The likely cause is the revival of the scheming, passing midfielder. When Santi Cazorla called Arsenal FC team-mate Mathieu Flamini “a coach on the pitch” in a Guardian interview last season, it was for his “balance, positioning and intelligence”, not because the Frenchman was tinkering with Arsène Wenger’s 4-2-3-1. Former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque – himself once a midfielder matching the above description – has defined this string-pulling position as “an extension of the coach on the pitch”.
So did tactical tinkering by players die out with knickerbockers, 2-3-5 formations and King Edward VII? Not really, although it was more common in the 1960s and 1970s. Sandro Mazzola, FC Internazionale Milano idol and son of Torino FC great Valentino, recalls an instance from the last 16 in the 1963/64 European Champion Clubs’ Cup.
“Against Monaco, we were down to nine [captain Armando Picchi and another injured player remained on the pitch as substitutions were not yet allowed],” he said. “Picchi changed my position and yelled: ‘Now, play like your father!’ I became a lion – I even started tackling. Then [Helenio] Herrera took credit for the move with the press. As ever.” Picchi was “monstrously intelligent” when anticipating play, says Mazzola. “Herrera said it was him, but Picchi was the real commander.”