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World Football News


16 April 2014

Thesis Review: "The Movements of an Attacking Midfielder in a Three-Man Midfield" by Daniele Franceschini

Image credit: digilander.libero.it



"The Movements of an Attacking Midfielder in a Three-Man Midfield"
by Daniele Franceschini

Italian managers present a thesis to their colleagues and teachers at the Italian Federation (FIGC) site in Coverciano, Italy. This discussion finalizes a three-part training process that currently lasts over nine months according to the FIGC. You may click the link above to download a PDF file to view the original in Italian. Given the sheer number of schematic diagrams, studying the author's original text might be the best bet in this particular case.

Daniele Franceschini, the current Lazio youth sector manager (Giovanisimmi Nazionale U-15), presented his research during the 2012/2013 UEFA Pro License Master's Course.

Career Highlights

Daniele was born in Rome (1976) and came up in the Lazio youth ranks where he would subsequently make his senior professional debut for Zdenek Zeman. While he spent the bulk of his professional career with Chievo Verona and Sampdoria, respectively, Daniele also made stops at Castel di Sangro, Foggia, Lecce, and Atletico Roma before his retirement in 2011 according to Transfermarkt.it. He was never capped by the Azzurri.

Let's take a look at what he had to say.

Discussion Items
  1. Thesis Overview
  2. Writing Style
  3. Images and Diagrams
  4. Statistical Analysis of Five Midfielders
  5. Notable Quotes
  6. My Ratings
  7. Link to the Italian source document

During his time at Sampdoria.

1. Thesis Overview

The length of this intriguing thesis was 57 pages. It was divided into 20 detailed sections, included many tactical diagrams along with a rare, one-page statistical analysis of his five favorite attacking midfielders. I will provide full translations of his introduction and concluding remarks, respectively, along with a focus on his statistical analysis. 



General characteristics that differentiate the attacking midfielder's role in a three-man midfield:
  • Interno rifinitore: "Is one who cuts in and out of the opposition's midfield by moving off his marker and with continuous movement."
  • Interno universale: "Is one who possesses great conditional abilities, endurance and power who efficiently participates in both phases of play."
  • Interno regista: "Is endowed with excellent technical qualities and is capable of managing ball possession to its utmost. And has a good medium-to-long range kick to be able to execute changes in front of him and passes to go over the defensive line with an ability to execute more incisive passes."
Translator's Note:

    Image credit: BackPagePress Limited
       and Vivien Lavau.
The deep-lying regista/playmaker's role is usually associated with Andrea Pirlo.

Development of some of the attacking midfielder's movements, with or without ball possession, and of the attacking midfielders according to the tactical disposition of the opposing team.
  • 1-4-3-3 v. 1-4-4-2
  • 1-4-3-3 v. 1-3-5-2
  • 1-4-3-3 v. 1-4-3-1-2
Movement of an attacking midfielder in a 3-5-2 midfield:
  • 1-3-5-2 v. 1-4-3-3
  • 1-3-5-2 v. 1-4-4-2
  • 1-3-5-2 v. 1-4-3-1-2
Movement of an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-1-2 midfield:
  • Possession phase
  • Non-possession phase
Statistical Data Comparison of Some Interpreters of the Attacking Midfielder's Role.
  • He analyzed 33 different areas.
Suggestions for Specific Training Exercises for Midfielders.
  • He precisely outlined 16 drills.
The importance of motivation, attitude, communication and concentration.


Bibliography: He cited four sources.

2. Writing Style

The best way to describe his writing style is passionate and scientific. As the author noted in his introduction, the midfield role has always fascinated him in a serious way. He reminded me of a medical doctor who specialized in orthopedics or cardiology instead of internal medicine. In this case, Daniele Franceschini intensely focused on a subset of the midfield nerve center.

He writes at a high level and places much focus on a collective team philosophy over a more singular perspective. While this research is extremely detailed and tactically-minded, Franceschini never loses sight of the importance of communication from the manager to his players. His concluding remarks discuss a proper blend of science and communication, respectively:
"Football is a team sport...  The body's position is of great importance... A sense of the group... Communication assumes a great importance."
This thesis will be difficult for non-coaches to grasp in a comprehensive nature as I discovered first hand myself. His level of detail was superb and followed a linear pattern. The descriptions, which were greatly enhanced by his diagrams, were clear and concise with little room for error. He seemed to relish the teaching aspect of this particular topic. In many ways, this thesis is a technical manual that can be used to research particular formations since he details so many different variations.

