Few positions on a pitch are as important as central midfield. You might have a good defence and a good attack, but if you've got nobody to link them together, you're going nowhere.
When you start a new Football Manager 2021 save, ensuring you've got the perfect spine should be one of the first things you do. Regardless of what kind of budget you're working with, the perfect signing can still be found.
Here are some of the best central midfielders teams with any budget can buy on FM.
At 35 years old, you're not going to get too many years out of Borja Valero, but he's still good enough to make an instant impact at any mid-table side, and he comes at an affordable price. The dream.
If you dip your toe into the free agent market, the best midfielder you'll come across is Benat, who left Athletic Club in the summer when his contract expired.
Unlike a lot of players in this price range, Lee Jae-Sung is only 27 years old and can therefore stick around for a good few years. The South Korean even has the potential to improve a little as well.
A bit of a do-it-all midfielder, Rafael Carioca is a reliable option who can fill in in whatever role you ask of him. For a manager still figuring out their tactics, he's ideal.
Jonathan dos Santos
With impressively high first touch and passing stats, Jonathan dos Santos is an ideal creator for any side, and he can be picked up without breaking the bank.
A real bargain for any smaller side, box-to-box midfielder Magomed Ozdoev makes his living as a tough tackler, but he's so versatile that he can actually fill in anywhere in the attacking half. I'm not saying you should play him as a striker, but you could.
Dinamo's Arijan Ademi is a real workhorse. He's a fantastic tackler who has the physical and mental attributes needed to harass attackers for the entire 90 minutes, but don't expect much else from him.
Another of those who comes with a cheap price tag because of his age, 34-year-old Oier is comfortable anywhere in the spine of a team. Start him in midfield and you can drop him into centre-back when needed.
Ignacio Fernandez has spent his entire career in Argentina, but he's easily good enough to play in any league in the world. You can pick him up for about face value.
Karim El Ahmadi
You won't even need to part with a seven-figure sum to sign Karim El Ahmadi, who could start for a mid-table side and offer cover for a top team. Unfortunately, given he's 35, you won't have him for long.
A £13.75m release clause means Moi Gomez is available for narrowly over his base value. He's more of an attack-minded midfielder, and he's still got a little room left to grow.
The definition of versatile, Frederik Midtsjo is a midfielder by trade, but he can play both further forward and further back. You can chuck him out to either wing, and he'll even give right-back a good go.
Maximilian Arnold can do a little bit of it all at a high level, but his stand-out attributes are his passing and long shots. He can add a new dimension to any side.
Inter's abundance of midfielders means they're pretty willing to sell, so give them a decent sum and they'll likely jump at the chance to offload Matias Vecino.
There's not much difference in quality between Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini, but the latter is both younger and cheaper. Inter'll accept bids of below half of his base value.
Given he's in the final year of his contract, Milan will offer you a little discount to sign Hakan Calhanoglu, and you should be all over that. He's an elite creator who is good enough for even the best sides on the planet, though his price tag wouldn't suggest that.
Another all-rounder, Kevin Kampl can impress anywhere in midfield with his versatile skill set, and he's available for marginally over his asking price.
Another side prepared to listen to offers for a lot of their players, Atalanta will be pretty generous in negotiations over Remo Freuler, but you'll need to dig deep into the wage budget to actually lure him away.
From a transfer fee perspective, Sami Khedira is a real bargain, but the German comes with enormous wages which will likely be too much for most mid-table sides. One to consider if you can find the wiggle room.
Porto man Otavio has the potential to grow into a real star midfielder, so his price tag reflects that a little bit, but you can still get a good deal for the 25-year-old Brazilian if you offer a little over his base value.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can deploy Jack Grealish in the deeper 'eight' role, and you can sign him for less than half of the £100m being thrown around as his real-world asking price.
A playmaker with a real eye for a tackle, Jordan Veretout is comfortable dropping into more of a deeper, Andrea Pirlo-esque role when needed.
Juventus are also willing to offload some of their midfielders, and one of the best on offer is Adrien Rabiot. He's an elite athlete with outstanding passing vision and the potential to grow into a genuine superstar. What's not to love?
If you're willing to stretch your budget a little more to around the £50m mark, you'll be able to lure Rodrigo Bentancur away from Juventus. He's younger than Rabiot and can grow into one of the best midfielders in the game, so it's definitely one to consider.
Inter don't actually want to sell Marcelo Brozovic, but luckily for you, his £45.5m release clause to foreign clubs means they don't really get a say in it if you've got the cash.
If we're talking bargains, this is it. Bayern Munich will hand Corentin Tolisso over to you for his base value, which should make him a no-brainer for any manager. He's an elite midfielder with room to grow, but you can land him for half the price of similar players. Get moving.
Sergi Roberto came through as a central midfielder and probably should be moved back there. Loosen his defensive shackles and you'll enjoy an elite-level playmaker with outstanding vision and team work.
We're talking real money here. Joshua Kimmich is not cheap (nor should he be), but his price tag still seems cheaper than it should be. Bayern will listen to offers of around £66m which, for a player among the very best on the planet, is a steal.
For the same kind of money, you can pick up Lazio beast Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has been linked with every top club on the planet. As a goalscoring, assist-grabbing 25-year-old, it's not hard to understand why.
You can sign Luka Modric for a seven-figure sum, but he makes it to the expensive options purely because of his astronomical wages. For a top side, it's definitely something to consider and it's 100% feasible, but just be aware that it's not as cheap as it may appear.