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Modern day number 10: a shadow of the great Pele, Di Stefano, Maradona, Zedan, Ronaldinho, Bergkamp, Baggio

A modern day number 10 must be able to defend and attack equally well! The is less emphasis placed on flair, silky skills, ability to make a pass that no one else can see, incredible ball control in tight spaces, and the ability to dribble past defenders with ease. Pelé, Di Stefano, Maradona, Zedan, Ronaldinho, Bergkamp, and Baggio were all known for making football the beautiful game, they all played the illustrious number 10 position as well as wore the famous number 10 jersey.


Modern day football

Modern day football tactics are eradicating the once glamorous position in world football. Many tacticians are preferring players with defensive attributes rather than creative players who can not defend or who are not willing to defend. A clear example is what is happening to Ozil at Arsenal. Arsenal coaches Arteta, Emre, and even the great Wenger at the later part of his career at Arsenal saw the German playmaker relegated to the bench. The tactical decision that keeps Ozil on the bench is that he cannot defend and he likes to play in the spaces behind the striker. With Arsenal employing the 4-3-3 formation it is impossible to play Ozil with wing-backs overlapping as well.

Liverpool FC the current best team in the world after winning the Champion league 2018-19 season and the English Premier League 2019-20 season does not use the traditional number 10 position. Liverpool prefers to attack with wing-backs forcing middle fielders like Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Fabinho to be covering for the wing-backs when they run up and down the touchline. Whenever Liverpool has the ball they look out wide to the best wing-backs in the game: Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jack Robinson. Liverpool play 4-3-3 formation which is converted to 2-3-5 position when they are on the attack, with Mane and Salah often coming into a number 10 position or striking role to give space for the wing-backs. Jürgen Klopp has an ace up his sleeves, he has the best goalkeeper in the world who plays as a sweeper goalkeeper once Liverpool goes on the attack. When opposition teams try a high press against Liverpool, Allison comes out of his goal area to assist in the build-up. Additionally, Allison is also one of the best passers of the ball; the reason why he has two goal assists. The modern game is forcing goalkeepers to play more with their feet and contribute to creating chances. This is coupled with the ability of the whole team being able to defend, cutting out traditional number 10's whos role was to wait for the team to defend and wait for the pass to start a counter-attack or attack.

Modern day football has also seen a change were right-footed wingers play on the left wing and left-footed winger play on the right wing. This is coupled with overlapping wing-back's who are the ones who usually cross into the box, allowing more numbers to get inside the box increasing the chances of scoring. This can be easily seen in the way Barcelona and Liverpool play and the rest of the top teams in Europe.

Formation suited for traditional number 10

Traditional number 10 flourishes in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1 formations. This is as a result of having enough cover behind them of 4 middle fielders. These formations have become less used in modern football with modern coaches preferring to attack from the wings.

Manchester United during the days of Eric Contana used the 4-4-1-1 formation and not dissimilar from the 4-2-3-1 formation with Ryan Giggs cause havoc on the left wing says Michael Cox.

Bayern Munich also plays formation suited for a traditional number 10, 4-2-3-1. Surprisingly enough Coutinho has not been able to make it into the team, kept on the bench by the two hardworking Bayern speedsters (Gnabry and Coman), and hardworking Thomas Muller. He has benefited from Fifa introducing five substitutes after the coronavirus pandemic stoped football for months or else he would see far less game time.

Difference between modern day number 10 and a traditional number 10

Traditional number 10s like Diago Maradona are used to playing in that pocket of space between defenders and middle fielders. Traditional number 10's would be exempt from defending. These great players had the ability to dribble past defenders with ease. They also had the vision to make astonishing through passes. In South Africa (SA), we had the likes of Shakes and Jomo who were known for their unbelievable passing ability and silky skills(step overs, vula vala, side steps, to name a few). Add passing while looking the other way to confuse the defenders, which lead to Paul Dolezar most famous statement about shakes: "Shake confuses my players. He looks the other way and passes the other way!".

Cantona the best number 10 to play for Manchester United was known for - "Shipping goalkeepers, he casually rolled home penalties, and he produced a succession of outside-of-the-foot flicks and elaborate, stabbed, dinked passes to teammates" said Michael Cox in his book. Hence, the modern number 10's are less flamboyant than their predecessors. Only Neymar still possesses the flamboyance, flair, and skills of the traditional number 10s we saw in the 19th century. Rivaldo was known for his stepovers and silky skills, use of feints, dribbling ability and close ball control which made him won of he most loved Brazilian football players. Like Pelé, Rivaldo had a penchant for scoring from bicycle kicks.

On the other hand modern number 10's play more on the wings and are required to be speedy, athletic players such as: Messi, Neymar, Mane, Salah, Coutinho, to name a few. All modern teams are trying to attack from the wings like the old English teams who did not believe in the role of number 10 position instead were great supporters of tricky wingers with speed and the ability to dribble past a defender and cross the ball in the penalty box for tall strikers waiting to head the ball in the goal. Modern number 10s are less flamboyant and rely more on one-touch combinations to open up defense rather than dribbling three or four defenders. Modern day number 10's are still good passers of the ball and technically still very good compared to the traditional number 10. Additionally, they often help out in defense!

Messi the best number 10 in current world football

The best number 10 in current world football is Messi. The Barcelona star is blessed with all the prowess of traditional number 10's even though he plays mostly on the right-wing. Messi has the ability to dance his way through any defense to score goals which can be compared to those of Marodana and Pelé. His one of a few that still deserve to wear the illustrious number jersey. Messi in his younger days was often known for winning the ball in dangerous positions when they applied the high pressing game.

Lately Barcelona under guidance of Quique Setién, often changes in tough games to a 4-4-2 formation which sees Messi playing in the traditional number 10 role. This was seen in the Champions League semi-final 2018-19 games against Liverpool.

The best number 10 ever: Pelé

Pelé is the best number 10 ever, he is blessed with all attributes of a great number 10! His change of pace is similar to what we see nowadays with Messi. His flair and skills are a cut above the rest. And every move he did was for putting the ball behind the net. Pelé was also unbelievably good in the air, a mark of an all-round player. He was a true ambipedal football player, yes they are players that can kick the ball equally well with both feet in football history but none other surpass Pelé due to the sheer number of goals he scored on either foot. The greatest Brazilian number 10 has scored spectacular goals: bicycle kick goals, dribbling past three of four defenders and scoring, dribbling keeper without touching the ball-one of his famous moves. 

Pelé is a cut above the rest and it will be tough especially the way the game is evolving for anyone to remove him as the greatest player ever. He also holds the record for most FIFA world Cup trophies: 3 with Brazil national team. Furthermore, the Brazilian maestro is known for contributing to the phrase "The beautiful game" which is associated with football. This is because of how he played the game.

Below video shows one of his signature moves:


Traditional number 10 attributes

  1. No defensive duties
  2. Ability to dribble past defenders with ease
  3. Great passing ability (with inside or outside of the foot or dink pass to teammates)
  4. Silky skills (step overs, side steps, nutmegs(i.e. called eshibobo in SA )
  5. Immaculate first touch under pressure
  6. Position behind the strikers
  7. Flamboyant players(pleasing the crowd)
  8. A penchant for scoring spectacular goals
  9. Exceptional vision
  10. Intelligence
  11. Combination play
  12. Ambipedal
  13. Tactically astute
  14. Technical prowess
  15. A Neck of scoring crucial goals
Do you think modern football has become boring without number 10's in the mold of Pelé, Di Stefano, Cantona, Maradon, Ronaldinho, Bagio, Bergkamp, Jomo Sono, Shakes Kungwane?

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