Football is a global sport, and each nation has its own way of describing the beautiful game. Whether it's the Spanish dribbling skill La Pausa, meaning "the pause", or the Italian defensive system Catenaccio, which translates roughly as "the chain", a number of terms from across the globe have worked their way into the footballing lexicon over the years.
One word that you may have come across while absorbing knowledge about the world of football is "trequartista". Referring to a specific position on the soccer field and drawing associations with a raft of iconic players, this word has become increasingly well known in recent years among avid players of Football Manager. But what exactly does this position in football encompass?
In this article, we'll explain what it means to be a trequartista, detailing the key responsibilities and skills required, and digging into the origins of the term. We'll also give you a few examples of high-profile players that fit this mold, and spend some time exploring how to line up against a trequartista. By the time we're finished, you'll have a strong understanding of what it means to play in this position.
Trequartistas are creative, goal-minded players who primarily operate in the spaces between midfield and attack.
A classic trequartista operates behind the front line, linking fluidly with forwards, wide midfielders and runners from deep to create and score chances. Primarily, they'll occupy central areas of the pitch, in a role that's similar to what English football fans would label the "number 10" position.
According to Italian coach Roberto Mancini, a Premier League winner with Manchester City and a European Championship victor with Italy, “The magic of the number ten comes from the trequartista’s feet; the player of inventiveness, the one who is capable of wrong-footing everyone with a piece of skill perhaps even he is not fully aware of.”
This concise description of the trequartista role captures something at the heart of this concept: this player will almost always be the offensive heartbeat of their team. Not every attacking midfielder is a trequartista, given that trequartistas will tend to play closer to the striker than an archetypal playmaker, and offer more of a goal threat than a classic number 10. But every trequartista is a special player.
Trequartistas in football are neither out-and-out strikers nor deeper-lying playmakers — they're somewhere in the middle, providing crucial support to the main striker while also chipping in with goals and assists of their own. We'll flesh out the exact responsibilities and key traits of this role in more detail shortly, but first, let's spend some time digging into the origins of this term.
You may have already guessed that this term derives from Italy, a nation that has produced some unbelievably talented players, coaches, and strategists over the years. But what exactly does it mean?
The word "Trequartista" literally translates to 'three quarters' from Italian. This name is an accurate description of the zones occupied by this player, with the best trequartistas tending to operate around three quarters of the way up the pitch, in positions between the central midfielders and strikers.
It's unclear exactly when this term first started being used in Italy, but it's broken into modern footballing consciousness as a result of Football Manager, and is one of many Italian terms that have taken root outside the borders of the southern European nation. There's catenaccio, a complex sweeper-based defensive setup, and mezzala, a term used to describe dynamic, attack-minded "number 8" midfielders like Kevin De Bruyne.
The trequartista can be deployed in a number of ways, and in various different formations. The 4-3-1-2 shape, a popular formation in Italy used by coaches like Cesare Prandelli and Carlo Ancelotti, would feature at least one attacking playmaker in the #10 role, and possibly more (there doesn't always have to be just one trequartista in a team). This role could also be featured within a 4-4-1-1 shape, with the number 10 behind the striker offering fluid movement and creative sparks at the top end of the pitch. Ultimately, the precise role of the trequartista is down to the manager.
One thing to note here is that the trequartista, unlike almost every other player on the pitch, is rarely expected to contribute much in terms of defensive work. Their primary focus is contributing towards potent attacking play, making runs into the final third and combining with forwards and midfielders to hurt the opposition.
Technical proficiency is absolutely key here; the best trequartistas are generally the most technically gifted players on the team, with excellent ball control skills, supreme confidence when it comes to receiving and dribbling with the ball, a varied passing range, and superb ball striking skills. They also need to have a strong creative vision, always looking a couple of steps ahead to see where they might be able to play in a teammate or find space in a dangerous area. They'll be agile, and crucially, they'll have an eye for goal — trequartistas need to be able to get on the scoresheet.
Clearly then, it's a demanding role, and it's one that can vary from game to game based on each individual manager's plans. It's also impacted profoundly by how the opposition attempt to nullify you. For example, over time, defences have learned how to cope with this kind of player, adapting their shape to reduce the threat, whether that be employing a harder man-to-man press or dropping off into an impenetrable low block.
