Playmakers can often be overlooked by the sometimes more glamorous play of the goal scorers, but we've highlighted five must-see setup men in this World Cup.
With most of the attention and glory of the FIFA World Cup going to the goal scorers, it’s easy to overlook the men behind the scenes making it all happen. The perfectly weighted pass, a defense-splitting ball, a flawlessly timed one-two – these, too, are a vital part of the beautiful game.
Fortunately, this FIFA World Cup features some of the most talented ‘orchestrators’ to ever step on the pitch, and here are the ones you need to watch:
Hailing from Malaga, Spain, Francisco “Isco” Alarcón’s first club was part of Los Che, where he ascended through the system. He made his debut with the first team in 2009. Despite appearing just six times with Isco’s top squad, he was then quickly signed by his home club of Malaga and dubbed one of Spain’s next stars.
The return to Malaga lasted just two seasons for Isco as he appeared in 69 matches for the club. He was then snatched up by Real Madrid, perhaps the premier club in La Liga.
Isco has been the absolute focus point and rising star of both his club Real Madrid and the Spain national team alike. He made headlines earlier this season after completing each of his 130 attempted passes (over four games) in La Liga and Champions League, an unusual 100-percent success rate. But beyond his vision and precision, Isco can also score goals. He is the first Spanish player in history to score three goals against a World Cup-winning nation (Argentina).
KEVIN DE BRUYNE (BELGIUM)
Since his time as a youth player, Kevin De Bruyne’s competitive spirit and determination have always been evident.
According to an article written by The Guardian’s Kristof Terreur, as an 8-year-old De Bruyne told his coach at VV Drongen that he was transferring to Gent because their training sessions were better. At age 11, he told his mother that when he turned 18 he would be fully focused on football and finished with school.
And after moving across Belgium to Genk at 14, he was kicked out of his house by his host family who reported character issues.
De Bruyne continuously has battled the reputation of being a tough customer, yet one of his early youth coaches, Frank De Leyn, believes that De Bruyne’s stubbornness “has made him the player he is now.”
Since the eviction in Genk, De Bruyne has also tried to reform his reputation, stating, “People were saying that I wasn’t going to make it because of my poor character. I told myself at this point: ‘let’s see who has the last word.’ ”
The concerted effort from De Bruyne worked. He moved on to star on Belgium’s Under-21 side, making his debut at 17, and by 2013, he had signed with Chelsea in the English Premier League.
Despite having lost out to Egypt’s Mohamed Salah for the Premier League’s Player of the Year, De Bruyne has shown himself to be a once-in-a generation talent time and time again. The Manchester City midfielder led his team to the Premier League trophy and in the process racked up 8 goals and 16 assists in 37 appearances, numbers worthy of “best playmaker in the world?” debate.
LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)
Burdened both by his small stature and a growth hormone deficiency as a child in Argentina, Messi has emerged as not only one of the top superstars in contemporary soccer, but also in the history of the game. Though also one of the top goal scorers in the world, Messi’s abilities are not limited to simply depositing the ball into the goal.
Lionel Messi is a jack-of-all-trades. His featured talents include being not only a goal scorer with an impeccable record but also an excellent playmaker. If there is a space, the little Argentinian will find it. His numbers speak for themselves, as he currently holds the record for most assists in the history of La Liga with an incredible 149. His dribbling is excellent as is his vision and passing technique, making him truly a terrifying playmaker for the opposition.
PAUL POGBA (FRANCE)
Paul Pogba’s upbringing occurred in the suburbs of Paris where his family’s humble means meant that he had to share a bed with two of his brothers and two of his cousins.
His father, who emigrated from Guinea, briefly played professional football in his native country, and turned Paul and his brothers onto the game as youngsters. The trio began playing for their local club of US Roissy, a team that Pogba played for from the ages of six to 13.
Paul then moved on to Le Harve and eventually earned a spot in Manchester United’s training academy as well as with their top team.
Now one of the globe’s top talents, Pogba still looks back on his early years with nostalgia.
“We were sleeping three, four, five people in one bed,” Pogba said in a MailOnline article. “But it was the best time, because we were all together, so it was very good.”
Pogba is a midfielder worth his weight in gold, just ask Manchester United which paid a club-record $120 million to bring him over from Juventus.
The French midfielder can usually be seen making box-to-box runs with the ball glued at his feet, dribbling past opponents in a surprisingly elegant fashion for a man of his 6-foot-2 stature. He thrives in small spaces and seems to rarely misplace a pass under pressure, making him one of must-see talents in this World Cup.
JAMES RODRIGUEZ (COLOMBIA)
Naturally gifted from a young age, Rodriquez’s big break in the soccer world came at the 2004 Pony Futbol Championship in Columbia. Named player of the tournament, he was scouted by one of Pablo Escobar’s associates and signed to Envigado – a prominent club in Columbia.
Rodriquez’s performance with Envigado earned him a subsequent contract in Argentina, setting the stage for a career that has already been wildly successful but is also just starting to take shape.
Rodriquez became a household name after a World Cup for the books in Brazil 2014 and has not slowed down since. The Colombian is known for his trademark flair on the ball and can play nearly any attacking position on the field, but thrives as a playmaker. In his first season with Bayern Munich, Rodriquez racked up seven goals, 11 assists and 90 percent pass accuracy in 19 appearances, winning the domestic league trophy in the process. James is a dream player for any team and the full playmaker package: two-footed, outstanding vision, a powerful shot, precise passing, good ball control and excellent at free kicks.