This is part two of three on the three types of good players.
“Schemer” is a term I borrow from Heddergott (New Football Manual – Karl-Heinz Heddergott, out of print). It’s in awkward translation from German but I like that it provides a term that starts with “S” so all three types begin with the same letter. The schemer is a player with ideas. He or she is the player who distributes the ball, like a quarterback, and is measured by the % completion of his* passes and the scoring chances he makes. **
A good schemer must possess many attributes:
- Deadly accurate technique off both feet: can play the ball on the ground, or chipped over opponents, or swerved into a curved pass. Can make the ball run or stop it dead.
- Positional awareness. Schemers usually play center-midfield and so must command a 360° sense of where everyone is, teammates and adversaries
- Knowledge of teammates’ capabilities and preferences. Who has technique and wants the ball to their feet? Who has a speed advantage and so wants it played into space? Who can only play with one foot? Who receives well and so can accept a pass with a little heat? Who is a modestly skilled player who needs an easy ball? Who can run the entire game, who is dead after 20 minutes? Does someone seem “on” today more than usual?
- Familiarity of the opponents: which opponents anticipate well? Which ones can be lured into a tackle that they can’t quite make good on? Which ones can run all day and which ones are dead on their feet?
- Notice the rhythm of the game. What is the score, does it favor us or do we need to change it? Is it too fast, and we’re getting tired? Maybe too slow and we need to press? If his team is the fitter of the two, keep the ball moving. If the other team is fitter, sometimes the ball needs to accidentally go into the trees.
- All other intangibles:
- The field and speed: length of grass (is there grass?), slope, artificial turf, wind, rain, mud, bald spots, width and length will all make some ideas more possible and other ideas less possible.
- The ball: is it a glorified supermarket toy? An underinflated ball that rec players prefer but good players hate? Or is it a good ball that goes where you send it?
- The ref crew: are they calling ticky-tack fouls? Are they getting offside correct?
There are many examples of schemers; my favorites include:
- Carlos Valderrama of Colombia: never fleet of foot, never hurried, just a metronome-like quality that drove his team down the field,
- Beckenbauer of Germany; calm, cool and always the right ball,
- And the incredible duo of Spain’s World Cup-winning team: Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Since Iniesta scored the winning goal, an incredible amount has been written about him. Here’s a couple of excerpts from a profile in El Mundo Magazine’s July 18 edition , cited by the excellent blog Conlaroja:
José María Barreda, president of the Castilla-La Mancha government( emphasis mine):
“Simple, humble, hardworking, extraordinarily normal. Andrés Iniesta embodies the character of my countrymen – quiet and profound, serious and reliable. He thinks and acts – he acts while thinking. Iniesta plays with his head while moving his feet as if a powerful magnet in his boots were holding onto the ball. Andrés is not one to get past defenders and he’s not narrow-minded, but rather he plays the game with the perspective of someone who views the entire field and knows where all the other players are and, most importantly, where they can receive his passes to create goals.”
And from Luis Cobos, composer and director of the Manchegan orchestra:
“La Furia Roja demonstrated, in this World Cup, that they were an orchestra perfectly in sync. They performed for us an amazing recital, a concert, full of melody, rhythm and harmony.
And if anyone most notably fused those three elements, it was Andrés Iniesta. The little Iniesta shaped the melody like a virtuoso soloist, adjusting to the needs of the rest of the team.
Escaping the variable servitude of harmony, fleeing the subjugation of rhythm, he painted varying strokes to produce a magnificent song that surrounded us and entrapped us. A song that gave feeling, body, and identity to la selección‘s marvelous symphony. And when the song combined with that of Xavi, the other music maker of excellence, it became sublime.”
In this sense, the Schemer is the anti-star. The star shapes the game by doing things no one else can. The schemer serves his teammates, striving to make them look good. You will notice that the word “humilde” (humble) pops up again and again when talking about Iniesta, and this is why.
As for Xavi, there’s nothing to say beyond these Opta stats from the World Cup: per OptaJoao on Twitter:
Xavi made more successful passes than Dunga? Hell, he made more than Don Draper.
And from optapaolo 25 – “Xavi has created 25 goalscoring chances in this #WorldCup – eight more than any other player. Creative #Esp #Ned” 4:06 AM Jul 10th. If Spain converts one out of five chances, that’s five goals. They only scored eight in the tournament.
Next post in this series will be about the star, but I wanted to touch on the stalwart and schemers, because they are the players you don’t often see in the highlights. But without them, there are no highlights.
* I’ll just use “he” for now to refer to players of either sex
** There is an inherent risk-reward return to the passes we make. The more “killer” the pass, the higher likelihood it will fail. A player who completes 100% of his passes is probably not attacking enough. The player who always passes to his center-forward is losing the ball too often and predictably.