Three names; Thiago Alcantara, Jack Wilshere and Marco Verratti.
This was a spontaneous twitter debate, where the person asking actually had a point and was not getting the answers he desired, just loads of unprintable abuse and scorn. Since it was a drop of the hat debate, I decided to go off cuff and actually debate it off of the top of my head.
Jack Wilshere has actually been around for so long till he feels old, an infant fossil sort of. After THAT performance against Barcelona he was typified as the great hope of the English midfield yiddi yadda, it has come to pass that even supporters of his club do not rate him as much. So what changed? Has Jack regressed? I personally wouldn’t go as far as say he has regressed but partly due to a bombed confidence and an array of injuries he hasn’t quite developed as projected, back in 2010 Pep Guardiola declared that La Masia had 20 Jack Wilshere’s. While the technical ability has never been in question, the application of it is almost always in query, his in game management can be spectacularly poor or if he gets it right he is an unplayable midfield metronome, gliding between the lines with those stout lines like Casper the Holy Ghost and keeping things moving. So while he might not have in the strictest sense of the word gone backwards, he hasn’t progressed either. He has played central midfield, defensive midfield, right midfield and attacking midfield and in THAT game he went toe to toe with Busquets, Hernandez and Andres and you can be sure they remembered the little English lad who tackled like a seasoned center back but passed the ball like a young Pirlo. I’ve always liked to think that played further forward he could be a devastating goal scorer as evidenced in his youth career numbers which he has not at all matched at senior level. And indecision on when to press or not to holds back his influence even defensively on games and at times lets down his whole team, his tactical understanding of the game I feel has not grown in any way. His current state is more mental than physical, his timing of when to play the simple pass, when to retain the ball, when to release a player, when to tackle or when to press. Jack gets lost in games that maybe at 18 years old he would have dominated single handedly, has the natural instinct been coached out of him by Arsene Wenger’s constant chopping and changing his position? The players around him have also influenced the way he plays and at times he might feel like he has to do more to influence games when his older contemporaries go into hiding and it ends up being a Steven Gerrardesque type of one man to the rescue of the planet type of performance, rarely ends well.
Marco Verratti; young, impetuous, super charged, outrageously talented, arrogant and opinionated. Straight from Pescara to the apex of the European game with PSG, testament to his capabilities he slotted right into the Qatari money funded midfield, expensively assembled but that is of no concern to the impertinent Italian. Two inches shorter than Jack he is nonetheless just as Brutish and tears about the defensive and middle third of the pitch with a zeal that oft manifests itself in many a yellow card. But when on the ball this insatiable little bundle of energy is a Van Gogh to look at, his ball retention in the tightest of spaces is a marvel, his progressive passing leaves one awestruck, the control and calm he exudes on a game is exemplary for one who went from the Italian second division straight into the very top of the European game. His defensive game isn’t lacking in zest though a notoriously bad tackler, the man playing alongside him is very important in keeping the rash side of his game well under wraps. Albeit a goal shy midfielder his other qualities more than make up for it, it is an area that can be improved, he almost scoffs at having to play in the attacking third of the pitch. His reading of a game for one so young cannot be explained, always open to team mates for the pass, always looking to either retain it or play it on. He has had Carlo Ancelloti and Laurent Blanc as his coaches, but you get the sense that his development is more down to his indispensable qualities than any coaching the two men could have indulged in. paired with an older more experienced head like Thiago Motta he is steadily on his way to claim the title of the best Regista in the business when Pirlo, Carrick and Xavi retire.
Thiago Alcantara is Pep’s dream come true, seeing as he could not prise away either Xavi or Iniesta due to age and circumstance, Pep with an insider’s knowledge stole the Catalan’s most prized asset, it is even claimed that he only asked for Thiago as his sole transfer when he was taking the Bayern Munchen reins. The hype behind this fiery midfield maverick I have to say is justified, a year older than the aforementioned duo, he is 5 foot 7, just like Jack Wilshere and just as naturally gifted if not more, technically otherworldly. His development at the very top has been stunted by injuries but he always seems to come back better which isn’t in line with any known science. His close affiliation to the La Masia breeding ground and his very apparent Brasilian roots make for interesting flair, a central midfielder by trade, he can play as a box to box or can sit alongside another midfielder, in a way he is a quarterback and his vision and the way his passing from deep opens up spaces shows exactly why he is teacher’s pet. His close control is a wonder, not averse to the odd showboating now then during matches, his quick feet bamboozles the first press and the awareness to release the pass at precisely the right time is what distinguishes him from Jack Wilshere. As a midfielder his pressing is one of the most impressive aspects to his game, he knows when to stick or twist, when to tackle or when to backtrack. His tactical understanding of the game is very mature and it has to have something to do with the guidance of Pep Guardiola and the philosophy in place at La Masia. His bloody mindedness oft stands him in good stead to dominate a game single handedly and he only makes his team mates play better, not much of a goal scorer though when he pops up with a goal, more often than not it is a worldie. What his best position is is up to date, probably not as an exclusively deep lying playmaker since his defensive side while quite okay isn’t exactly Claude Makelele like. A sprightly lad and probably one with the best platform to perform given his manager and the sort of club he plays for. When given the license to roam he can do no wrong, poetry in motion if anything.
The debate of who is better is a chicken, egg, yolk one. All born within 17 months of each other, all physically almost similar, all almost former trequartistas transitioned into regista’s , what distinguishes one from the other? Thiago would seem the better of the trio but mostly in part due to his innate intelligence and understanding of the game which is well beyond his years, the scope with which he influences a game’s tempo and contributes both defensively and offensively is superior to Jack and Marco but Marco isn’t very far behind him in terms of influencing the tempo of a game. Dictating the flow of a game is very important and an oft overlooked aspect of the best Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams, depending on the score and the aim of the team during a game, these registas are the in game managers. Perhaps when a team is losing the tempo is increased, when a team is preserving a lead the tempo is slowed down but not killed completely, Paul Scholes was a master at killing the tempo of an attacking team due to the passes he chose and ball retention, Marco and Thiago have mastered that art, Jack hasn’t come along that far and the tactical side of the game still escapes him, that is an aspect that can be corrected. So who is superior is up to your point of view and what rocks your boat, these three are the three midfield musketeers.