If you are as old as me you might remember players like Gennaro Gattuso and Claude Makélélé were always hailed as "tactical players". That is simply the wrong way to describe them. The reason is those two along with any players similar to them do only one task.
Don't get me wrong, those two and many like them are extremely important to any team. It's just that tactical players refer to players who can be a part of different tactics as they have the ability to do different tasks.
There are four phases of each football match, defense, attack, the transition from defense to attack, and the transition from attack to defense.
By that, you can conclude that tactical players are the ones who can participate in most of those phases. Tactical players are required to perform different tasks during each phase of the game. So, why are those players called tactical?
A consolation prize
People don't seem to believe that being a good defensive player is a great skill in itself. Skill as a term is only seen as your ability to dribble or having great passing abilities. Skill is attached to the player's ability to entertain us. So, a player whose sole job is interception isn't entertaining. Because we don't treat their skill as enough reason for praise, we have to give a name that would give their jobs more edge. Hence, they're called tactical.
It kind of reminds me of whenever I go to a store and the owner doesn't have change so he gives gum instead. People simply can't call it what it is. The term is often justified as the player performing the manager's instruction, even though that applies to every player in the game. Despite some players having more freedom.
Actual tactical players
With the extra focus on triangles each time Pep and Klopp face each other, we're starting to see the term used to describe different players than just defensive ones. However, there is still a big portion of fans that still believe the old myth. In the process, actual tactical players are ignored.
You never hear Wayne Rooney being described as one of the greatest tactical players despite all the games where you'd see him playing as a striker, winger, playmaker, and even box-to-box. Often in the same game.
Same with Modric, who went from being a playmaker with Spurs to a number 8 in Real Madrid and sometimes even a number 6.
No one remembers Steven Gerrard as a tactical player, even though he switched to playing as a right-back to mark Serginho when Ancelotti tried to steal the win after Liverpool made their comeback.
Alves, Toure, Scholes, Lahm, Iniesta, Giggs, are all great examples of tactical players. From current players, you can say De Bruyne, Messi, Mane, Thiago, Koke, and many more.
However, because the mentioned players have skills that people see, they are rarely mentioned as tactical players. These players don't seem to need the title of tactical players as a consolation prize.
People have the right to enjoy one aspect of the game over the other. But let's not call a team tactical just because they parked the bus or a player tactical just because they made 8 interceptions.