Football is evolving and players must adapt or risk being left out. Gone are the days when you could name the players position by their numbers. Everything is now different, goalkeepers are now judged on how they can use their feet rather than hands, fullbacks are now considered playmakers, and the number 10 role is declining at an alarming rate.
What is the number 10 role?
The number 10 role in football is also known as the attacking midfielder or the playmaker. The number 10 sits between the midfield and the attack. He is the main connector and chief provider of scoring opportunities for the attack. As an attacking midfielder in the number 10 role, he would be relieved of defensive duties to allow concentration on providing scoring chances for the attack.
The number 10 role requires the player to be very technical and have the ability to spot a pass in the unlikeliest of situation. Technical, pint sized, skillful, and creative are what defines the ideal number 10.
They are the soul of any team and that role is held in high regards.
Players like Mario Gotze, Christian Eriksen, James Rodriguez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, David Silva, Isco, and Mesut Özil all flourished in this number 10 role.
They flourished then not now.
What has gone wrong? Why have playmakers like Mario Gotze, James Rodriguez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil, Isco, and Juan Mata been relegated to the bench? What are playmakers like Kevin De Bruyne, and others during right?
Football is evolving and so is the formation. We have sweeper keepers now and complete wing backs.
The era of 4-2-3-1 formation is gone. This formation places the number 10 in the pocket just behind the striker. The number 10 then acts as the fulcrum of attack and controls the team attacking move.
The left and right midfielder keeps the opposition midfield and defense busy therefore allowing the number 10 to wreak havoc.
Mesut Ozil thrived in this position and got 19 epl assists in the 2015/2016 season.
Well, that era is gone. The formations are now either a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 formation. The number 10 is now expected to move to the wing, move to a central midfield position, or get relegated to the bench. That’s the reality of things now.
Number 10s like Kevin De Bruyne has thrived in this new formation thanks to his pace, athleticism, and versatility. He has played the deep lying midfielder for Manchester city before, the winger, and also as a wing back.
Unfortunately, many classic number 10 can’t do that.
Imagine Gotze or Mata as a central midfielder or a winger, he has neither the pace nor the athleticism. The ball works can’t work anymore when you are on your own. Everything has changed and sadly taken some of the best playmakers with it.
Sarriball, Gengenpressing, high pressing, Conte’s 3-5-2 pattern are what is in vogue now.
Football is now won by the team that reacts fastest when the ball changes hand. Patterns like Gengenpressing popularized by Jürgen Klopp requires every player to do their part in the defensive aspect of the game. There is no number 10 absolved from defensive duties again.
Everyone must attack and also defend at the same time.
Unai Emery brought in high pressing to Arsenal and players like Ozil couldn’t fit in. A number 10 don’t need to be running like headless chicken before fashioning out an exquisite pass. Ozil got relegated to the bench and Torreira was used.
Sarriball never used a number 10. Maurizio Sarri relied on a deep lying playmaker in Jorginho to dictate the pace of the game.
Pep Guardiola modified his tikitaka to tackle Klopp growing gengenpressing.
The likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona also switched to a 4-3-3 formation rendering players like Rakitic, Coutinho, and James Rodriguez ineffective.
Coutinho costs Barcelona £105 million but couldn’t nail down a starting shirt at Nou Camp. He was moved to the wing where he flopped. Number 10s best role is in the centre of the midfield. They are the dictators.
Post 2015 saw the decline of number 10s. The likes of Ozil, David Silva, Mata, James Rodriguez, were continuously used in the wings during this era.
Football has now evolved into coaches building teams around their pattern as against building systems around their number 10.
Grinding out a 1-0 win is now frowned upon. This would have been celebrated decades ago but not anymore. Footballing philosophies are shifting to attack now. Managers are now judged based on their attacking prowess. These have seen the growth of inverted wingers and attacking wing backs. The focus is now attacking through wide areas.
The wingers don’t go to cross the ball now, they cut in and go for goals. You see likes of Jadon Sancho cut in and occupy the central spaces that would have been occupied by the number 10.
This new found philosophy has seen an increase in attacking fullbacks like Alexander Trent-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Kimmich, Marcelo, and Alphonso Davies. Managers now use these attacking fullbacks as their new playmakers.
Football is dynamic and its the roles now have a time-cycle. Inverted wingers and attacking fullbacks are the trend today but they might not be in the coming years.
The decline of number 10 role is a sad tale for lovers of technical, beautiful, and simple football. Where football was cherished for Iniesta’s rubber body and Ozil’s vision, it’s now revered for its pace and power.