Only last week Fenerbahce’s Brazilian playmaker Alex gave a fascinating insight into the modern game and the difficulty his fellow ball players face in making room for themselves amid the tireless runners and tacklers currently populating midfield areas. “It’s hard for playmakers to come through now, and you don’t see coaches prepared to play them that much,” he lamented.

One man who knows where Alex is coming from is Marcelo Gallardo, an exponent of the same endangered art as the gifted Brazilian. Richly talented, vastly experienced and blessed with a gift for pinpoint passing, the 35-year-old Argentinian has just recovered from a serious knee injury and is now bringing his quality to bear for Nacional of Montevideo.

Players run more but play less. They even measure how far they run now, as if there was something good about it.

Gallardo on the cult of runners in football

“It’s true, people are more bothered about not conceding goals these days than building an attacking approach around a classic playmaker,” he tells from his Uruguay retreat. “Football’s changed but not for the better. Players run more but play less. They even measure how far they run now, as if there was something good about it.”

Nicknamed El Muñeco (The Doll), Gallardo knows what he is talking about, having amassed a glittering collection of international and domestic trophies in running out for Argentina, River Plate and Monaco, to name just some of the teams he has graced.

“Football should be about giving the ball to a team-mate to create chances, and that should never change,” he says. “Thank God for Barcelona. They’ve shown that football is still football and that when you bring talented players together, amazing things can happen. I love watching them.”

The question is, now that he is coming to end of his career, how does he manage to keep on shining? “Well, you have to understand that you can’t run as much as you did when you were 20,” he replies. “You have to know which facets of your game you need to improve to get an edge. To my mind, you have to run less but run better. Everyone can run, but very few can play.”

A Brazilian haven
In recent years many a creative Argentinian midfielder has moved to Brazil to ply their trade, a somewhat unusual trend that Gallardo nevertheless sees as entirely logical: “It hasn’t really surprised me that much. Argentina has always produced good playmakers, and the Brazilian market has opened up in financial terms. That’s why so many local players are going back their after making it in Europe.

“[Dario] Conca and [Walter] Montillo are two good examples,” he continues. “They came on a lot, hit their peak in Chile and ended up in Brazil, where they obviously found their place in the world.”

So what is Gallardo’s place then? “I’ve been lucky enough to live in different countries like France and the USA, where I played MLS, and I’ve adapted well to different cultures,” comes the reply. “It’s a gift to be able make the most of everything football has to offer. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m very happy in Uruguay right now. I’m living a very relaxed life and the football’s really competitive. All I want to do is help Nacional and give something back for everything they gave me when I was injured, which was a difficult time.”

Retirement plans
Eighteen years a professional and with two FIFA World Cup™ finals and a string of injuries behind him, Gallardo is understandably contemplating his retirement from the game. “I’m not going to deny it and I know that I’m coming to the end of my career,” he acknowledges. “My contract expires in June and then we’ll see what happens. At the moment I still feel like training and being with the team at get-togethers, and I enjoy that adrenalin rush before each game. That hasn’t changed in the last ten years, though I take each day as it comes.”

And unlike many of his colleagues, the future holds no fears for Gallardo: “I’ve been preparing for this for years and I’ve even spoken to a few pros about it. It’s a natural process and I’m relaxed about it. Everything comes to an end so that something else can start. I’m going to stay in football, most probably as a coach, and I’ve still got a lot to achieve in life.”

Whatever it is he chooses to do, Gallardo is sure to have as many options open to him as he has always had with the ball at his feet.