There are many different types of midfielder, both in terms of their attributes and skill sets, and in the areas of the pitch they occupy. Below, we delve into those differences, and discuss how coaches can effectively develop midfielders in youth football environments.

In This Article

Understanding the Different Types of Midfielder

Before developing midfielders, it’s important to understand the different roles in the middle of the pitch. To help, we’ll draw upon the work of Sunderland Head Coach Michael Beale, whose model of central midfielders presents five archetypal roles within the position:

  • Spider: a player who connects the back line to the midfield, and the left side of the team to the right, by playing a high volume of short passes.
  • Energiser: a midfielder who covers lots of ground and plays from box to box.
  • Passer: someone who opens up the pitch with long passes; the ‘quarterback’.
  • Magician: an individual with unique technical ability who can operate effectively in tight spaces.
  • Destroyer: a player who breaks the game up and wins possession back for their team.

According to Beale, we need a blend of these archetypes in order to have a balanced midfield. The need for players with these qualities should, in turn, inform our approach to player development.

Focussing on Strengths

It’s likely that the players we coach will possess strengths that correspond with more than one of the aforementioned midfield types. Crucially, rather than deciding upon which of these types we want in our midfield and then forcing players to adopt those roles, we should consider our players’ strengths, help them to enhance those strengths, and let that guide how we play.

“I’ve become much more focussed on super strengths as I’ve evolved as a coach,” explains PDP Coaching Advisor James Coutts. “So, for example, if a player is an Energiser and a Spider, I’d help them to be the best at those roles they could be. In terms of training time, we’d really focus on those skills. We’d still work on elements from the other three types, but we wouldn’t fixate on ticking them off.”

Giving Players a Variety of Experiences

No matter what attributes an individual possesses, we must provide them with a wide range of learning experiences. This means being aware of our own potential biases as coaches — for instance, preferring certain attributes or types of players — and endeavouring not to pigeonhole young players into specific roles or positions.

Even if a player clearly excels in a given role, and we believe it is where they will ultimately end up playing, they can still learn and hone skills that will complement that position by learning to play in a different one. “Take the example of a Magician,” says Coutts. “Players in that role are increasingly expected to be proactive in regaining possession. So you could play them deeper to help them work on their counter-pressing. This could be really beneficial for them in the long-run.”

Additionally, the experience of playing different positions can give players new challenges, and present creative ways to stretch them if they are becoming too comfortable. By considering the needs of our players, we can use positions to drive meaningful developmental outcomes.

Developing Versatile Players

We cannot predict the future, so it’s vital that we prepare young players for a wide range of eventualities. After all, what if a player spends their entire developmental journey specialising as a Spider, but changes in tactical trends render the role obsolete? Or if they fixate on developing the skill set of a Magician, only for their club to recruit a better Magician at the end of their pathway?

As PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright summarises, we must help players to be adaptable in how and where they play: “Receiving skills — the ability to get the ball under control quickly and do something with it — are among the first things that scouts look for in UK academy football. They’re less concerned with experience playing a particular role, and more focussed on the player’s technical attributes. 

“When working with young players, we must keep that youth lens. Remember, we are still approaching this from a player development perspective.”

The Key Points

  • It’s important to understand the different types of midfielder, and the different skills required for each role.
  • When working with players, we should help them to develop their super strengths.
  • We can support players’ development by giving them experience playing a variety of positions.
  • We should strive to develop versatile players, so that they are prepared for whatever the game demands of them along their journey.

Image Source: 3844328 from pixabay

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