As pressing has become increasingly important to modern football, spurred on by the successes of the German philosophy of gegenpressing, it has also got more and more difficult to ignore the fact that a classic #10 doesn't really offer much in terms of defence. Therefore, many coaches who favour a pressing-centric tactical system have left the trequartista role behind, instead aiming to generate creativity from wide midfielders or inside forwards. There's less space for this kind of player, who is sometimes seen as a luxury. However, that doesn't mean the trequartista is dead and buried. There are some incredible modern players who fit within this bracket, and they're following in the footsteps of giants. To show you just how rich the heritage of this role is, let's take a look through some of the best trequartistas in football history.
Legendary Argentina forward Diego Maradona is a classic example of a trequartista, someone who regularly dropped into midfield to pick up the ball and spark attacks, but equally someone who would occupy advanced positions and contribute a huge amount in terms of goals and assists, not to mention individual pieces of skill and magic. The simple fact that an extremely popular dribbling skill has been named after him is a pretty strong testament to Maradona's abilities — check out our article on The Maradona Turn for more information on that.
Francesco Totti is the definition of a one club man. In a remarkable 24-year career with Roma that ran from 1993 to 2017, the Italian international racked up over 600 appearances and 250 goals, and that extremely impressive scoring return is a reflection of the role he played within the team. A typical trequarstita (and an Italian icon at that), Totti skipped between midfield and attack, sparking intricate passing moves and causing huge problems for defenders and midfielders attempting to mark him. For Italy's national team, he facilitated overlaps with players like Maldini and Zambrotta, and combined clever with attackers like Inzaghi, helping Italy win the 2006 World Cup in a fascinating final against a France side led by Zinedine Zidane.
Dutch footballing legend Johan Cruyff, who helped pioneer the game-changing fluid positional philosophy of Total Football at Ajax and Barcelona, played in various different positions, and is arguably known best as a wide left forward given tons of freedom to roam inwards. However, he's also someone who can be associated with the trequartista role, given his penchant for drifting between midfield and attack and causing havoc in the half-spaces.
And finally, we're left with arguably the greatest player of all time, World Cup-winning Barcelona and Argentina legend Lionel Messi. Throughout his Barca career, Messi regularly acted as Barcelona’s trequartista, dropping deep to receive the ball and linking with more advanced teammates like David Villa and Pedro. Messi's played in a few slightly different positions for club and country, but he can certainly be given the title of trequartista.
Over the years, teams have got better at defending against trequartistas. The fact that the number 10 is often given lots of responsibility and pressure to create means that if they're stifled, a team's attacking potency can take a real hit. Managers sometimes opt to silence a trequartista by making a strong, positionally astute defensive player man-mark them, refusing to allow them space and preventing them from finding the passing lanes they're looking for. A zonal marking system can also be used to mark the space that the trequartista seeks to exploit.
Combine that with the ever-growing importance of pressing, and you've got a situation in which the trequartista position has become less present within elite football. However, don't think that the trequartista is dead and buried; in a few years' time, we could see pressing take a back seat and the luxury goal-minded attacking midfielder gain centre stage once more.
If you'd like to find out more about how cleverly designed defensive systems can be used to keep world-class attackers at bay, take a look at our guide to the low block, a set-up which continues to cause huge problems for some of the best coaches in the world. Or for a more basic explainer piece on one of the most fundamental defensive skills there is, check out our article on shielding in soccer.
The trequartista is just one example of Italy's contribution to modern football tactics; over the years, the nation's coaches have developed the catenaccio system of defensive sweeping, helped pioneer the use of a back three, and introduced numerous different formations to the world.
Catenaccio is a defensive system devised in Italy that combines man-marking with sweeping. It hinges on dropping a central midfielder back into a deeper-lying defensive position to mop up behind the rest of the back line and launch attacking moves.
Using four defenders, a double pivot at the base of midfield, three attacking midfielders and a lone striker, the 4-2-3-1 formation provides great balance across the pitch, and is one of the most popular shapes in the world.