Close your eyes and picture the classic no.10.
Acknowledge the smile that stretches across your face as Rui Costa appears behind your eyelids, untucked Fiorentina shirt- plastered with a Nintendo logo- brushing against his low socks.
Now open your eyes. The no.10 shirt holds a mythical quality in the world of football. It doesn’t need to be said. It just is. Anyone who follows football understands its meaning.
The Premier League’s had its fair share of maestros making light work of the typically heavy burden that comes with carrying the no.10 between your shoulder blades.
Think Dennis Bergkamp. Think Wayne Rooney. Think Eden Hazard. Think William Gallas. Actually, forget about William Gallas. Burn that image from your memory.
But are we just being blind romantics to think that the no.10 shirt actually holds any weight in the Premier League nowadays?
The answer, from a mathematical perspective, is a simple one. Twenty-five percent of the Premier League players trusted with the honour of wearing the no.10 shirt fall into the ‘traditional playmaker‘ category.
Mesut Ozil, James Maddison, Manuel Lanzini, Jack Grealish and Gylfi Sigurdsson are all players who grew up with posters of Juan Roman Riquelme and Guti on their wall.
If you asked Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar to name their five favourite midfielders in the Premier League right now they’d go for the no.10s of Arsenal, Leicester, West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton.
Unfortunately tactical advances mean the five no.10s are regularly forced into more traditional central midfield roles or, in the case of Ozil, forced to watch at home.
All of which is the fault of the next lot.
Forty percent of the Premier League’s current no.10s are actually no.9s masquerading as Roberto Baggios.
Whereas the archetypal playmaker doesn’t concern themselves with statistics, caring instead about the visceral beauty of a performance, Sergio Aguero, Ashley Barnes, Harry Kane, Patrick Cutrone, Marcus Rashford, Billy Sharp, Che Adams, Danny Welbeck deal only in the currency of cold, hard goals.
For some- in particular Aguero, Kane and (Austria’s) Barnes- business is booming.
For Che Adams and Danny Welbeck, neither of whom have scored this season, it’s only a matter of time until a maverick South American flies in from afar and rips the no.10 shirt clean off their back.
The next 20% of Premier League no.10s are, excuse the pun, completely and utterly winging it.
Sadio Mane, Jordon Ibe, Willian, Andros Townsend and Allan Saint-Maximin were, at one point in their careers, tasked with chalking up their boots out wide while others grafted inside.
But the fact that nobody likes heading the ball any more means the line between a ‘winger’ and a ‘playmaker’ is increasingly blurred.
They’re not no.10s, given they’re all slightly too electric with and without the ball, but they’re not not no.10s. Wingers are the new playmakers, you would say if you were pitching a new Netflix show (soon to be cancelled after its first series).
Moritz Leitner falls into a category of one. He is Norwich’s no.10-wearing Jack of all trades.
Sometimes you’ll find him in holding midfield. Sometimes you’ll find him out wide. Occasionally he’ll be occupying the role of a throwback no.10. Unfortunately his versatility counts against him and means he can’t be considered a true playmaker.
The Premier League’s final no.10 can be found warming Galatasaray’s bench in Istanbul. Florin Andone, very much a forward rather than a playmaker, scored four times in 26 appearances for Brighton before being shipped out on loan.
His impending exit opens up the tantalising prospect of a new Premier League no.10. Does Kaka fancy putting the boots back on and heading down to East Sussex?
READ MORE FROM THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL:
- A brief history of Nicolas Otamendi making a complete fool of himself
- Remembering when a beach ball outscored Robinho in the 2009/10 Premier League season
- A Javier Saviola hat-trick from 2004 explains why Eddie Nketiah isn’t starting for Leeds