When we hear Number 10 in football, our mind suddenly starts recalling visuals of superstars showcasing their class. Zico, Ronaldhino, Platini, Cryuff, Di Steffano are all footballing legends who shaped our perspective of the game. Without them, football just would not have been the same. But how many true Number 10s are left in the game?
Sergio Aguero, Arjen Robben, Eden Hazard(at chelsea), Neymar, Carasso all wear or used to wear the Number 10 Jersey but does any of them play the no. 10 role anymore?
I am not saying you have to wear the no.10 jersey to play the role but this trend of no.10 being worn by strikers and wingers are both part of the commercial aspect of football and the disappearance of true no.10s from the game.
James Rodriguez, Philippe Coutinho, Mesut Ozil and Paulo Dybala are all arguably world class but everyone except Dybala is struggling to make an impact on European football and even Dybala is not hitting the heights he should be. There is a clear and unmistakable trend of vanishing Number 10 in football and we are going to analyse why is it so.
Number 10 in football have to be the focal point of attack in their team.
Let’s take Dybala for example. He is easily one of the top 10 players in terms of pure talent. He has been fairly decent this year, but compare the Dybala to the year before Cristiano Ronaldo came to Juventus and subsequent years.
Dybala went from being the most important player of the team to struggling for impact the first season with Cristiano. Cristiano became the most important player in the team. Allegiri only wanted to do the best to accommodate Ronaldo. Dybala had to adapt.
Even in Coutinho’s case, in Barcelona, he was never going to be the focal point of attack. He had to adapt to the position offered to him which was left wing and frankly he is not a good winger.
Tactical Evolution of football over the years
Tactically football has changed a lot over the years. Let’s consider an example of full backs and wingers. These days, most fullbacks occupy the wings of opposition side in possession and the wingers play closer to the goals. The traditional crossing into the box role has gradually become full back forte and wingers are forwards who are expected to score every game.
This means that, in a traditional 4 at the back system, with the full backs moving up, the midfielders are expected to provide cover. For example, with liverpool when Jordan Henderson plays the anchor, he drops almost to the heart of defence forming 3 CBs at the back and the other two CMs track back operating as two defensive CMs.
This is not the case with every team but to illustrate the point that most teams do expect similar heavy defensive output from their midfielders.
There has been rumours that Klopp personally did not mind Coutinho leaving, that apart of it was play acting to hike up the price. While Van Dijk should get applauds for shoring up liverpool defence, the truth is Coutinho and the 4 forwards system left liverpool vulnerable. There was little to no defensive support from Coutinho.
Klopp did think the Chamberlain was a better option. Even though nowhere near as creative, he had defensive work rate and explosiveness to make up for it, along with probably even a better outside the box shooting capability.
Even if you take the case of Juventus, in the first season of Ronaldo, Allegri was more than ready to give up creativity of Dybala offered in exchange for more direct play and crosses in the box for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lack of Adaptability
The main problem with these insanely talented individuals wearing Number 10 in football is that they are not adaptable. They cannot play as Wingers or further back as traditional CMs. They cannot track back or commit to a positional discipline role.
It was tried with Coutinho, Dybala and James Rodriguez. James Rodriguez, for example, was made to play in a number of positions to accommodate him into the team. Mainly as a Number 8 in Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
He was widely ineffective in that position because both his eye for goal and short passes, Two of his biggest strength were gone to waste in that position.
They have to be allowed to play the way they want to, catering to their strength. Let them roam around final third, finding space for defence splitting passes or dribbling past to go wide open.
Now some have been able to adapt fairly well but I don’t think these players were of the same caliber or even true Number 10s to start with.
Rakitic transformed from a AMF to a very hardworking CM for Barcelona to accommodate Messi. Wijnaldum went from a goal scoring midfielder to a proper defensive CM for Liverpool, although he still plays as Number 10 fairly well for Netherlands.
The true Number 10 in football, cut from the same cloth as Cruyff, Platini, Zico etc., are a dying breed in the football world right now, struggling to fit in the physical modern game.
However, as football is ever evolving and the optimist in me says these players will find the football systems that needs them and will thrive under them. There are still anomalies in the game to give us hope.
Manchester City, who arguably plays the most beautiful football in Europe has essentially two Number 10s in their playing squad when David Silva and De Bruyne plays together.
Granted, both of them acts as a hybrid version between Number 10s and CMs, but still it is genuine proof that Number 10s still have a role in the modern game under the right manager.
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