary support

a fixture: something that must always be included; an element that is always there (Note – a fixture can also mean, a match, a game)

(to) break up: In this context) to stop; to halt

a springboard: a launchpad; a place where you can start something; the beginning of something

fulcrum: the centre; the heart; the middle; one of the most important elements

distribution: (in football) passing; moving the ball between players

the engine: (in this context) the heart; the centre; the fulcrum

(to) sit: (in football) to position yourself; usually collocates with ‘behind’ or ‘in front of’

(to) recycle: to turn defensive play into attack

rugged: tough; strong; rough

break the mold: change a traditional way of doing something

barnstorming: exciting; dynamic; entertaining

box to box: moving between your team’s box to the opposition box and back again; covering all of the midfield’s central area.

uncompromising: hard; tough; with no fear

hard as nails: tough and aggressive

(to) thread the ball through: to pass the ball accurately between opposing players; to pass the ball when there is little space available (from ‘to put thread through the eye of a needle)

the complete package: a player who has every skill; someone who can do all the things necessary for the job


Check out our glossary of footballing phrases <a href=””>here</a>

Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football!
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