The South American Roles: The Enganche (feat. FM Grasshopper)

Football in Argentina, like so many things in my homeland, has always been best represented by its leaders, larger-than-life characters that come to epitomize people’s traditions and ideas. From a tactical standpoint, those would be  the “Cinco” and the “Diez”. 

The “Cinco”, the traditional Argentine defensive midfielder, represents the warrior on the pitch, the courage and the effort. Think Mascherano, Simeone or Rattín; they’re leaders and fulcrums, the heart and soul of the team. They’re the mundane heroes, the triumph of the power of will.

For the transcendental, the unimaginable, the fantasia, you have to look at the “Diez”. The traditional Argentine attacking midfielder is the one in charge of giving a team it’s flight, it’s creativity, it’s jaw-dropping moments. Think Riquelme, Aimar, Ortega and Maradona; they have come to represent the flair and the talent, god’s given skill over anything else. Let’s focus on this fantasista role, or as we have come to call it here in Argentina, the Enganche.

A tale of two hooks

Ever heard that story that whilst English only has one word for “snow”, Eskimos have virtually thousands of words for it? Whilst that is a misleading fact (Eskimos speak a polysynthetic language meaning that something like “white snow” becomes one word), it points at how higher levels of exposure to a phenomenon can lead to wider degrees of specificity when describing it.

So whilst in the English speaking football world the word “enganche” has come to mean mostly a static, pass-oriented classic number ten (much in the Riquelme mould), in South America, and particularly in Argentina, it’s a vastly more open definition. When a fourteen year old Messi arrived at Barcelona he described himself as an “enganche”, yet footage from his youth days at Newell’s show an avid dribbler and mobile, fast player, so what’s going on?

Here in Argentina we often define as “enganche” two very different types of players, as they share a core style of play and the same position on the field. For every Riquelme, every Gallardo, every Beto Alonso, you also have an Aimar, a Maradona, a Bochini; for every defence-splitting passer, you have a dizzying dribbler. Regardless of their weapon of choice, they share a position, and a function; they bring creativity, flair and style to their sides.

Naturally, I couldn’t cover such a wide range of players myself, so I asked one of the FMsphere’s most avid fútbol argentino fans, FM Grasshopper, to give me a hand…

The Joy of the Diablos Rojos – FM Grasshopper

Pause to think

My favourite goal arrived on Wednesday 16 February 2011 in the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal came from behind to beat FC Barcelona 2-1.  The winning goal had the hallmarks of a classic counter attack, with quick passes from Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas to release an on running Samir Nasri.  The move was frantic, and Nasri was charging deep into the Barcelona half and entering the penalty area.  The quicker pass currently on offer to him was to lay it to Robin van Persie horizontally, but the pass was too risky.  As I pause the highlight now on my computer screen, the Expected Assist score would look small…Eric Abidal was there to potentially block and van Persie would surely have to take a touch before being able to shoot from his preferred left foot.

That extra touch was instead reserved for himself, Nasri’s pause in all its glory…giving enough time for Andrei Arshavin to enter the fray.  Nasri’s lay off and Arshavin’s first time shot meant Abidal could not block, in fact his positioning meant goalkeeper Victor Valdes was blind sighted.  Goal.  Arsenal 2-1 FC Barcelona.

Now I want you to imagine your favourite goal.  Picture the moments shortly before the ball is put into the back of the net.  Refer back to the passes, the movement and most likely…the pause.  You see, in writing this piece…I’ve realised that the pause before a deft pass or flick is sometimes more satisfying than the goal itself.  It takes something truly special for a player to slow down the moment, yet still anticipate the movements of everything around him at such a fast pace.

La Pausa’ is the Argentine expression for this moment: where a playmaker can delay the pass long enough to find the right moment to release a teammate.  It’s the art form that’s been adopted by all of the great Argentine playmakers.  None more so than Diego Maradona’s idol: Ricardo Enrique Bochini…Independiente’s greatest ever player, who over a 19 year one club career amassed an incredible 5 Copa Libertadores wins and numerous domestic titles.

