Monday, June 26, 2006

The next Zidane


Luis Aragones is rumoured to be preparing a line-up shuffle for Tuesday's game against France, and it's a doozy. In central midfield, it's out with Senna and in with Fabregas.

The 28-year-old Senna, of course, is Villareal's naturalized Brazilian defensive midfielder who has slowly become one of the best midfield generals in Europe. He is no slouch. He tackles efficiently, distributes the ball well and generally protects his back line well.

Aragones, though, seems to be betting that the French attack will be so anemic that the defense won't need Senna's protection (and in any case, Carlos Puyol proved in the Champions League final in May that he can handle Thierry Henry...although his ankle-biting routine might be likelier to draw some cards this time...). Instead, he's going for creativity and is looking to the 19-year-old Fabregas to provide it.

Now, there are a lot of teen prodigies out there. But most of them are strikers or wingers, positions where fresh legs can count for more than experience. What makes Fabregas special is that he does it from central midfield, the position of the fantasista. This position is the most important in football - the playmaker, the general or (if you're unlucky enough to have to follow the World Cup via ESPN) the "quarterback". There are very few teen prodigies playing in this position.

Fabregas hasn't made the same impact as his former Barcelona youth-teammate Leo Messi...yet. But watch him in action against the French. He is tireless. He is relentless. He gets into dangerous positions between opposing defences and midfields. He makes simple passes well, and he makes outrageously good passes more often than most.

He - not Messi - will be the next Zidane. And he has a chance to shine tomorrow.

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