Sep 17

When is a Diamond not a Diamond? – more formations lost in translation


erikdiamond When is a Diamond not a Diamond?   more formations lost in translationDefensive Midfielder, two Midfielders and an Attacking Midfielder. The diamond midfield. It won England a World Cup, it brought derision to Sven-Göran-Eriksson and, seemingly, it is the formation of choice of new Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. As we discussed in last week’s article, translating the word diamond is not an easy task.

The problem is that not every conception of the “diamond” fits neatly into the “DM, 2M, AM” category. To start with, there’s the “wide diamond” (DMC, ML, MR, AMC) versus the “narrow diamond” (DMC, MC, MC, AMC). What I am going to say here is that the following setups can also be diamonds. Geometry be damned – this is football.

  • DMC, ML, MR, AMC
  • DMC, MCl, MCr, AMC
  • DMC, MCl, MCc, MCr
  • DMC, AMCl, AMCc, AMCr
  • MCl, MCc, MCr, AMC
  • ML, MCc, MR, AMC

And there are many, many more. So, how can a “T” be seen as a “diamond”? As we discussed last week – instructions are more important than the pigeon hole positions. Well, allow me to take you on a whistle-stop tour of what the diamond is, what it does, and who has used it.

What a diamond does

england66 When is a Diamond not a Diamond?   more formations lost in translationA diamond midfield is constructed from four parts. A holding midfielder, who plays in a central position, dropping deepest. An attacking midfielder, who also plays centrally and pushes forward. And two carilleros, or “shuttlers” who move up and down on the sides and offer wide options. Usually, these shuttlers play somewhere in between (in terms of distance from goal) the holding midfielder and the attacking midfielder. This creates a diamond shape when you view the formation from overhead: hence the name.

Just such a formation won the World Cup 1966. Bruiser Nobby Stiles acted as the base of the diamond, protecting the defence and moving the ball to the forward midfielders. His Manchester United teammate Bobby Charlton played as the trequartista, the creative and technically gifted attacking midfielder (not that England at the time would ever use such a term). Finally Martin Peters and young (and sadly departed) Alan Ball completed the midfield line-up, pushing wide when necessary, but essentially adopting a position not too much further wide than Charlton and Stiles.

(The reason why Eriksson’s attempt didn’t work was probably down to trying to shoehorn the same player in to the system three times over. Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard all played best when given the freedom at the top of the diamond. And Beckham preferred to play very wide on the touchline. Diamonds may change shape in football, but they can’t have three heads and no base.)

These are the key roles – but in FM (as in real life), it does not always follow:

  1. That the shuttling players need to be in between the attacking midfielder and the defensive midfielder
  2. That the holding player has to play DMCc and the attacking player AMCc
  3. That the “diamond” has to be symmetrical

The diamond in practice – Milan versus London

Let me show you by looking at the current Chelsea team under Ancellotti and his 2005 Champions League runners up at AC Milan. If the diamond was noted in the classic way, it would look a little something like this:

ancdiamond When is a Diamond not a Diamond?   more formations lost in translationancdiamondmilan When is a Diamond not a Diamond?   more formations lost in translation

It makes sense to do that: just look at his Milan side on the right. We have Kaka as the creative attacking force; two central midfielders in Seedorf and Gattuso; and holding the fort is the regista or deep-lying playmaker Pirlo.

However, this translation isn’t entirely satisfactory. Or at least, it isn’t to me. First, Michael Essien or Mikel Jon Obi are very different DMCs to Pirlo. They may have some creative talent, but their primary role is as the anchor man, the big burly defensive midfielder whose job is to protect the defence and boss the midfield. Makélélé is a better choice of comparative. So, in this sense, the base of the diamond behaves very differently at Milan and Chelsea.

Second, Seedorf does not translate into a pacey wide player like Malouda. Seedorf was an excellent midfielder (winning the Champions League with three clubs: Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan – a record), and brilliantly creative. But I don’t think anyone would describe him (particularly in the last few years at Milan) as “pacey”. So, the left side of the diamond is again behaving differently.

Third: Gattuso. The man could pick a fight with a bear and win. I have my doubts about whether Ballack could do likewise. His role on the right of the diamond (if we can conceptualise it as such) was to win the ball – to be a fearsome central midfielder, and then give the ball to the more creative outlets in the team. In many ways, Gattuso was more key to the defence than the nominally deeper Pirlo, yet played higher up the pitch to protect him – giving him the deeper space needed to pick out the right passes. Once again, our right-sided shuttler at Milan are different beasts to those at Chelsea.