An earthquake named Ricardo

Up until 2020 and before being asked to write this piece with @rocksendfm, I had really only seen Bochini mentioned in words.  Whether that was in Jonathan Wilson’s Angels With Dirty Faces or the various articles and books I have read about Maradona.  But I managed to get my first glimpse of Bochini’s mercurial talents during the 2020 covid pandemic lockdown; where UK Netflix uploaded Especial 20 años Fútbol de Primera.  The three episodes cover the most exciting games and the biggest idols of Argentine football from the Argentine First Division from 1985 to 2009.  Episode 1 covered 1985-1997 and therefore captures Bocinhi’s twilight years in his 30s.  Despite this, aged 30+, Bochini still offered a lot…perhaps being helped that he was never the fastest player anyway.  His gift was in his passing, and he featured heavily in the first half of Episode 1.

For this article, I therefore want to focus my attention on the Bochini of the mid 1980s; and I started my journey with a full-match viewing of the 1984 Intercontinental Cup Final Vs Liverpool held in Tokyo, Japan.  Bochini was 30 and lined up in the No.10 position of an Independiente narrow 4-4-2, no surprises here until I learned that there were three potential factors that could have made the game tricky for him that day.  (1) the game was played shortly after a minor earthquake had struck.  No fatalities, and in no way as destructive as the Otaki Earthquake that occurred 3 months previously.  But there were bigger fears that day of another earthquake occurring…as (2) players from Argentina and England faced one another for the first time since the Guerra de las Malvinas (Falklands War).  Would the game descend into the Anglo-Argentine Intercontinental finals of old (See Estudiantes Vs Manchester Utd from 1968)?  But perhaps the biggest barrier to any playmaker was (3) the pitch.  Tokyo had marketed the game well, Nissan cars on the athletics track and a vibrant crowd…but the pitch was scorched.

Perhaps one, or all, of these factors were a reason as to why Bochini started slowly that day.  Independiente had conversely started brightly, scoring the winning goal after just 6 minutes.  But Bochini’s control of the game at no. 10 took time, especially with a young Jan Mølby frequently closing him down.  However a No.10’s class eventually shows its colours…Bochini dictated more and more as the game went on, mobile out of possession to find space and also mobile with it: to dribble, to slow and speed things up.  From watching him you get the sense that he always knew what to do, even if some of the touches & passes didn’t land well that day; and Liverpool had no real counter for Bochini’s growing influence.

My next taste of a ‘Full Match Bochini’ was Germany Vs Argentina in an International friendly from 1984, notable for being Franz Beckenbauer’s first match as German National Team Head Coach.  Another future World Cup Winning manager, Carlos Bilardo, had recently recalled Bochini as his No.10 after a 5 year absence from the national team.  It was perhaps this friendly performance that secured Bochini’s 1986 World Cup spot in the eyes of Bilardo, having an attempted 40-50 yard strike almost go in…if it was not for Goalkeeper Toni Schumacher’s scurrying outstretched fingertips on 7 mins.

Düsseldorf’s Rheinstadion’s pitch was perfect for Bochini, and there had been no obvious earthquake that day.  He, and the rest of La Albiceleste, had started brightly by going 2 goals up after just over 35 minutes.  But Argentina’s 3rd on minute 58 perhaps highlights Bochini’s subtle, yet effective, talent as a playmaker.  With a German attack breaking down in the Argentine penalty area, the ball eventually broke to our No.10 deep in his half; who produced what I am celebrating as a lovely secondary assist to Ricardo Gareca.  Bochini’s pitch splitting pass set Argentina’s No.9 on his way to square it to Bochini’s club teammate: Jorge Burruchaga, who made it 3-0.  Bochini’s performance in a European stadium was a rare sight, but the German crowd that day witnessed a No.10 masterclass.  It would end Germany 1-3 Argentina, and although this result is now just a statistic…the more important meeting between these two teams would occur 2 years later in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium.

