Just as an excuse to write and/or show off and/or be shamelessly indulgent, today we’re writing about a cool terms in soccer. These aren’t technical terms or anything devoted to rules, but more about tactics and tactical roles.

A fantasista is a creative attacking player, either a striker or a central attacking midfielder. This is the kind of player you build your team around. In fact, you have to, because a fantasista is mostly useless otherwise. The fantasista brings ‘fantasy’ to the game, but with the fantasy usually comes a certain unpredictability and even unreliability. A coach must build the team around the fact the fantasista will tend to wander around and do whatever they feel like and will almost never defend. The rest of the team, ironically, must be very disciplined to account for the fantasista’s undisciplined nature. That’s why you don’t tend to see them on the wing, because they’ll wander into the middle and leave that side of the field exposed (Zidane did ostensibly play on the left for Real Madrid at times, but that was when their left full back was the incomparable Roberto Carlos, who could motor up and down the left side of the field at speed for the entire game and generally play the role of left fullback and left midfielder to account for the fact that Zidane would never stay where a left midfielder is generally supposed to stay). These days, you’ll tend to either see a fantasista playing as a ‘second striker’ with a free role behind the main striker or as a ‘false nine’ – playing as the primary striker, but with freedom to drop deep or go wide and not, as a number nine (the traditional number of a team’s primary striker) usually does lurking near the goal (Francesco Totti and Lionel Messi are protptypical of the latter kind of fantasistas). The reason for this positioning is that their tactical freedom generally requires the coach to put two disciplined central midfielders behind to both do the dirty work the fantasista won’t and to plug to holes in their own formation left by the teammate’s wanderings. For example, if a fantasista decided to drop deep into the midfield for a while, then another player would actually need to move higher up the field to bridge the space between the midfield and the striker or even (if the the fantasista is playing as ‘false nine’ without another central striker) move temporarily into the striker role.

Trivote refers to playing three in central midfield, but also to the kind of roles those players perform. A 4-3-3, 4-5-1, and a 4-2-3-1 all, after a fashion, have three central midfielders, but a trivote really refers to when all of the three have significant defensive responsibilities. In a 4-2-3-1, the central player in the ‘3’ generally does not drop too far into the midfield to help out in a attack. As part of a trivote, one player may have more attacking and less defensive responsibilities, but all are expected to pitch in regularly.

The word literally means ‘three quarter-er.’ If you divided the field into four parts, the trequartista lurks in the third of those parts, just behind where the striker(s) would play. The player is similar to a fantasista (and most of the best trequartistas would also be considered fantasistas) in that role is a central one behind one or two strikers. This is the classic ‘number ten’ role of the main engine of the attack. The player rarely helps much in defense, so also needs a couple of more defensive minded players behind him or her to compensate. What this means is that a trequartista is generally only seen when a team plays with a single central striker (which allows for a two man central midfield behind the player) or with two strikers in a 4-3-1-2. The 4-3-1-2 works with a trequartista linking the three central midfielders to the attack. Of the three, one plays in a deep role and the other two operate as ‘shuttlers’ and are expected to be very tactically aware, with a responsibility to help out in defense, to move wide (especially if the full back attacks, to make sure opposing players can’t exploit the space behind the fullback), to attack, and generally plug any tactical hole on their side of the field.

The modern regista, a position which has been coming back into fashion lately, evolved from the sweeper role as envisioned by the great Franz Beckenbauer. Essentially, this player is a deep lying playmaker. They generally sit fairly deep and are responsible for helping keep possession and launch attacks from their own half of the field, with the most important attributes being a certain coolness and calmness in possession and the ability to hit accurate long balls. The regista has defensive responsibilities, but how those are interpreted varies. Sometimes a regista takes on responsibilities like man marking and tackling (Xabi Alonso or Bastian Schweinsteiger, for example); others won’t tackle much, but will use their understanding to make interceptions, but see their main role as helping keep possession and ping accurate passes around the field from deep positions (Andrea Pirlo or even late career Paul Scholes can be seen as this variety); finally, some registas don’t offer much traditional defense, but are experts at keeping hold of the ball and provide defense support simply by making it harder for the opposition to get a hold of the ball, with this type generally playing higher up the field, closer to the center circle (Xavi Hernandez is the quintessential example of this kind).

Less Cool Soccer Terms – Holding & Defensive Midfielders
This is case where a very real argument could be made that I am making a wholly pointless and artificial distinction. Nevertheless, I do see that distinction being made, so will attempt to explain it as I see it. Both are intended to provide cover in front of the defense, but a player dispatched to play a holding role is less likely to see that role as one handing out crunching tackles than of intercepting the ball and playmaking from deep (the best holding midfielders would also be classified as registas, depending on their range of passing and importance to the team’s attack). Someone tasked with being a defensive midfielder is less likely to jump start the attack, except in the most basic sense of passing it to someone who will launch an attack, and more likely to see their role much more in terms of disrupting opposition play than building up their own team’s play. Holding players still tackle and defensive players can still launch longer balls into attack, but not so much as their counterpart. Sir Alex Ferguson, coach of Manchester United, has tended to view his central midfield pairing differently – ‘passers’ and ‘runners’ is how it is often described. Instead of looking at how they view their defensive responsibilities, it is more about their movement. ‘Runners’ run up and down the field, both joining the attack and helping in defense. This player will be more likely to deliver tackles and proactively try to disrupt the opposition, but will do it more by chasing. And rather than making long, hail mary passes downfield, are more likely to run with the ball into the attack. A ‘passer’ is more passive, both providing good passes, both long and short, and moving more deliberately to either place themselves in opposition passing lanes to intercept the other team’s passes or to place themselves in a position to be safety valve for their teammates – someone they can easily find and easily pass the ball to if they find themselves under pressure and are in danger of losing possession.

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