What is a ‘Mezzala’ and why is it only a thing on Football Manager?

Photograph and copyright owned by Sports Interactive. © Sports Interactive Limited 2020

There are many roles or positions in football, some of which are more common than others. Aswell as this, there are some roles that people are less familiar with, or that are only commonly known in games such as Sports Interactive’s ‘Football Manager’, such as the Mezzala, a midfield role that is very common in real life, but is hardly ever spoken about. The mezzala is a role very popular on Football Manager, and here is why:
(disclaimer: the purple player on the tactics boards is on the blue side and the purple is only used to highlight the player)

A Mezzala, or “mezz’ala” literally translated from Italian, is a ‘half winger’, but what does that mean exactly? 

Let’s start out with the origins of the role, which I have traced back to an Italian midfielder called Sandro Mazzola (I don’t *think* the name is anything to do with him) who played for Inter and Italy in the 60s and 70s to great success, winning four Serie A titles with I Nerazzurri, and featuring in the Italy side who won the European Championship in 1968. In his early career, Mazzola famously played in the Mezzala role, and from what I can see is the first player to play the role to great success. In his early career Sandro played the mezzala in this Inter team:

This Inter side dominated Serie A in the 60s, with one of the best uses of the Cattenacio in its history, whilst also utilising fluid attacking positions.

In that tactic you will see, in basic terms, what the mezzala is, a midfield player who pushes further forwards and to the left or right wing, usually to create positional overloads. One common use is to have them make overlapping runs beyond a winger or even a full back at some points, to make crosses for example. Here is how that may work in the modern game:

Purple player again on the blue team.
In the first image here, you can see our mezzala in purple, lurking slightly wide to the edge of the box, although he isn’t *that* high up, he is still operating wider than you may anticipate.

After that, the ball goes forwards and so does the mezzala, getting into a position where he can prepare to make a penetrative run behind the defence if/when possible.

Then, the ball is pushed wider in an effort to score the archetypal ‘Tiki-Taka’ goal, where the actual goal is easy, but it is engineered very well to get to the situation of a tap in, where the mezzala is crucial.

Here you can see even more of the ball being forced wider, and is now in a position to receive the ball to receive the ball wider, and stretch the defence.

Now the mezzala has done what he does best, overlapping and receiving the ball, ready to square the ball to a striker, after the easy chance has been engineered!

This is the main feature of a mezzala’s game, although modern players such as Kevin De Bruyne at City have played the role to an exceptional level more recently.
KDB has his own slight adaptation on the role in which he sits very wide, but also suprisingly deep in certain situations, in order to cross the ball.

“Kevin de Bruyne free kick (Otamendi goal)” by five til noon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In these scenarios you can see De Bruyne’s positioning is very wide and deep as I said, but you can also see a clear issue with the role if you look. The issue is that it relies on players buzzing around and constantly making runs, and getting into positions where the player can pass to them.
If this does not happen then it’s very tricky for mezzalas to function properly and get the assists and goals that they so reliably get, in the correct system of course.

“File:Greens give it their best against Belgium 03.jpg”by Magharebia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

At the start of this article, I mentioned heavily that many people know the role from Football Manager, and that it’s very popular on the game. CJ Ramson, QA Lead on the game who worked closely with the role sums it up as “a central midfielder that plays in the half space between the central areas and the wing. Typically they need to be technical quality along with good off the ball to exploit these spaces. Can often be paired well with an Inside Forward or Inverted Winger to create overloads on the wing. It’s a role that’s used fairly often in real life with Kevin De Bruyne being one of the prime examples of central players who operate in the wide spaces, either crossing from deep or over/underlapping towards the byline.” a great insight into how the role works on the game and in real life. In Football Manager, the role is best used either right or left as a midfield 3, and in the ‘instructions’ section, the role is said to “Get further forwards, stay wider, move into channels, roam from position and take more risks (if more attacking)” and on the game, some attributes that will help a mezzala are ‘passing’, ‘dribbling’, ‘decisions’ and ‘first touch’.

I believe Football Manager and the way the game works makes it easier to understand, so if you still have any questions about the role, I would suggest you go into the game and try the role out for yourself! I hope this article has helped you understand the role and has avoided some future confusion for you!

Published by Tom Caldwell

Denton Town FC social media manager, writer for CFB, Manchester City season ticket holder!

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