Taking Bochini to Football Manager

The reason for writing this piece on Bochini was to pick somebody that wasn’t the archetypal static Argentine Enganche, I certainly needed more mobility both on-and-off the ball and perhaps more of a ‘Fantasista’. So, in order to replicate Bochini I wanted an FM role that could sit in between the lines, attract the ball but also drop deep if needed.  I think it’s the later issue that stopped me using a traditional Attacking Midfielder or Trequartista; as the Advanced Playmaker should be drifting more than a standard Attacking Midfielder but also more supportive to the team than a Trequartista.  In addition to the Advanced Playmaker’s basic setup of instructions, it’s fairly customisable…and you can see I have added more risk to his game.  Bochini was one for a dribble and liked to make the incisive passes, so I’ve added ‘More Direct Passes’ and ‘Dribble More’ for this reason.  I have also pushed the role to the max, by encouraging the Advanced Playmaker to ‘Roam From Position’ (like Bochini did) and also Move Into Channels’…seeing that this is likely to be a free area given I do not play with Inverted Wingers or Inside Forwards in the 4-3-1-2 narrow.  But these are two Player Instructions I would consider adding/removing as I would see fit in games.

Beyond the Advanced Playmaker, we have two forwards with an attacking mindset looking to break the lines beyond the opposition defence.  We also have a left sided attacking Mezzala, who will be looking to link-up in advanced areas with the Advanced Playmaker.  The main thing I have tried to do with this formation is to give the Advanced Playmaker space to weave his magic and play.  So, two forwards running and pushing the opposition back (as opposed to them dropping deep)…and also play with no wide players running into his sphere of influence.

In terms of Team Instructions, the 4-3-1-2 is a custom Vertical Tiki-Taka with a few instructions removed.  It’s very narrow in possession, patient and encourages creative freedom…not too dissimilar in style to the narrow 4-4-2 that Independiente lined up in 36 years ago.

As you can see from the screenshots, my chosen player to be a modern day Ricardo Bochini is Santi Cazorla of Villarreal.  Not only does it give me one last FM goodbye to one of the best players I’ve seen live at the Emirates over the years, he also fits the role well.  Small, and not blessed with explosive quickness, but a magical footballing brain nevertheless; typical of the classy Spanish playmakers of the 2010s.  Combined with exceptional Mental & Technical attributes (and being completely two footed)…he will be great for the role.  The spanish school of Tiki-Taka (made famous by Barcelona’s Xavi & Iniesta), but also the playmakers of Cazorla, Mata & Silva, are seen as the natural continuation of Bochini’s legacy, as Former Argentina National Team Manager Sergio Batista is quoted as saying in 90Min

Xavi comes from a school of football we have already seen. I’ve seen Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta, and Giusti, Marangoni and Bochini had nothing to envy from them. We’ve seen football like peak Barcelona. We’ve had it before.

The Bochini role by the numbers

So, how does Santi Cazorla do in the Bochini role?  To be honest, I went in with low expectations…I’ve personally found No.10s in the AMC strata a little stale and ineffective in the last few years of FM.  Whether this is related to a Sports Interactive reducing their attractiveness in line with real-world football (see James Rodriguez’s thoughts on this matter), OR it could be a specific limitation within the current match engine.  However, Cazorla in the 4-3-1-2 Vertical Tiki-Taka has had a definite impact on proceedings…

After 10 La Liga games, Villarreal sit 2nd in the league (7 Wins, 2 Draws and 1 Loss) having a nice run of figures without facing top of the league Barcelona or both Madrid clubs.  In possession of the ball the 4-3-1-2 is very advanced, and we have Santi occupying the space between midfield and attack.

Santi Cazorla was fit enough to play all 10 La Liga games, and his output has surprised me: 2 goals, 4 assists and 2 POTMs.  Drill into the detail a bit more and Cazrola as the Advanced Playmaker has some impressive performance statistics when making a league comparison: he’s joint 3rd for Key Passes in La Liga (31 / 3.1 per match) and 7th in Average Rating (7.55).  In particular, when up against a deep Alavés’ 5-2-2-1 formation, he put in a MOTM performance; contributing 6 Key Passes and was a regular tormentor throughout the 90 minutes of play.

