In football, 10 in squad number terms, is the number given to the player who embodies creativity, flamboyance, imagination and inspiration through their play.
The number has become synonymous with the position between midfield and attack, whether it be as a forward dropping deep, or a midfielder pushing on.
The number has been worn by great players in the past such as Diego Maradona, Pele, Zico, Michel Platini and Roberto Baggio as well as current greats such as Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf and Francesco Totti.
All these players would be considered to be responsible for a large percentage of their team’s attacking play, providing the creative spark and imagination in the final third to unlock difficult defences. Their game is concentrated on dictating the play, as well as providing killer passes and smooth inter play around the opposition penalty box and goal. Primarily they are there to either score goals, or assist goals and players such as Maradona, Pele and Platini provided outstanding examples to current players such as Messi, Rooney and Sneijder who also play in the ‘Number 10’ position.
I believe that in order to create a great team, you first must employ a formation which accommodates a ‘number 10’ but also have a great player who plays in this position.
The ‘number 10’ is traditionally a player with very little defensive responsibility, conserving his fitness in order to make short sharp bursts of play when on the ball maximising his potential to cause damage when near the goal. This therefore, means that teams can sometimes play with what seems like a man down and sides who are playing on the counter attack or just to defend against constant attacking, can do without a ‘number 10’.
Formation is key for a ‘number 10’ so a system like 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 could be seen as the best to use when employing this creative player with the role of contributing to the majority of the teams attacking play.
Also the style of the teams play must be one which focuses on playing fast, attacking football with the ball remaining on the ground when in possession. Barcelona at the moment, are the prime example of a football team who play with a high tempo with slick and precise passing as well as quick movement, and through Lionel Messi they have a great player in the ‘number 10’ position who acts as the focal point of their attack.
Once the formation and style of play is correct, the team must have a player able to play in this position and have the required attributes to do it to a high standard.
As mentioned, Lionel Messi is a prime example in a magnificent team who play with a ‘number 10’ and equally as important is Wayne Rooney who contributes a great number of goals as well as assists in his Manchester United side.
Wesley Sneijder, who plays for Inter Milan, is the best example of a midfielder who operates between midfield and attack, a space often referred to as ‘in the hole’, his precise passing and ability to shoot with accuracy from outside of the box is a cornerstone of his play and contributes to his and Inter Milan’s success especially under Jose Mounrinho’s tenure as Inter manager.
It is evident that the ‘number 10’ still exists in the modern era, making a return from a sabbatical after the introduction of more defensive formations and the use of counter attacking at the top level in world football.
However, has it been lost in the high tempo, fast paced, sometimes kick and rush style used in the UK and specifically Scotland and can it be attributed to our decline in standard both domestically, continentally and internationally for our sides?
With Celtic and Rangers, both teams do not have a designated ‘number 10’ who operates ‘in the hole’ with Anthony Stokes an out and out striker, and John Fleck a midfielder who as of yet, doesn’t have the required level of ability to be the focal point of the Rangers team. For Scotland, our formation is a 4-3-3 which gives the side the chance to play a ‘number 10’ but our style of play is very much based on counter attacking and only the introduction of Barry Bannan could be seen as a positive step towards designating a ‘number 10’.
England, have definitely felt the effect of playing without a ‘number 10’ despite having Wayne Rooney in their squad. Capello has used Rooney as more of an out and out striker due to the absence of a goal scoring striker for the national side. However, with the emergence of Andy Carroll and Darren Bent, as well as Capello’s introduction of a 4-3-3 formation, England could yet find themselves with a player worthy of wearing the ‘number 10’ and taking the teams play to a level on a par with Germany(Ozil), Spain(Xavi or Iniesta) and Holland(Sneijder).
Therefore, the UK game must adapt to introduce more creative players capable of playing this role, as only Wayne Rooney represents the embodiment of this position and number that goes with it.
It cannot be doubted however, that the ‘number 10’ is embedded in our footballing history, due to the success and level of performance achieved by those who have worn it.
Long live the number 10, long live football!