3. Images and Diagrams

This was the most comprehensively detailed thesis I have reviewed in terms of the vast number of schematic diagrams (at least 50 or more) along with their explanations. He also utilized numbers throughout for emphasis which are not always used in these cases. For example, "8 and 10" to illustrate the attacking midfield protagonists' various movements against a variety of opposing tactical schemes. 

All of his diagrams showed players' numbers for clarity along with blue and red colors to distinguish their respective teams. They were easy to read, and for non-professional coaches such as myself, a great learning and reference tool. In many cases, he included the name of the position that corresponded with the schematic number:
  • vertice basso di centrocampo (4): Deep-lying midfielder. 
  • l'ala destra (7): Right winger.
  • punta centrale (9): Target striker/center forward.
In terms of formations, the author also cited an interesting observation from the 2012/2013 edition of the UEFA Champions League: 
  • "Eighteen teams utilized a 4-2-3-1, four used a 4-3-3, two used the 4-3-2-1, while only one team each selected the 4-3-1-2, 4-1-4-1 and 4-5-1, respectively." 
  • "The only side to utilize the 3-5-2 was Juventus, the Italian champion." (Page 23)

4. Statistical Analysis of Five Midfielders 

Mr. Franceschini provided an OPTA-caliber view in a detailed (33 metrics) one-page analysis that I have not seen before in these thesis documents. Concisely brilliant might be two words to sum it up. He selected five current players who he best thought exemplified and interpreted the attacking midfielder role at the core of this thesis. The source for the statistics was not provided and the listed figures were averages according to the author.

Here were a few line items in his analysis of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, Marek Hamsik, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, respectively: 

Andrés Iniesta Euro 2012 vs France 02.jpg
Andres Iniesta.
Photo credit: Дмитрий Неймырок.
"You have the ball for three minutes each
game. It's what you do with the other 87
--- Johan Cruyff

Action                         Vidal     Marchisio    Hamsik    Xavi     Iniesta

Balls Played                65.4       53.4              65.2           129.0    101.3

Ball possession (min)  2:42        2:10              2.56              6:07     4:33

Successful passes      47.6        36.6            44.4            112.3      80.8

Pass Success Rate% 74.8        71.0            70.6               88.2      81.6

Helpful Plays                 14           16.1            14.6                28.1     20.8

% Helpful Plays             21.5        30.1            22.4                21.8     20.6

Interceptions                    6             5                 4.6                  5.8      7.3

Balls lost                     15.8          15.4             18.7                   3.7     18.2

Balls lost %                 24.2          28.8             28.7                 10.6    18

Assists                          1.6             1                  2.2                  2.7      1.7

Balls played in box       7.7              7.5              8.6                  5.9       8.9

Source: (Page 41)

5. Notable Quotes by Daniele Franceschini

Image credit:
360 Network.

From his opening remarks:

For me, the role of midfielder has always held a great fascination. Such that the role is a strategically relevant and important one. And a role that encapsulates most of those qualities which in my opinion a model footballer should have.

And it is for these reasons that I have decided to write this thesis paying special attention to the midfield unit which is the nerve center of the pitch where the inertia of a game is often decided. Even if each individual player of every singular unit must give his own contribution to ensure that his team is balanced and can express an efficient style of play whether they have the ball or not.

I'll look to speak of the midfielder's role focusing on my own experience as a player along with the teachings by coaches at a high level that I had to good fortune to know. And also from teachings in this Master's Course let alone even my own brief experience as a youth sector coach.

Specifically, I will analyze the attacking midfielder's role in all of its variations. From the technical-tactical, physical, psychological and communicative perspectives. Also taking in account how the style of play in football has evolved over the years and by consequence, also the role of a midfielder.

Obviously, according to my own opinion, an attacking midfielder must possess all of the requisites that a complete universal footballer has. The midfielder must have physical and technical gifts, tactical knowledge, character-psychological traits and communication skills that are higher than average. Surely, there will be predominant traits with respects to others. And the task of a manager will be precisely to best exploit those which are have the most pronounced potentialities.

I think that a manager has to know how to mold a team based upon the characteristics of his own players. And know how to find solutions, little things that are more or less favorable, both during the season and a game itself because, "Even the most complete player has his weaknesses."