Overall I am happy with how it’s gone.  I watched and read a lot of Bochini over my annual #FMLull, and we found a Football Manager 2020 player role that suits the mobile playmaker.  This is just one interpretation of using a playmaker, in a style that mirrors the classical 1970/80s Argentine No.10 that inspired the next generation all over the World.  But now it’s over to @rocksendfm, who will present a completely different style of Argentine N0.10, but one who was equally iconic.  Thank you for reading, and thanks to @rocksendfm for inviting me onto his site and sharing past matches/literature with me.  Gracias amigo.

I’ll leave you with Cazorla’s 89th minute winner vs. Sevilla, FM Grasshopper…

The last number 10 – Rock’s End FM

A dying breed

The idea that Juan Román Riquelme was the last classic 10, the last of a kind, has been put forward, repeated and romanticized to a point where it’s past the cliché and has landed into some sort of biblical, time immemorial type thing. It’s been said, told and retold through several languages and in tens of countries. And yet I still can’t sit here and start this article without mentioning it because, well, it’s true. At least in part.

Arguments could be put forward that it is actually Mesut Özil who should get to don the “Last Classic no.10” tag since he is, in fact, a creative attacking midfielder who is mostly known for his flair for playmaking and lack of defensive discipline or effort.

It could also be said that number 10s have not so much disappeared as evolved; players like Kai Havertz, Bruno Fernandes or Isco aren’t playing an entirely different game as Riquelme, Zidane and Laudrup did 25 years ago, nor did those played an entirely different game to what Maradona, Pele or Platini did before them (legendary status disregarded). Players, roles and teams adapt over time. Did anyone seriously consider saying Gerrard was the last true box-to-box midfielder?

Last but not least, it can be said as well that there will always be space for a pure skill player, no matter the coach, the team, the league or the time, provided their output is still worth it; Messi built a career out his talent just being too great to ignore or disregard despite his deficiencies in other areas.

And yet, Riquelme stands in history as a highlight for what truly unleashed skill can do. With his retirement, his legacy became a testament perhaps not to the enganche as a dying kind but to the greatness of their unbridled creative genius. He even got Bochini’s approval himself. So what did the “last enganche” do with the ball at his feet? 

Three Libertadores and a nutmeg for eternity

If you’ve only seen just one play from Riquelme, I’m willing to bet it’s this one: Riquelme is on the edge of the pitch, with the ball under his control. As a River Plate player (Colombian Mario Yepes) comes near, he rolls the ball under his feet, shielding it with his body, waiting for his marker to commit. As the defender launches forwards, Riquelme rolls the ball with the sole of his boot between Yepes’ legs, and turns in the opposite direction to carry on. As These Football Times’ Dan Williamson wrote: “Yepes was the raging bull, and like all good matadors, Riquelme waited until the last possible minute before raising the red flag and outfoxing his nemesis”. It is to nutmegs what Maradona’s “Goal of the Century” is to goals; it’s been printed into merchandising and artistically interpreted far more times than any other play of that kind. 

But it speaks volumes that neither of the protagonists have been particularly interested in it. “I always took it as just another play in that match”, Yepes has said in an interview with Argentinian journalist Sebastián Vignolo, “It has become part of football’s folklore, but I don’t mind. I never thought he was trying to make me look foolish”. Yepes instead insisted that his greatest regret regarding that match was to be eliminated from the Copa Libertadores, which he felt they could have a shot at winning. Riquelme was even more full of praise for his rival: “When I saw him approach me after it I thought he was gonna kick me, and perhaps he had the right to do it. But he was a gentleman, he followed me around, marking me until I lost the ball. He didn’t even insult me”. For a player who’s been kicked from all angles, repeatedly insulted and often spit on by opposition fans, Riquelme rarely holds a grudge for anything that happened on the pitch; for him, it’s all about the game

Whilst his return to Boca Juniors in 2007 holds a magnificent story in it of itself, few could argue that his best stint with the Club de la Ribera was between 1998 and 2001, as a key part of Carlos Bianchi’s first Boca Juniors’ side that won 3 Argentine titles, 2 Copa Libertadores and an Intercontinental Cup vs. Real Madrid.

