The Claude Makelele role - A fond farewell to the former defensive midfield star of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain

A much-storied career drew to an end on Sunday evening when the man with a position named after him finally hung up his boots
COMMENT
By Robin Bairner

There is little glamorous about the anchoring midfield position; there are few opportunities to snatch the headlines by scoring, and chances to really catch the eye by making a despairing last-minute challenge are also infrequent. Indeed, it’s regarded as the only role where its best exponents are most noticed when they are not there.

Claude Makelele has, however, become synonymous with this position, and Sunday marked his final senior appearance as Paris Saint-Germain picked up a 1-1 draw with Saint-Etienne.

In each of his previous two seasons at the Parc des Princes, Makelele had threatened retirement only to perform a u-turn, but his outing at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard marked his final professional appearance.

For nearly 20 years, Makelele could be found at the top level of the game, starting off with a strong Nantes side and never since ducking out of the spotlight. After cutting his teeth with les Canaris, where he would score more than half his career league goals as a dynamic midfielder unrecognisable to his future self, a year in Marseille provided the foundation for a move to Spain.

Celta Vigo was his first port of call, but it was his transfer to Real Madrid, where he was a key component of the team that won the 2001-02 Champions League, that really represented the midfielder’s ascent to a world class level.

When the Roman Abramovich revolution transformed Chelsea, Makelele was one of the first players acquired, arriving with a reputation of now being a tenacious midfield battler. His status in England would become iconic, and it is now commonplace to hear of deep-lying midfielders playing ‘the Makelele role’, even if the definition of this is somewhat blurry.

As the Blues hit the height of their form under Jose Mourinho, it was the Frenchman who was quietly providing the glue in their midfield, going about his business in an energetic fashion yet only rarely catching the spotlight. In 213 appearances for the English club, he would score just two goals, and by the time the London outfit reached the Champions League final in 2008 under Avram Grant, his influence at Stamford Bridge had started to wane.
 
Aged 34, he took the opportunity to return to France with Paris Saint-Germain, the city where he moved from Zaire as a four-year-old. Even at such a late stage in his career, he was able to exert a terrific influence on the capital side, using his experience and intelligence to make up for any physical deficiencies.

PSG, like the other clubs the midfielder joined, enjoyed something of a renaissance, the culmination of which would arrive on Sunday if they were able to overhaul Lyon’s two-point advantage, to claim a spot on Le Championnat’s podium and subsequently reach the Champions League.

CLAUDE MAKELELE | Club-by-club league record

Club Years
Games Goals
 Nantes
92-97
169
9
Marseille
97-98
32
2
 Celta Vigo
98-2000
70 3
Real Madrid
2000-03
94 1
 Chelsea
03-08
143 2
 PSG
08-11
98 1
Total
1992-2011 606
18

With Qatari investors ready to buy the Parc des Princes club, there is a new era on the horizon for les Rouge et Bleu, but there can be little doubt that an important chapter in the French game as a whole will be brought to a close when Makelele finally hangs up his boots on Sunday.

In some ways, the Kinshasa-born player was unlucky to be born in an era of greatness in France, missing out on the victorious World Cup squad of 1998 and the equally successful European Championship side of 2000 due to the presence of the great Didier Deschamps. That he accrued over 70-caps during a 12-year long stint with les Bleus during which they were regarded as one of the world’s elite teams was in itself testament to his abilities.

Makelele is not a player who will be remembered for any symbolic moments in the game, but he has instead made his mark in history by attaching his name to a position now considered vital in the modern era.

Though his efforts on Sunday evening were not sufficient to earn PSG a place in the Champions League next season - Lyon took that honour - Makelele has managed to re-establish PSG as one of France's great clubs; an achievement he will take as much pride in as any other.

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