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Claude Makelele

Born 18th Febuary 1973, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Current Club: Chelsea

Previous Clubs: Nantes, Marseille, Celta Vigo, Real Madrid

Position: Defensive Midfielder

Claude Makelele is one of those players you don't notice unless he's not on the pitch. He's not a hugely famous player - he doesn't score much, nor does he make dramatic last-ditch tackles - but he is certainly world class. Most of his success came during a 3-year spell with Real Madrid, where he provided a solid foundation for the magic of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul and Ronaldo. Indeed, Zidane, Raul and Figo all described the Frenchman as being an indespensible member of the Madrid squad. Unfortunately, the Madridistas value flashy play and goal-scoring above a solid defense - the club actively pursue a policy of signing "the best footballer in the world" every summer, usually a striker or other attacking player who can do impressive tricks with the ball - and so Makalele's wages were only a fraction of what the so-called galacticos were earning. At 30 years old, Makelele needed to be earning more, to provide for his future off the playing pitch, but despite the praise his team-mates lavished on him, the club refused to break their wage structure, and so eventually sold the Frenchman to newly enriched Chelsea for some £STG16 million.

Claude was born in Kinshasa in what was then Zaire, in 1973. At the age of four, he left Zaire for France, to the town of Epinay-sous-Sénart. When he was 10, he started playing football as a centre-forward, and when his family moved to Savigny-le-Temple, he joined the French national cadet team at Melun, where he first met future fellow French international Lillian Thuram. After two years in Melun, he was signed by Brest - his parents allowed him to join on condition that he keep up his schoolwork. There, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of David Ginola and Bernard Lama, and also gained a certificate in accountancy. Soon afterwards, though, Brest went into liquidation, and so the young Claude moved on. On the advice of his father, who had scouted around several training centres, Claude joined Nantes, where he signed his first professional contract in 1991.

His first taste of major success came in the 1994-95 season, when he helped Nantes to their seventh League title, and to the semi-final of the Champions' League the following season - when they also managed a respectable 3rd in the French League. But, despite enjoying his time at Nantes and learning much, Claude decided that it was time for him to move on, and so in 1997, he moved to Olympique Marseille. He was unhappy there, though, where he was played in a position that didn't suit him - hence, he wasn't part of the French 1998 World Cup winning squad, and in 1998, he moved to unfashionable Spanish side Celta Vigo.

Although Celta Vigo were not internationally very popular or successful, they were a well-respected side in their native land, and the addition of Makelele to their already quite cosmopolitan side - which included internationals from Russia, Israel and Brazil - moved them to greater success. In Claude's first season there, the team reached the quarter-final of the UEFA cup (where they ironically lost to Marseille), and finished fifth in La Liga. The following season they climbed to fourth in La Liga, and all of Europe was talking about Claude Makelele, with the likes of Juventus, Parma and Real Madrid looking to sign him, as well as other top clubs from England and Spain. In the end, Claude decided to stay in Spain, where he had played his best football, and signed for Real Madrid.

Despite being overshadowed by that summer's signing of Luis Figo from Barcelona, and the summer 2001 signing of Zinedine Zidane, Makelele improved with Real, winning two Spanish League titles and the Champions' League during his time in Madrid. But he wasn't getting any younger, and tried to leverage his importance to the team in order to boost his wages. His attempt failed, however, although Madrid wanted to keep Makelele, depite his unhappiness with the club. When Chelsea initially approached Madrid in the summer of 2003, their attempts to sign Makelele were rebuffed; but when the player launched an unofficial strike in protest, Madrid eventually caved in, and let Makelele leave for London that August, for some £16million sterling. Although he was at first kept out of the starting 11 by the startling form of his fellow Frenchman Emmanuel Petit, Makelele soon got his chance due to injury, struck up a perfect partnership with English international Frank Lampard.

In the 2004-05 Premiership season, Makelele was practically ever-present for Chelsea, adapting well to new manager José Mourinho's 4-3-3 formation, and winning the praise of all his team mates for his tireless work in the role Eric Cantona once described as "the water carrier".

As Chelsea raced to the Premiership title - their first in 50 years - breaking records for number of points accumulated, number of goals conceded, and number of clean sheets, it was clear that Claude was a vital component in the team; and, as Madrid finished an unheard-of second season without silverware, it was also clear that Claude had been vital, though under-appreciated, to Real. Madrid's season picked up slightly after Christmas 2004, when they signed Danish midfielder Thomas Gravesen to fill Makelele's old position - a position in which David Beckham had been playing (!) - but they still couldn't catch a rampant Barcelona side.

During summer 2005, José Mourinho and Chelsea regretfully let talented young English midfielder Scott Parker leave the club; Mourinho always saw Parker as a holding midfielder, and admitted that there was no way Parker was going to displace Makelele in his side. Chelsea are happy with Claude, and Claude seems happy at Chelsea, where he is just as lauded as his more spectacular colleagues; it seems almost certain that he will spend the rest of his career in London.

Sources:

  • http://www.claude-makelele.com
    Slightly out of date, but provides a good biography of the player in English, French and Spanish.
  • http://www.chelseafc.com
    Obviously, a more up-to-date biography is available here.

A submission for caknuck's Athletes and Sports Figures quest

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