Much like Bochini, Riquelme slotted in the no.10 spot behind a striking partnership. A poacher, fox-in-the-box, big man striker (Martín Palermo) was generally accompanied by a smaller, more mobile and tricky mate (Guillermo Barros Schelotto or Marcelo Delgado). Behind the playmaker stood a midfield trio of highly energetic, more or less defensively oriented players (more often than not, Sebastián Battaglia, Mauricio “Chicho” Serna and José Basualdo). A rock solid classic back four and a strong, confident goalkeeper completed the starting 11. Riquelme himself has noted that the first thing Van Gaal did when the Argentine arrived at Barcelona was to show him a reel of match footage of himself and then point out “When your team has the ball, you’re the best player in the world. When they don’t, they play with one player fewer”. Bianchi’s side was set up so the 10-man defense could take advantage of the 11-man attack.

Riquelme’s game was, in many ways, about finding and creating space. For himself and for others. He would routinely hold the ball to attract defenders to himself, driving them mad with minimal touches of the ball, keeping just out of reach, close, but not close enough, and then releasing it to a running teammate in space. Much of what he did is hard to put into words. Small touches here and there, holding the ball to allow his team mates to get in shape, to find space. Without the ball, he was excellent at reading the defenders positioning when receiving a ball, in order to get himself space to get hold of it and find his teammates, particularly when taking advantage of goalkeeper Oscar Córdoba’s long range passing.

Riquelme receives with his back to the goal, holding the ball just for enough time to draw defenders in and release it to an unmarked teammate (1 & 2). Riquelme receives in space and turns with one touch (3), then dribbles forward attacking the gap on the defence (4) to score from the edge of the area (5).

He was also a master of hiding the ball and taking the hit, like a magnet to fouls. Against Real Madrid in particular, but also in every match, he would make gold out of tin can by simply denying defenders the ball to the point that they had no option but to foul him. He was an artist of the use of his body (which not even by his prime was particularly strong or athletic) to hide the ball.

Makelele was one of the best DM in the world during the early 2000s. Riquelme drove him mad during the 2000 Intercontinental Cup.

But as good as he was in tight places, leaving him in with space to operate was a terrible decision by any defence. Never particularly fast, he had a knack for picking up the ball with a retreating defence and dribbling forwards with the ball past anyone who commited to a challenge. His close control never showed much of the ball to any defenders, and his ability to regain balance after surviving lunging tackles one after another kept him on the run until a teammate got set for a run into space or a gap opened for a shot.

That’s not to mean he was a never stopping dynamo. Riquelme seemed absent for long periods of time, meaning some times Boca failed to assert themselves in the match. It was amazing how dormant he could lay and how easily he could change a match. He was also a non-factor in most defensive instances, often staying high up the pitch, ready to receive a ball but far from the action. When he did drop off, his contribution was more about space management than defensive actions.

Serna presses the opposition as Riquelme watches. The Colombian was Bianchi’s counterbalance to Riquelme; energetic and tenacious, he was the ideal “cinco”.

Bianchiball and Riquelme on FM

Riquelme’s role in the Boca of the early 2000s was ideal to test the “Enganche” role in Football Manager. The game defines it as “the side’s prime creator, a hook that joins midfield and attack and operates behind the strikers”, which was exactly what JRR used to do. In order to find my would-be-Román, I once again went to my mate FM Stag, though this time he had already looked into what I wanted, as the first part of his Dictate The Game series “Mirror the magic” had answered my question before I posed it, “who could be a modern day Riquelme?”. I settled on Payet as I remembered really enjoying his time in the Premier League.

I was surprised to see, however, that the Enganche role has the options for roaming from position (something Riquelme was fantastic at) and particularly holding the ball (La Pausa, anyone?) blocked off. In any case, I went ahead with my rendition of Bianchiball.

