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Great midfields

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Article from the Guardian on the great midfields. Our late 70's midfield is rightly included.




The Joy of Six: great midfields


From France's Magic Square to Everton's title-winning quartet of 1984-85, here are half a dozen foursomes that bossed the middle


1) Brazil 1958-62 (Garrincha-Zito-Didi-Zagallo)



The only midfield to play in consecutive World Cup finals, never mind win them both. Next!



2) Manchester United 1998-2001 (Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Beckham)



No side has meshed the genres of midfield play so successfully: irrepressible, sinuous dribbler; granite-willed captain and metronomic passer; technically outstanding creator and goalscorer; and the greatest crosser of a ball in history. Together they were responsible for some of the most exhilarating, quick-quick-quicker football imaginable, and between them have played a mind-boggling 2,264 games for United.


They are palpably without peer domestically, having won three titles in their only full seasons together before Sir Alex Ferguson killed the golden goose and bought Juan Sebastián Verón in pursuit of another European Cup. (Perversely, of course, United had won the European Cup two years earlier with none of the four playing in their proper positions.) After that moments were few and far between, although there was a touching last hurrah at White Hart Lane in April 2003, when Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and Scholes again combined for the decisive goal in United's gloriously improbable championship victory.


For the partisan, much of their appeal lay in the fact that they got it: they were proper pros, free of bulls*** (let's not get revisionist about Beckham here – he only fully embraced Brand Beckham when he knew he was past his peak) at a time when football was starting to disappear up its own hole. At club level they were the last great British and Irish midfield. And they were surely the best.



3) France 1984-86 (Giresse, Platini, Tigana, Fernandez)



It's never too late to find your soulmate. (Actually it is - if you're in your thirties you've had it - but allow us some artistic license here.) When France's Carré Magique (Magic Square) first played together, in a friendly against England on 29 February 1984, Michel Platini and Jean Tigana were 28 and Alain Giresse was 31. The newbie, Luis Fernandez, was 24 and would complete a Bleu square that everybody wanted to bet on, and which would inspire France to famously win Euro 84 and reach the semi-finals of Mexico 86, their final act together.


They moved the ball around with the lazy serenity of collegiate dudes sharing a spliff. There was Giresse, the sort of squeaky-clean footballer you'd be proud to take home to your mother; Tigana with his outrageous, irresistible surges; Platini, the complete playmaker who also happened to score more than a goal every two games; and Fernandez, whose unforgettable penalty against Brazil unfairly dominates our thoughts to the exclusion of all his almost infinitesimal contributions.


Collectively, their greatest achievement of all might have been to make France the neutral's favourites. Let's be honest: the proverbial Gallic swagger rubs the masses up the wrong way these days, but this lot refreshed the parts other peers could not reach with their humility and their intuitive, highbrow passing. Never mind conventional foursomes: in football, they proved, the brain is certainly the most erogenous zone of all.



4) Liverpool 1978-80 (Kennedy, Souness, McDermott, Case)



Liverpool have had more lustrous midfield talents – despite the warped genius of Graeme Souness, this lot wouldn't compile 100 caps between them – but never a more devastating collective. Most notably in their first full season together, 1978-79, when Liverpool won the title at an absolute canter and their lowest midfield scorer in the league was Jimmy Case with seven.


In an age when football was seriously dirty, the erroneous temptation is first to look at their physical qualities. Ray Kennedy could handle himself, and then there were the Three Taches, who appropriately knew all about the rough stuff. But this mob gave opponents the chance to do this two ways: the hard way, or the even harder way. You could be kicked off the pitch, and with relish, yet in many ways it was more painful to be passed off it.


Kennedy was an outstanding footballer - who Bob Paisley said brought more enquiries than any other player in his time at Anfield - and will always be remembered for that velcro touch against Derby; Souness was simply majestic but Case gave jacks of all trades a good name and McDermott, who hoovered up the individual awards in 1979-80, was a goalscoring midfielder with proper ability, as shown by his steady stream of simply outrageous goals. As players, Souness and arguably Kennedy excepted, they were very good. As a group they were truly great.



5) Barcelona/Spain 2006-09 (Xavi, Iniesta, AN Other)



It's a peculiar thing, given the obvious and embarrassing difference in ability between you, me and even John O'Shea, that, when we watch football, we can for much of the time think that, with a fair wind and Dame Fortune having had a few liveners, we could do what he just did. But the rat-a-tat passing of Xavi, Iniesta and Barcelona's front three, adopted Catalans toying with a helpless mouse, is on a completely different technical and intellectual plane.


There have been more dynamic midfields in Spanish football (in 1989-90, Michel, Martin Vazquez and Bernd Schuster inspired Real Madrid to score a simply preposterous 78 goals in 19 home league games – seriously though, 78 in 19 games) but none as cerebral. Their exquisite through-passing makes the eye of the needle seem big enough to get a bus through, and their ball-retention is almost unprecedented. Watching them keep possession with almost absent-minded ease in the final minutes of the Euro 2008 final, as Germany hared around like neanderthals, was joyous. They are so good, it's terrifying.


What Sir Alex Ferguson described as their "passing carousel" is moving faster than ever this season, which has brought about some of the sort of aesthetically appealing football that has previously been beyond the mind's eye, never mind two eyes. It all forces defenders into a Tetrisian resistance. And, as we know, there is only one way that can end.



6) Everton 1984-85 (Sheedy, Reid, Bracewell, Steven)



The biggest regret about Everton's finest side is that they were not allowed to play in the European Cup. As a consequence, an arguably bigger regret is overshadowed: that their remarkable title-winning quartet of 1984-85 – who are probably just one last injury-time surge ahead of the Holy Trinity of Kendall, Harvey and Ball – hardly played together again at any level. We know of Paul Bracewell's injuries, which would rule him out of the 1986-87 title-winning campaign entirely, but it is often forgotten that Peter Reid, the furiously beating heart of the side, started only 15 league games out of 42 in both 1985-86 and 1986-87.


As a consequence, the season of 1984-85 has the wistful qualities of a glorious winter romance. Everton were simply unstoppable, and their midfield showed a desire that verged on the rabid. The erudite passing of Bracewell and the ceaseless energy of Reid - often patronised but the PFA Player of the Year that season - gave them control of central midfield, and on the wings Steven, all direct dribbles and pinpoint crosses, and Sheedy, with a left foot so educated it could have been to Harvard, scored an absurd 33 goals between them. Yet after that, the four of them would barely play 33 games together.




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