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The death of the number 10: is football’s most iconic position in danger of dying out?

  • From Juan Roman Riquelme to Mesut Ozil, the era of the number 10 may be over

In the ever evolving landscape of modern football players need to get busy or die trying.

Because if they don’t they start to look outdated, relics in a new age.

The archetypal modern midfielder might be the most demanding position on the field, combining a complexity of different traits that require a relentless all-action style.


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How big’s a piece of string?

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How big’s a piece of string?

The traditional number 10, then, doesn’t fit that mould.

Joachim Low said in a press conference last week: “The situation of the playmaker or No 10 doesn’t really exist any more and hasn’t done for a long time.

“These days the playmakers, the ones who make the play, are in deeper more defensive positions.”

The Germany boss was, of course, intimating about Mesut Ozil after the Arsenal star retired from international duty.

Portrait of an icon

AFP or licensors
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Portrait of an icon

And he has a point.

For years football fans have drooled over number 10s, citing them as the eye-catching fulcrum and creative heartbeat of every triumphant side.

Way before Ozil rose to prominence the position became iconic through poster boys like Zinedine Zidane, Juan Roman Riquelme and Pablo Aimar.

What’s that you say? You need a proper number 10?

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What’s that you say? You need a proper number 10?

But now they’re facing an existential crisis.

It’s no coincidence that all the top, forward thinking sides in Europe operate in either a 4-3-3 or a version of 3-4-3.

The 4-2-3-1 – which instated the number 10 at the centre of proceedings – is being fazed out after a dominant era.

Some number 10s have accepted the status quo, gone back to the drawing board or slightly tweaked their games to adapt to modern demands.

If you had to choose one?

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If you had to choose one?

Take Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva for example.

Both of Man City’s core playmakers have developed into more typical central midfielders under Pep Guardiola and have flourished.

James Rodriguez is another who, after stealing the show in the number 10 role at the 2014 World Cup, has learned to drop deeper and become more combative.

A new role at Bayern

Reuters
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A new role at Bayern

Ozil, however, appears to be the fall guy and, while his persistence has to be acknowledged, is now facing the most challenging period of his career.

From the Gunners’ linchpin in recent seasons to being dropped by Unai Emery earlier this season.

Arsenal needed more drive, more vigour in midfield and Ozil simply doesn’t occupy the credentials to satisfy those requirements.

He was sensational against Leicester but fairly anonymous at Crystal Palace and at home to Liverpool.

Is that a tear in his eye?

Getty - Contributor
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Is that a tear in his eye?

Modern midfielders need everything; a versatility unlike any other position on the field combined with a tenacity to do the dirty work.

As Low suggested with his eye-opening remarks, much of the creative genius now comes from further back where the majority of play is in front of a deep lying playmaker.

Look at the likes of Jorginho and Toni Kroos who have a photographic memory of the play around them.

Napoli say they agreed a deal with Man City for Jorginho but it is not their fault he has chosen Chelsea

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Master dictator

Naby Keita too is another prime example of a modern creation, rolling tackling, pressing and playmaking all into one player.

The likes of Silva, De Bruyne and Rodriguez have embraced the challenge with open arms and arguably – certainly in De Bruyne’s case – taken their respective games to new levels.

But it’s a bitter pill to swallow for many purists who eulogised over the effortless brilliance of Riquelme and co.

It may be time to come to terms with the death of arguably the most revered role in football; a position which is now a luxury rather than a necessity.


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