With Inter Milan the dominant force in Italian football currently, one less fashionable name has particularly stood out – Esteban Cambiasso. Carlo Garganese asks if the Argentinean ace is the best defensive midfielder in the world at the moment.
For all the hundreds of millions of pounds that Inter President Massimo Moratti has shelled out on Inter since taking over the club in the mid-1990s, it is rather ironic that possibly his best-ever signing to date, Esteban Cambiasso, cost him absolutely nothing.
Cambiasso first came to the fore as a 15-year-old in the Independiente youth team, and impressed so much that he was snapped up by Real Madrid.
At Real Madrid Cambiasso was never appreciated and had few chances to shine, mainly due to the fact that the Spanish public in general simply do not understand the virtues of defence. It was for this same reason that Real decided to sell probably the best defensive midfielder in the world at the time, Claude Makelele, to Chelsea in 2003, rather than pay him the wages that he deserved.
Anyhow, Cambiasso’s contract at the Santiago Bernabeu was allowed to run down, and he signed for Inter on a free transfer in 2004.
The move did not gain much publicity and Cambiasso was expected to be just a squad player, especially due to the fact that the world-renowned Edgar Davids, who was just coming off an outstanding six-month loan deal at Barcelona, had also just signed for the club.
As things panned out it was Davids who would be sitting on the bench, as Cambiasso immediately made the defensive midfield position his own, with an outstanding start to his career in Italy.
Within six months of his first season at Inter I had come to the conclusion that Cambiasso had the potential to be the best defensive midfielder in the world. Three years down the line, I am in no doubt that this is now the case.
Perhaps the best attribute of Cambiasso is his tactical sense - positionally he is virtually perfect. His ability to close up the space in the hole between the defence and midfield makes it virtually impossible for attacking midfielders or trequartista’s to shine. Anyone who watched the Milan derby will see how much Brazilian superstar Kaka struggled due to Cambiasso’s positioning.
The Argentine’s marking, tackling, anticipation, bravery and stamina are also as good as they come. When a player attempts to take on Cambiasso they rarely go past him, and the 27-year-old will be just as fit and fresh in the last minute as he is in the first.
However what also makes Cambiasso so special, and perhaps separates him from the player closer than anyone to matching him, Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano, is that the Inter star also possesses brilliant offensive attributes as well.
Cambiasso is often the instigator of attacks, his passing and creativity is intelligent, and he rarely fails to find his target with a ball.
He has also chipped in with a fair few important goals. Indeed this season he already has five to his name in all competitions, which is hugely impressive for a defensive midfielder.
These include decisive goals such as the winner in the Milan derby before Christmas, as well as a crucial brace to help Inter come from two goals down to beat CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
Many people talk of the importance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Inter, and this is very true, however in my opinion Cambiasso is equally vital to the Nerazzurri machine, particularly in Serie A.
Of course it is always difficult selecting the world’s best player in a certain position because there are just so many things to consider.
For example Andrea Pirlo is the best deep-lying playmaker of his generation, and essentially he takes up the same position on the field as Cambiasso. However would you describe him as a defensive midfielder? I do not think so.
Pirlo is a unique player – he is a one-off. His position is unorthodox and for this reason I am excluding him from this discussion. He operates outside the realm.
The two players that come closest to challenging Cambiasso are Mascherano and Chelsea’s Michael Essien.
Defensively Mascherano is the equal of Cambiasso, however he certainly is not as complete as his countryman, especially in the offensive department.
Essien is more of a modern footballer based on power and pace, and as a critic I have always favoured intelligence and guile over this type of present-day phenomena. Nevertheless the Ghanaian is still a world-class player and any team in the world today would take him.
Cambiasso however would have been world-class in any era - indeed he probably would have been better 20 or 30 years ago when the game was slower and more tactical. Now that is a scary thought!
What are your views on this topic? Is Esteban Cambiasso the best defensive midfielder in the world? If you disagree – who do you think is better than him?
Or is it Michael Essien, Javier Mascherano, Owen Hargreaves, Mahamadou Diarra or Gennaro Gattuso?