As the game of football constantly evolves, player roles change with it. Over the last few years we have seen roles such as the classic winger or the classic number 10 develop into more modern interpretations. One role that has seemed to be about to be removed from the modern game is the role of the regista.
The name regista is an Italian term, in English called the deep-lying playmaker, for the player who drops out of midfield to get the ball from the defence and start attacks with immaculate passing. The regista also controls the tempo of the match, dictating when to fasten up the game and when to slow it down. The word regista means director in Italian and the term is therefore easy to explain, the regista directs the game.

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Andrea Pirlo is a classic regista

The 4-2-3-1 and complete midfielders

The tactical trend in football over the last decade has been the use of the 4-2-3-1 formation. A double pivot, two defensive midfielders or one defensive midfielder and one box-to-box midfielder, was used to shield the back-four and to allow the three attacking midfielders, often a number 10 and two ‘wrong-footed’ wingers who came in centrally to create, to attack while the full-backs pushed on and provided width. In this system, the regista wasn’t needed. Basically, the regista is an attacking player played in a defensive position, and the 4-2-3-1 as described above needed defensive players in the double pivot as there were so many attacking players on the pitch with the modern full-backs and the front four.

The rise of the complete midfielder is in line with this system too. In the 90’s and early 00’s the box-to-box player was popular, with the likes of Keane, Ince, Gerrard and Vieira important for their teams success. These where players who could do everything; tackle, pass, score. Then in the latter 00’s the midfield was a place for specialists, either defensive midfielders such as Cambiasso or more creative one’s such as Xavi. The modern complete midfielders however is a throwback to the old box-to-box players. With the pace and intensity games are now played at, there is a greater pressure at midfielders to be complete. We have seen the rise of this role in the successful German teams of the last seasons with players such as Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Gündogan and Bender and also in other leagues where players like Arturo Vidal, Kevin Strootman and Fernandinho have impressed.

The regista’s role in different leagues

In Italy, unsurprisingly, the regista has remained valuable. The 4-2-3-1 wasn’t used as much here as in other leagues due to the use of back-threes and the 3-5-2 system which meant three central midfielders where one could drop off and play as a regista. Italian football has never been a league for wingers and winger-less systems are very common with the aforementioned 3-5-2, 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-1-2 used frequently. It is therefore no surprise to see players like Riccardo Montolivo, Luca Cigarini, Christian Ledesma, David Pizarro and, of course, Andrea Pirlo thrive in this league. Pirlo is the ultimate classic regista, a number 10 moved deeper to dictate the tempo and start attacks. It is no wonder that Juventus has dominated Italian football with their 3-5-2 system with Pirlo as the regista behind two energetic and complete midfielders out of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba.

In Spain, where possession-football is the identity, registas or pivots, as they’re called in Spanish, has also been used. The 4-2-3-1 has been used a lot in Spain, but the difference with the English or German 4-2-3-1 is the fact that in the Spanish system the double pivot is made up of two pivots who are passers rather than destroyers. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso has been the two leading players here with the duo key in Spain’s World Cup winning team of 2010. There is a big difference between Busquets and Alonso compared to Pirlo though. While Pirlo is an attacking player, the two Spaniards are defensive and gives a better balance to the midfield while also setting the tempo from deep. Pep Guardiola’s incredible Barcelona team was built around the midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta with Busquets sitting behind the other two as the regista. Last season, Xabi Alonso performed a similar role in the Real Madrid side behind the more energetic Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria.

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Ferguson used Keane as a regista in the latter years of his career

In England, the use of a regista has only been apparent at one club in the last decade: Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United’s entire approach was concentrated at possession and the first regista he used was a previous box-to-box player; Roy Keane. The Irishman’s footballing qualities are very underrated because of his knack for picking up bookings and red cards. But Keane’s passing qualities were integral for Ferguson, and towards the latter years of his career when he couldn’t charge around the entire pitch and cover every blade of grass, he focused on protecting the defence and dictate the play from deep. This worked perfectly for United with Paul Scholes in a box-to-box role beside him. When Keane left United, Scholes assumed his duties. If Keane was a very good passer, Scholes took United’s play to even greater heights, with his excellent range of passing and intelligent positioning, he excelled in this role and furthered his game. When Michael Carrick was signed, Ferguson now possessed two registas of high-quality and the double pivot with the two Englishmen gave United a look not too dissimilar to the Spanish national side. This United side turned out to be the most successful Ferguson ever had, and Carrick and Scholes were integral in that.
In recent seasons, the regista role seem to have grown in popularity in England. Apart from Ferguson, other managers now see the value of having this type of player, and teams like Arsenal (Arteta), Everton (Barry) and Liverpool (Gerrard) have tried to used a regista in their team. Of these three players, the only one really suited to the role is Barry, who has excelled at Everton under Martinez, a possession focused coach from Spain. Brendan Rodgers is also focused on possession, but Gerrard hasn’t been able to make the transition from box-to-box player to regista as seamlessly as Scholes, simply put because he’s not good enough tactically for the position.
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Scholes excelled in the role, dictating United’s play in the clubs most successful period

The modern regista

In the modern game, specialist roles are increasingly disappearing and we’re moving to an era where players need to be able to be more complete than ever before. The modern centre-midfielders need to be complete and therefore the classic regista looks likely to become extinct. However, the modern registas have a big role to play in the future. The return of three-man midfields with a holding player behind two energetic midfielders mean the regista will return in its full glory. As previously mentioned, the classic regista was an attacking player in a defensive position, without necessarily needing to be a good defensive player. Therefore, players similar to Pirlo or even Gerrard will struggle as they need to be able to defend excellently (which Pirlo doesn’t) and be very tactically aware and intelligent in their positioning and movement while also possessing the energy to track runners (which Gerrard doesn’t).
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Xabi Alonso completed an incredible 185 passes last week for Bayern, as per StatsZone

The two best registas in world football currently are Spanish duo Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. While possessing tremendous technique and passing quality, they are also brilliant tactically and know exactly when to drop into defence to get the ball, when to press, when to sit back, when to quicken up the play and when to slow it down. Many raised their eyebrows when Guardiola signed Alonso to his Bayern side but the former Real Madrid player has so far thrived. There are also very promising young registas who seem to tick all the boxes with the likes of Marco Verratti, Daley Blind and Barcelona’s Sergi Samper sure to be very influential in the coming decade.
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Daley Blind and Sergi Samper’s passing maps from recent performances

Conclusion

The question in the headline will be answered now. Is there a place for the classic regista in the modern game? The answer is no, but there definitely is one for the modern registas such as Busquets and Alonso. These are players that can do anything required for a midfielder and also possess the brilliance to dictate the tempo of the match, which only a select few can. To succeed in the regista role you have to replicate those two players, but there definitely is a place in the modern game for that type of player. If used in the right way, like Busquets for Barca or Alonso for Bayern/Real, then the modern registas will be key to a teams success and hopefully we’ll see this type of player developed over the coming years as they are a joy to watch.

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