I decided to go for a 4-1-2-1-2 as Serna’s deep positioning made more sense as a DM in Football Manager lingo. Starting from the front, Palermo was the stereotypical Poacher, staying high up the pitch, always ready to run off the last defender’s shoulder and receive long passes from Riquelme and the full-backs. His partner had to be a mobile, agressive, space-seeking forward. I was gonna go for a DLF-A but I didn’t want him to drop so much as neither Schelotto nor Delgado did. In the end I went for an AF-A, though if something like an AF-S existed, I probably would’ve chosen that.

Behind the number 10, the midfield trio was comprised of two mobile and polifacetic, dynamic midfielders. I chose a Carrilero for Battaglia’s more subdued, conservative role, whilst a more aggressive runner with similar functions (BBM + Stay Wider instruction)  reprised Basualdo. Behind them, an Anchorman with the instruction to press harder was perfect for replicating Serna’s intense but positionally conservative role. 

The back four was once again a fairly straight forward business, but as Ibarra and on the left particularly Arruabarrena gave some width and attacking options, so I settled for a FB-S/FB-A combo.

Payet’s touches and heat map in a 2-1 win.

Initial results were disappointing though. With the Enganche role, Payet seemed scared of the ball. Whenever he got the ball, he never did anything similar to la pausa, instead almost always getting rid of the ball with the first touch, and hardly ever creating any sort of danger.

That was assuming he actually got it, which was far from a given. As per the static nature of the role, he never tried to find spots to receive the ball, instead remaining in the highly populated area of the edge of the box. At one point he managed just 16 touches in the whole game, which you could say is a fantastic replication of Riquelme’s “disappearance” tendencies, but not of his way to imprint himself into a match with a couple of touches of the ball. The Argentine wasn’t mobile by any stretch of the imagination, but to suggest he would stand in one spot almost like a witness to the game is going too far in the other direction.

I had seen enough. Like FM Grasshopper, I opted for an AP-S role, with a particular set of instructions to help players replicate the function of the player I was looking to imitate. I asked him to hold the ball to emulate Riquelme’s habit of ball-hogging, drawing defenders to himself. I also asked him to Roam from position, so he would try and find spots to receive the ball in space. Lastly, I instructed him to drop off the press, much like Riquelme would.

Results were immediately better, with Payet garnering a lot more touches and becoming more present in matches. He immediately looked more composed on the ball, often taking that extra second to find a teammate instead of getting rid of the ball like it’s a hot potato. He also was much more mobile, dropping and moving to find spots to receive the ball unmarked.

However, I cannot say it was an entire success. Payet still failed to make himself determinant in many matches, instead looking often like a witness to the true success of this experiment, the Germain/Benedetto pair in the Palermo/Schelotto roles. I feel like he also paid the price of being in such a reactive set up. Like I said in my “FM as a football simulator” article, FM20 is very much a game of its time, and reactive, player centered teams like Bianchi’s Boca Juniors have long been taken off the game by the press-and-possess sides of this decade. Perhaps in a more open set up, my Riquelme role would fare better, but this article has to end at some point.

To summarize

While the “Enganche” role that has become a tradition of Argentinian football is part of FM, it can’t be said to be an useful replication of those who occupied the position in the real world of football, like the Segundo Volante. 

Not only does it leave outside some of the position’s highest interpreters, but it also struggles to perform as the player it’s mostly drawing from. However, in our exploration of the role we took a look at how to replicate two of the best examples of the role, so maybe there’s still hope for Enganches in Football Manager

I wanna thank FM Grasshopper for so kindly joining me in this venture and letting me work with one of my favourite bloggers in the process. With FM21 just around the corner, a lot of content is on it’s way and we’re about to get really busy so it was great to give my first cycle of blogging a fantastic goodbye

As always, thanks to everyone who read and supported this blog for FM20. Hope you enjoyed it and until next time!

Published by fromero92

Argentinian writer and journalist

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