The anchor man. The glue that holds it all together. These are just two ways of describing a defensive midfielder.
It's a position which is often underappreciated because it's not exactly the most glamourous role, but if you look back in history, you'll notice that most of the GOAT teams have an elite defensive midfielder.
If you're going to be successful in Football Manager 2021, you're going to need a reliable option at the base of your midfield, so here are some options for you to consider, regardless of your budget.
He might be 36 years old, but Mascherano is still good enough to make an impact for any mid-table top-tier side. He won't break the bank, but he also probably won't make it past one season. A great stop gap.
The ideal deep-lying playmaker, Veloso brings some fantastic passing and vision statistics, and despite being 34, still comes with the kind of stamina needed to make a consistent impact.
Former AC Milan and Lazio midfielder Biglia is another elite passer of the ball, but he also brings some fantastic tackling stats. If there's one downside, it's his age, but at least he's not going to cost you too much.
If you're operating with a very small budget, Ozdoev has to be the man for you. You can pick him up for a little over his asking price, but what sets him apart from the rest is he's only 27 years old.
Carioca has spent most of his career in Brazil, but he's more than good enough to hang in Europe. Don't expect him to turn you into a title contender, but he's a steady option at an affordable price.
If you've got a little bit of wiggleroom in your budget, Barrios has to be the man for you. He's an outstanding player who could start for most top-flight sides and offer reliable cover for a genuine contender, but he comes with a bargain price tag. For the kind of money you'll spend, he's clear of the rest.
Jonathan dos Santos
If you don't need someone to put in a shift defensively, look to pick up Dos Santos. His youth career with Barcelona has made him a brilliant passer, but you'll probably want to pair him with someone a little more reliable at the back.
Because he's 34 years old, Oier can be snapped up for a six-figure sum, and his experience as a centre-back makes him the ideal anchor man for any side.
For a slightly bigger side, Bender is an elite option at an affordable price if you take advantage of his expiring contract. He's one of the best tacklers you're likely to find and can definitely hold his own against anyone.
Karim El Ahmadi
A 90min favourite, El Ahmadi is easily good enough to make the matchday squad for any team on the planet, but thanks to the fact he's 35, he can be lured away from Al-Ittihad for less than £500,000. If you need a fix for one season, here you go.
His wages are a little on the high side, but if you've got the room, it's worth taking a look at Krychowiak, whose physical and mental stats make him the perfect candidate for a ball winning midfielder.
Don't be scared off by Maksimovic's £91m release clause. Getafe will listen to offers much closer to his base value, which is a bargain for a player of the Serb's calibre.
FM has Lars as the better Bender brother, and with that reputation comes a slightly loftier price tag. If you have a little extra cash left over, this is the one you want to move for.
A £13.75m release clause makes Guardado pretty easy to snap up, and that's a great price to pay for a player who can shine in midfield, in defence and even in attack. The ultimate squad player.
Another of those who might hurt your wage budget a little bit, Demme makes up for it with an elite level work rate that makes him feel a little like a bargain-bucket N'Golo Kante.
There's a fire sale at Atalanta, so make sure you take advantage of it. Freuler is at home as a deep-lying playmaker but is comfortable further forward as well, and most importantly, he's very good at his job. He should be far more expensive than he is.
Surprisingly, Roma are happy to take a little bit of a loss when it comes to Cristante, who only joined permanently in the 2019/20 season. Their loss should be your gain.
Offer Espanyol a little over Darder's base value and they'll likely listen to what you've got to say. The Spaniard is an all-round star who probably should be a lot more expensive than he is.
In terms of a transfer fee, you can pick up Khedira quite easily, but his £195,000-a-week wages make this one a little more complicated.
Similar to Khedira, most of the cost of Martinez will come from his wages, but they're not as tough to swallow as the German's. For any above-average team, he's a feasible target.
Coquelin's £53m release clause doesn't look too scary, but fortunately, you don't actually need to get anywhere close to that figure to do business with Villarreal, who will accept somewhere closer to the £30m mark if you act quick.
Another of those who we love raving about, being able to pick Tolisso up for his base value is an absolute steal. He'd usually be our 90min recommends, but we've hyped up Tolisso enough. Let someone else have the fun.
Next up in the Juventus flash sale is Rabiot. Because he's 25, you'll have to pay up for the Frenchman, but he's definitely worth it. You don't find many players with his unique blend of size and technical ability.
Marten de Roon
More of a defence-first midfielder than team-mate Freuler, De Roon is the more expensive of the two, but he's also the better option if you're looking for a DM. If you can splash that little extra, don't hesitate to pull the trigger.
With a £45.5m release clause for foreign clubs, Brozovic is one of the easiest players in this section of the list to sign. The Inter man can do everything apart from score goals, and chances are that doesn't really matter to you if you're looking for a defensive midfielder.
Usually wanted by a couple of big sides at the start of any save, Veretout can be lured away from Roma for a lot cheaper than you might expect. He's flirting with that elite-level calibre, and while there are better options out there, you'll struggle to find one for his price tag.
For a player with his potential, you'll have to fork out a fair bit of money to land Fabian, but it's a deal which will pay for itself in trophies if you manage him well enough. He's already one of the best around and still has plenty of room left to grow.
Juventus' final inclusion on this list is undoubtedly the most exciting. Bentancur is by no means cheap, but he's attainable for any side with £50m lying around. In today's market, you won't find many players his age, his ability and with his potential that are available for that fee.
Wages are again the sticking point for Fernandinho, who is still one of the game's best defensive midfielders at the age of 35 years old. If you're at a club that can match his financial demands, he's one you need to consider.
Kimmich should be far, far more expensive than he is. This is one of the best players in world football, and Bayern are open to letting him go if you add a little extra on top of his base value. That still makes him the most expensive player on this list, but he's also the best player.