Cesc Fabregas once said that the No.10 role was fading away and there is some truth to the matter.
The game is more physical nowadays, which means players like Mesut Ozil, Juan Mata and James Rodriguez have been rendered slightly less useful in their favoured roles. This has been amplified by managers looking to build play from out wide, particularly utilising full-backs or wing-backs in the case of Liverpool and Chelsea.
But that doesn’t mean the No.10 playmaker is dead. There are still a handful of central midfield players (whether playing deeper or attacking) who are key to their teams, like Kevin De Bruyne, Thomas Muller and Nabil Fekir among others. Another, slightly less heralded playmaker is Fabio Vieira who starred for Porto as they won the Primeira Liga last season.
What of the less heralded playmakers though? Those on the fringe of making it big time could be available for a move this summer and wouldn’t force teams to break the bank – not because of their quality, but due to flying under the radar.
|Summer transfer odds 22/23: To sign for before 3rd September||Sky Bet|
|Antony to Man Utd||1/4|
|Matthijs de Ligt to Chelsea||8/11|
|Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona||1/5|
|Frenkie de Jong to Man Utd||1/8|
|James Ward-Prowse to West Ham||1/1|
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Leicester City||2/1|
|Lucas Paqueta to Newcastle||4/7|
|Jesse Lingard to West Ham||11/8|
|Raphinha to Barcelona||1/2|
|Ousmane Dembele to PSG||4/1|
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Despite playing just 1,327 minutes for Porto in the league, Vieira recorded the joint-most assists last season, racking up 14 in total – level with Gil Vicente’s Pedrinho who did play over 1,500 more minutes. Vieira’s closest teammate was Mehdi Taremi with 12 assists but, again, he played over 1,000 more minutes.
Remarkably, Vieira’s 14 assists came from just 34 chances created (an average of 2.31 per 90 minutes) and an xA of 5, so he was helped by some clinical finishing but that shouldn’t take anything away from the 22-year-old, who also averaged a league-high 0.95 Big Chances created per 90. And he has been snapped up by Arsenal, with Porto recently announcing that a deal had been agreed for Vieira worth a potential £34.2m.
And he has the approval of former Gunners midfielder Jack Wilshere, who told TalkSport: “I will be honest, I haven’t heard too much about him but I looked him up on YouTube when I saw the news break.
“He looks good. Everyone looks good on YouTube but he looks like he has got a bit about him. Six goals and 14 assists from midfield. That’s impressive.
“We all knew that Arsenal had to make some signings because they are in Europe. They need to get a bigger squad, so they are making moves, which is nice.”
So Vieira is gone, but who else is out there? We’ve taken a look at a handful we feel should be on clubs’ shortlists.
We start in the Eredivisie with Turkish midfielder Orkun Kokcu, who was pulling the strings for Feyenoord from a deeper central midfield role, spending the majority of his time in the middle third of the pitch.
Despite not going too close to the edge of the opposition box, Kokcu was able to create 101 chances in the Eredivisie last season, with only Dusan Tadic in his supernatural season (141) managing more. Kokcu was 17 clear of third-placed Jesper Karlsson and a massive 41 ahead of his closest Feyenoord teammate Luis Sinisterra.
The 21-year-old also recorded nine assists from an xA of 10 and completed 712 passes in the final third, again the second-highest tally in the league. Although not the most important part of a playmaker’s arsenal, Kokcu was also deft at set pieces, with 51 chances created and four assists.
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Now, Joey Veerman has recently moved, joining PSV in the January transfer window but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be snapped up for the right price. Veerman started the 2021/22 Eredivisie campaign with Heerenveen and recorded six goals in 18 appearances from 43 chances created, at an average of 2.55 per 90 minutes.
After moving to PSV, Veerman’s game changed ever so slightly in that he spent more time in the opposition box with 2.7 touches and 23.48 final third passes completed per 90, though his penalty area entries (a pass or other action where the ball moves from outside to inside the penalty area) dropped from 10.31 per 90 to 7.48 between Heerenveen and PSV. Nevertheless, Veerman’s 11 assists in the Eredivisie was the fourth-best tally last season and only five players created more Big Chances than his 10.
We now jump over to MLS for a playmaker who could provide a more experienced head to any team looking to make a change to their team and not risk a more raw talent. Luciano Acosta is currently in his second season back in MLS with Cincinnati, signing in 2021 after three years at Atlas in Mexico and he’s not missed a beat.
The 28-year-old has had more luck in front of goal, scoring five to his two assists, but that isn’t necessarily his fault. Only two players have a higher xA than Acosta’s 4.45 in MLS this season while only Carles Gil has created more chances than his 46. However, from open play Acosta leads the way with 34 chances created and a league-high nine Big Chances created. Get this man a goalscorer.
Back to the Eredivisie, Othmane Boussaid wasn’t really a first-choice option at Utrecht last season, starting 16 of his 24 appearances but amassing just 1,396 minutes (being an unused substitute on 11 occasions). But like Vieira at Porto, Boussaid made the most with his time on the pitch, mostly coming from the left side of the midfield.
The 22-year-old recorded six assists in the Eredivisie last season at an average of 0.39 per 90 minutes – matching his 0.39 xA per 90. Most of Boussaid’s dangerous attacks came from open play too, with 1.80 chances created from open play in the Eredivisie and 5.61 penalty area entries.
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Evander will be seen as a goalscorer by some, netting 12 times in the Danish Superliga for FC Midtjylland last season, but four of those were penalties and it should take the attention away from his creativity.
The Brazilian central midfielder was the second-highest chance creator in the Danish Superliga last season with 73 chances created and also came in second for Big Chances created (12). It was a healthy mix of chances created from open play (43) and set play (30) and Evander also recorded 218 penalty area entries, the third-highest return in the league.
Some of Europe’s biggest clubs already know who Lovro Majer is, with Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid reportedly battling it out to sign the central midfielder this season. But outside France, his native Croatia, and the extensive scouting network of footballing giants, Majer will have flown under the radar.
As part of the Rennes midfield, Majer recorded 0.39 assists per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 last season from 2.2 chances created per 90, his first season in France after joining from Dinamo Zagreb last summer.
Any clubs wanting to sign Majer this summer though may have to persuade the player himself, as he recently stated he is happy at Rennes, telling So Foot: “I know that many things are written about my future, but the interest of other clubs, I take it for the moment only as a confirmation that I am doing things right.
“I am happy in Rennes, I like the city, the club, and I want to continue to progress there.”
|Man Utd summer transfer odds 22/23: To sign for before 3rd September
|Frenkie de Jong||1/8|
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Remember when we mentioned Carles Gil a few entries ago?
The former Aston Villa man has been tearing it up in MLS and is one of the league’s top creative players of the 2022 season. He ranks second for assists with five, behind only Diego Fagundez (seven), but no one has created more chances than his 49, 29 of which have come from open play.
Again, only one player has created more Big Chances than Gil’s eight but the 29-year-old is constantly looking to get the ball into attacking positions and is key for New England Revolution. Gil leads the way in MLS for penalty area entries (197) and final third passes completed (281) and would be a very good player for someone looking for a more experienced head.