Tactically, however, we would still class that as a diamond. Pirlo is the base, playing in a defensive position. Kaka is the head (the ponta de lanca as his fellow Brazilians call it), the creative attacking player. And Seedorf and Gattuso provide a little bit of width, though one is clearly more attack-minded than the other.

ancdiamondasym When is a Diamond not a Diamond?   more formations lost in translationWe have the same problem of shape in the Chelsea line up. Florent Malouda works best as a wide player. He can use his pace and skills much like a classic winger – indeed, in the final days of Hiddink’s tenure, Malouda was almost playing as the wing of a forward three of Anelka-Drogba-Malouda, with Anelka and Malouda dropping a little deeper of the spearhead Drogba. It makes more sense to quote Malouda’s position (in FML terms) as an AML.

The other problem is Malouda’s fellow carillero, Ballack. Clearly, Ballack and Malouda are different players. Malouda will push wide and forward to create space and attacks. Ballack, on the other hand, relies on creative passing and determination from a much more central position. Therefore, there is a distinct “warping” of the diamond, with the width on the right-hand side coming from the powerful runs of the right full back.

So. Chelsea’s diamond is by no means a symmetrical diamond. But it has all the key factors. The holding player – Essien. The attacking player – Lampard. And the wider shuttlers – Malouda and Ballack. Even though we can quote it as DMCc, AML, AMCc, AMCr, because of the movement and the instructions of the players it is a diamond. Even if mathematicians might beg to differ.

Further, it could be inverted. With the system as quoted, it would be down to Bosingwa to power into the space down the right – if the manager puts Malouda on the right flank, and pushes Ballack left, however, suddenly it is Ashley Cole who can exploit the space. Such a system could catch opponents off guard of they weren’t paying sufficient attention.

If you want to try this out, have a little play with these settings.


DMC: Pirlo, deep-lying playmaker (support duty)
MCl: Seedorf, central midfielder (attack duty)
MCr: Gatusso, ball-winning midfielder (defend duty)
AMCc: Kaka, trequartista (or advance playmaker pre 1.3) (attack duty)


DMC: Essien/Mikel, defensive midfielfer (defend duty)
MCr: Ballack, central midfielder (support duty)
AML: Malouda, winger (attack duty)
AMCc: Lampard, attacking midfielder (attack duty)


DMC: Stiles, defensive midfielder (defend duty)
MCl: Peters, central midfielder (attack duty)
MCr: Ball, central midfielder (attack duty)
AMCc: Charlton, trequartista (or advance playmaker pre 1.3) (attack duty)

If you have any requests for articles you’d like to see covered at regarding tactics, leave a message on the comments board or send me an e-mail. Whether it’s about the game mechanics, real-life tactics (past or present), or just discussing some of the terms used in these articles, I’d be happy to go through anything!

Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.
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  • Gareth Millward

    In Argentina, the "shuttlers" on the side of the diamond are called 'carrileros':

    No idea what they're called in Spain! :-D

    Ponta de lanca is also a "spearhead", it's true, but again this is an Argentine and Brazillian term for the "head" of the diamond, such as Riquelme or Kaka. It developed in South America when the "inside forwards" in thr 2-3-5 were pulled back to what is now considered the "AMC" position.

    Same link, or J. Wilson 'Inverting the Pyramid', pp. 110, 111.

    I appreciate there are regional variants on such terms (like the word "centre half" meaning DC and MC at the same time depending on the situation), so I'm just going on the South American words I've found to describe the positions.

    Thank you for the Spanish lesson, though. Like they say, "you learn something new every day". I'll make sure to be more clear in my references in the future. 8-)

  • sie7e

    good article, but i have to make some corrections; a 'carrilero' in spain is a wing back, not malouda and ballack, a carrilero would be ashley cole for example. and punta de lança is a spearhead in portughese and punta de lanza in spanish, so, kaka is not a punta de lança! sorry for my awful english, now you can correct me! lol :-P

  • Mark Burton

    The Diamond (or in my case a 4-1-3-2) has been my preferred formation for most of the last 18 months in FML. I find it the most reliable and also themost flexible of formations to use, it's important to work it based on the strengths of the players in the squad - and primarily the ability of the DM.
    But in doing so i have at times played it as 2-6-2, 2-7-1, 5-3-2, etc - in other words by adjusting the roles of the individuals you can get it to play in a large manner of different ways - both attacking and defensive. As such it's a very good foil to conceal your true shape from the opposition manager.

    Good article Millie.

  • Daniel

    nice article Carletto... :)

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