From his conclusion:

The player learns only when a training exercise offers the technical-tactical and psycho-physical problematic situations that he will then face during a game. The proposed exercises, which are designed to stimulate the specific abilities of a footballer, must follow a progressive educational course that tends to create automated mechanisms integrated with the different situational demands. These help to trigger conditions that are favorable to specific learning. This is transmitted through a functional training session and reinforced through exercises that mirror game characteristics or via a high percentage of exercises repeated at high levels of intensity.

To be able to have quality training sessions, we have to take into account the knowledge and technical abilities of individual players and adapt them, therefore, to the competitive level where we find ourselves. I think that exercises to improve technical and physical abilities are without a doubt important; however, to practice them without a relation to and connection with a style of play makes them less attractive. "A player in the course of learning always needs a connection with the style of play to motivate himself."

My desire, with this thesis, has been to place the movements of attacking midfielders under the microscope by looking to offer clues about a difficult, important and fascinating role that can give numerous interpretations. Playing styles in football are in continuous evolution and players must be able to adapt to the reduction of space in the development of maneuvers. Such as the increase of velocity in the movements of play, and therefore today more than ever before, requires "intelligent" players. Those endowed technically and physically, but above all, that we know what, how, when and where to make a certain movement in a specific situation of play.

And on this subject, I think that also small details can also make a big difference. Midfielders, given the zone of the pitch where they play, must have the capacity to lose their markers and to always place themselves in the best position to receive the ball for the continuation of a movement. And in this regard, the body's position is of great importance. Just as communication assumes a great importance, visual or not, with your own teammates to be able to adequately execute the movements at the right times of play and according to the desired situation.

The player in possession of the ball, and those without it, must be able to interpret various behaviors either in attack or defense. Such as to select all of the most congruent options at his disposal and then put them into practice for the advantage of his own team.

The specific training exercises that were proposed by me can be suggestions so that players will be able to make decisions on their own: "implicit learning." The task of a manager has to also be able to know how to create a union inside of the group. To create "a sense of the group," to facilitate a reciprocal collaboration and interdependence between members of the group. And to know how to get his players to all speak the same language which is done not only by schematic diagrams or words. But also with gestures, ethical codes, looking at and away with your eyes. That is: to interpret each situation in the same way.

As I have already said before, to play football well doesn't always mean knowing how to execute a technical movement properly, to know how to kick a ball well, etc. It's also how a player interprets and blends all of these actions, how the technical gestures function in a situation of play (particular area of the field, position of your opponents and teammates).

In conclusion, football is a team sport. And I think that a technically endowed group, with an optimal tactical organization and with a great conditioning capacity, can obtain excellent results. But if you want excellence, you can't set aside an optimal scientific organization in the desire to transmit it to the group through work and fundamental values. Which are those that concern the psychological and communication aspect. The midfielder's role is one of fundamental importance and is fascinating also because in my opinion, with evolved players at a high level, it's the utmost expression of all of these qualities.

A note of appreciation and thanks to all of the docents who have contributed to and augmented my knowledge base. Just as with all of my classmates with whom I shared in this experience.

--- Daniele Franceschini

Translator's Note:

Hernan Crespo (his thesis on internationalization and globalization was reviewed in detail last December) was also in Mister Franceschini's coaching class as were many from the 2006 Italian World Cup teamFabio Cannavaro, Fabio Grosso, Filippo Inzaghi, Mark Iuliano, Marco Materazzi, Massimo Oddo and Gianluca Zambrotta, respectively. 

5. My Ratings

Photo credit: Hobnobia.net
Coaching education: 9/10
Editorial organization: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Research: 9/10
Writing style: 8/10
Overall: 45/50 = Five Stars.

Mister Franceschini has created a useful resource on a very particular midfield role along with how these players interact with their teammates and rivals. His research was an important contribution to a better understanding of attacking midfielders and provides an excellent reference for your tactical education library.

6. Italian source document courtesy of Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC)


Tesi finale del corso Master 2012/2013 per allenatori di Prima categoria Uefa ProAutore/i: Daniele Franceschini

Related Coaching Thesis Articles

Translated excerpts from FIGC (Italian Federation) Master's Course Coaching Theses. 
Image credit: FIGC.

Please click the image to visit my page dedicated to the works of Massimiliano Allegri, Milena Berolini, Hernan Crespo, Roberto Donadoni, Filippo Inzaghi, Mark Iuliano, Roberto Mancini, Vincenzo Montella, Mauro Tassotti, Gianluca Vialli and Daniele Zoratto, respectively.

Please Note

Soccer Translator

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter.

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