jeudi 19 mai 2011

Not My Favourite Player

Claude Makelele, my favourite player? No chance. My favourite players are flawed fantasists, like Jari Litmanen or late Youri Djorkaeff (at Bolton, when he was half-lame). But, of course, fantasists always function best with the support of a "water-carrier". Without one such teammate, flawed fantasists are simply flawed. Zinedine Zidane was a fantasist whose grip on the reality of the game was cast iron - he relied on nobody, but he certainly benefited from the work of the "water-carriers" at Juventus and Madrid, and for France. At Juve, Deschamps, the player to whom the term was first assigned by a dismissive Eric Cantona; at Madrid, Makelele; one, then the other for France. Zidane knew better than Cantona. Zidane tried to reflect his glory back towards... towards the diminutive figure in the centre-circle.

In truth, Makelele was more than Deschamps. Deschamps introduced les Bleus to a culture of winning, which he had acquired in Turin. But he did not have Makelele's ubiquity, Makelele's apparent ability to draw the ball - as if magnetically - away from opponents. If Deschamps is to regarded as a "water-carrier", then Makelele at his best was a downpour, covering every inch of turf; nourishing every one of his teammates, making good teammates look great. Frank Lampard and John Terry became great players under José Mourinho - they owe almost as much to Makelele.

And now Makelele reaches the end of his career. Fans will miss him, though less than they would a flawed fantasist. PSG, however, will miss him terribly, just as Chelsea and Real Madrid continue to miss him. Makelele has indeed been a rare player. He has bent the sport to his will, or rather to suit his gifts and limitations. He has fulfilled his role with such expertise that he now defines it; Makelele has convinced the world that every team needs not a "water-carrier", but a "Makelele".

Makelele has always been an obvious, yet remarkable player. Obviously, yet remarkably, he remains by far the best "Makelele" we have seen.

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