Former Real Madrid and Chelsea star Claude Makelele was undoubtedly one of the most influential footballers of his generation.
There’s arguably only one position in the game that has become synonymous with a single player: the Makelele role, otherwise known as holding midfield, or central defensive midfield (CDM).
At his peak, his ability to operate in another dimension entirely, approximately ten seconds in the future, made him the most intelligent reader of the game in world football.
Cutting a slender frame and standing at just 5ft 8in, Makelele was neither a physical Goliath nor a jet-heeled speedster.
What he did have in abundance, however, was telepathic anticipation, immaculate positioning and a propensity for thundering tackles and cunning interceptions, qualities which were underpinned by his exemplary professionalism.
His humble style epitomised the essence of the holding midfield role, one that is often occupied by players who are willing to compromise for the benefit of the more technically gifted players in front of them.
The likes of Fernandinho and Fabinho have earned plaudits for their part in Manchester City and Liverpool’s success in recent years, but neither are likely to be widely regarded as more important than the likes of Sergio Aguero and Mo Salah.
Real Madrid icon Steve McManaman, though, believes that Makelele was the most important player for Los Blancos during his four-year stint in the Spanish capital.
McManaman spoke exclusively to GIVEMESPORT ahead of the Spanish giant’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Liverpool on Wednesday evening.
And ahead of the game, the 49-year-old pundit claimed that Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and himself were only able to flourish due to the diligent work of the 72-cap France international.
“I thought Claude Makelele was the greatest defensive midfielder around.
“He’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. He was in an area where he was surrounded by great players, but he did a lot of the hard work.
“He made the great players play because of the work he did and, if he wasn’t there, we’d have struggled.
“I think he was the most important player we had, even though the team was littered with superstar individuals.”
It is rare to see a defensive midfielder receive such esteemed acclaim.
That McManaman regards Makelele as the most important player he played alongside during his stint at the Bernabeu, despite the plethora of world-class attacking teammates, is a testament to just how special he truly was.
And while McManaman did overlook Zidane as the most important player at the club, he did later acknowledge that it’s difficult to look beyond him when naming the best player he ever lined up alongside.
“Zizou just had something a little bit more special. He added something a bit different to a Figo or a Hierro or a Raul or a Ronaldo. He did things in training that were very elegant, very comfortable.
“He was really nice to watch. It’s a bit unfair to a lot of the players but when you have to name one player he’s the one I’d probably go back to.”
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