Players Who Broke The Mould: Featuring Arsenal, Chelsea & Man Utd Legends
Here we look at players who broke the mould in the Premier League featuring legends from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.
This year, with Chelsea being so dominant, their brand of football has been under the microscope during regular television appearances and opinion pieces. N’Golo Kante swept up several awards due to his key role in their success. Many years ago, it might have seemed ridiculous that a centre-midfielder of diminutive stature who doesn’t score goals could possibly be so valuable… until one man changed that. Over the past two years, the Makelele Role was made relevant again by the emergence of Mr Kante, (and perhaps the emergence of Claude himself on the Swansea bench towards the end of the year).
Has there ever been another role within a football team so well encapsulated by one player, to the extent that it is named after them? None spring to mind. Manuel Neuer is the face of the Sweeper Keeper, Barcelona and Spain put player after player into the False 9 position, and yet the Makelele Role is still the most widely talked about in England. Of course there have been superstars throughout the Premier League era; a handful of World Class number 9’s, Rock-Hard Centre Backs, and loopy ‘Keepers, but who else should be recognised as having defined their own position on the pitch…
As the famous story goes, Henry was an out-of-sorts winger who often went hiding on the pitch; and it may well be this change of position which caused him to play in such a unique way. There was a 2 or 3 year stretch, which not coincidentally overlapped with the Invincibles era, where the trio of Ashley Cole, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry on the left side of Arsenal attacks was lethal. Cole was arguably the best Left Back in the World for periods, and Robert Pires is a Premier League legend, but it was Thierry who unlocked the potential for this trident of attacking power.
Hanging out on the left touchline, not really looking interested, was a common sighting spot for the Frenchman. Given that he was a multiple time Golden Boot winner, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was wasted out there. But Thierry Henry possessed one particular skill which made that position very dangerous for opposition defences. He would often decide to just kick the ball and run; right past full backs. Honestly, just kick it and run around whoever was defending him. So often it would lead to him running all the way around the full back, opening up his body and passing it into the corner. How can you stop that sort of thing? Especially given that he could just as easily cut in and fire one into the top corner. He was a Goal Machine/ Left Winger/ Target Man. I can’t think of many others who fit into the Thierry Henry mould, which is why he is perhaps the greatest that the Premier League has seen.
Super Frank was always a hero of mine, even if he did play for Chelsea. He wasn’t quick, or particularly strong, or even known for his tackling, but his footballing brain allowed him to become one of the most successful players that the Premier League has seen. The timing of his runs into the box is what Frank Jnr. is famous for, and a large reason why he scored so many goals. He knew when his wingers were going to pull it back or drive it across, when his strikers were flicking it on or holding it up, and he had the persistence to keep making these runs even when they weren’t coming off.
Go back and watch an old Chelsea game, and there is yet further evidence of Lampard’s awareness on the pitch. If you watch him in the middle of the park, his head is never still. It’s constantly rotating, owl-like, looking for passes, options, defenders. Whether he has the ball or not, he is fully aware of exactly what’s going on around him, giving him an insight as to when he can break into those goal-scoring positions. Footballer’s aren’t renowned for being particularly bright, but Frank Lampard’s awareness on the pitch shows a special type of intelligence; one that makes him unique.
It seems only fair that a defender should get a look in, and a top-class defender first and foremost is what Rio Ferdinand was. It’s only when you move past this that you can begin to explore his abilities on the ball. He’s not alone in being a centre-back comfortable on the ball, John Terry is often underrated is his footballing ability for example, but Rio lived up to his ‘Rolls Royce’ moniker in the way that he could bring the ball from the back and start meaningful attacks. Clips from his West Ham and Leeds days especially show him dribbling past opposition midfielders with ease, and he scored a handful of fantastic goals with his feet.
All the footballing ability, in conjunction with forming revered partnerships with Vidic and Terry for Club and Country respectively, make Rio one of a kind. It’s testament to his all-around game that he played for so many years, won so many things, and was valued so highly by Sir Alex Ferguson. John Stones and the new brand of Footballing centre-backs could learn a lot from Ferdinand, and he remains the benchmark in recent years for defenders that can play.
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