In an article earlier this month I looked at Claude Makelele’s contribution, not just to the Chelsea midfield, but to the holding midfield role in general. The 35 year old has 12 months left on his current contract and at the time of writing, I was still clinging to the hope that Chelsea could persuade him to spend that at Stamford Bridge before stepping into some kind of coaching role. Sadly, Maka doesn’t appear to fancy the career path I’d got in mind for him and his five-year spell at Chelsea, during which he has made almost 220 appearances, looks as if it will end with a move to Paris St Germain.
The Frenchman, who clearly isn’t ready to call it a day just yet, appears to have been tempted by a four year contract which would see him playing for PSG for the next two years, remaining there in a coaching capacity for the following two years. Smart move by PSG here, because not only does this mean Makelele will secure his next four years with a comfortable 5million euro contract but, with him keen to step into management when he finally hangs up his boots, the coaching role on offer adds just the right amount of sweetener to the deal.
Looking at Maka’s career, it certainly took a while for the midfielder to be fully appreciated. He didn’t establish himself with France until he was in his late 20s and struggled for acceptance at Real Madrid. In fact, despite having firmly stamped his mark on his role at Real, when he dared to ask for some equality in pay, this was accepted about as warmly as the man himself. His subsequent departure to Chelsea prompting Perez to suggest “We will not miss Makelele. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90% of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways.”
You can only consider Real’s loss to have been Chelsea’s gain because these days, Maka’s very much regarded as the perfect example of the holding midfielder. The midfield engine, making the decisions, anticipating the play with a vigilance that sees him neutralising potential risk to the Chelsea defence, and whatever Perez might suggest, Maka knows exactly how to seek out space, providing the pass for players to move forward. His fellow players definitely appreciate the work he does, with Zinedine Zidane summing him up as ‘the engine in the sports car’.
Whilst I’ve no doubt Chelsea have appreciated Makelele during his time at the club – and it’s good to see them doing the right thing by letting him go on a free transfer despite there being a further 12 months on his contract – I wonder how confident they are of filling the gap he leaves behind? His work-rate and contribution to Chelsea, although often un-noted, has been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s been a loyal servant, who has served out his time with dignity and respect and whilst his leaving will pass almost unnoticed by the majority of neutrals, what won’t go unnoticed is the role left behind to be filled.
Of course, we have the formidable Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel to step in, but do either of them read the game as effectively as Makelele? As good as they are, they’d both need to be in full uniform, complete with German Shepherds to convince me of their total security over the Chelsea defence. In fact, if there’s one quote that sums it up nicely for me, it has to be one I read recently which says “It needed many years for Makelele to come into his prime but it may take longer still to replace him.”