The timeless number 10 shirt

The timeless number 10 shirt

By TomTom – Your SatNav around Football


Pele, Maradona, Law, Zidane, Messi. Arguably five of the greatest players to play the game. Definitely five of the biggest contributors to the global footballing phenomenon that is the number 10 shirt.

Football has changed and developed enormously over the decades. In some ways it is unrecognisable from the game it once was. However, one thing that has remained the same is the value of the number 10 shirt. It is a timeless antique.

From overweight Sunday morning park players squabbling over the number 10 shirt on the side of the pitch to the games greats, selected to be the ambassadors of the finest number in football history, the iconic number 10 is part of football folklore. The chosen one wears it with great pride aware that they have struck fear into their opponent just by pulling that shirt over their head. Opposition immediately single out the 10-bearer as ‘one to watch’, sub-consciously treating them with special attention.

However, it is more than just pure ability that constitutes a great number 10. There are other contributing features. A certain aesthetic suits the 10. Body shape, for example, needs to be considered. With the exception of the great, yet big-boned, Maradona, a true 10-bearer has to be slender, elegant in build. A further characteristic is work-rate or lack thereof. A rightful number 10 is not industrious, he is creative, coming to life when in possession and is uninterested in winning the ball back. Rooney for example, works too hard to be considered a classic number 10. Petulance can be thought of as another defining feature, a certain flawed genius. Think the Zidane headbutt, Law’s aggressive streak or Maradona’s drug abuse, the true 10 has a tendency to self-destruct.

As well as the famous names listed above, the likes of Cruyff, Bergkamp, Baggio and Figo have all contributed to the legacy that it the ‘10 shirt’ and for that reason it has to be treated with upmost respect. Any example of mis-use should be ridiculed. I have therefore highlighted 5 examples of blatant disrespect towards the number 10. We can only hope this sacrilege is never repeated.

1.   William Gallas – Arsenal

Rule no.1 – The 10 shirt should never, ever be worn by a defender. It’s just not right. In an age of names on the back of shirts, large squads and continental numbers, it is inevitable that assigning shirts on the basis of positions is impossible. However, a centre half wearing number 10 is inexcusable. Mr Wenger has done a lot of good things for this game but assigning Gallas the 10 shirt was not one of them.

2.   Gareth Barry – England

If Gareth Barry had been assigned the 10 shirt for Aston Villa or Manchester City it would have been wrong. For him to be given the privilege of wearing it whilst walking out at Wembley, playing for his country, is shambolic. When did this sin occur I hear you cry? The date was 17th November 2010, England lost 2-1 to France and were thoroughly outclassed in the process. You could call it karma for unjustifiable shirt distribution.

3.   Brian Deane – Middlesborough

Brian Deane may count himself unlucky to be included in this list, however, there are two good reasons. Firstly, I have been seeking revenge ever since he ridiculed me for getting sent off against a Leeds University side he was coaching. More importantly he is a prime example of a classic misplaced assignment of the 10 shirt. Deane is a no.9, plain and simple. Target man, good in the air, leads the line. He is not a number 10. It is a trap that many managers have fallen into over the years but Deane is my scapegoat.

4.   Seth Johnson – England

One cap wonder Seth Johnson’s solitary appearance for his country came against Italy in 2000, a game which saw Peter Taylor award David Beckham with the captaincy. Now Taylor deserves recognition for this decision as Beckham went on to lead England admirably, however, he warrants criticism in equal measure for this degrading of the 10 shirt. No player on his national debut is worthy of this privilege, especially not Seth Johnson.

5.   Lassana Diarra – Real Madrid

Diarra is industrious, combative and defensive. These three adjectives should never be associated with any number 10, especially not one playing in the iconic white of Real Madrid. Figo, Puskas, Seedorf, Sniedjer – all worthy recipients of a shirt so weighed down by history. I am afraid Lassana Diarra is not a name suitable for this list.

These 5 players who although have some significant achievements amongst them, were quite simply not no.10’s. Carrying on with this theme we will be focussing our attention on ‘5 number 10’s who never were’ later in the week.

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About TomTom
“Having studied English at university and always been a keen footballer and fan, combining the two has always appealed to me.” - Tom Lytton-Dickie. -"I'm a recently qualified journalist and I've worked in newspapers and broadcasting. I'm a dedicated follower of all sports primarily football, tennis and cricket." Tom Allnutt

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