The role of “the number 10” in football

Say to anyone nowadays that Wayne Rooney is playing in the “number 10” position, you’d instantly assume that he was playing as a central attacking midfielder behind the striker(s). There was once a time where the number 10 would play up front as part of a front line of 1, 2 or sometimes 3. Number 9 and number 10 leading the line of the attack was all too common, because that’s the way it should be right? Well, apparently not.

For me, the number 10 should be a striker, spearheading all of their team’s attacks and scoring/poaching goals from inside the box and six yard area. But now, the contemporary role of the number 10 is to create goals from midfield, get the ball, pass it, run into space, repeat. Now maybe it’s because I’m predominantly a fan of non-league football where the players are numbered 1 through 11 all across the pitch. Numbers 2 and 3 for full backs, 6 and 8 for central midfielders, 9 and 10 for the strikers. The way it should be.

Now you might argue that the actual role of the number 10 is as the playmaker, the facilitator of the team. Anyone can wear the number 10 in the modern game but traditionally people prefer this particular number to be worn by the playmaker. Now it is true every football team needs a creator, someone who is always drifting off his marker in order to make space for himself to receive the ball, a more advanced Paul Scholes if you like (but obviously not as good). But what does the number 10 actually need to have in his locker? Well, here’s a list of what I think…

Technical ability: The number 10 is a master of all the key elements of the game. His ball control, passing and dribbling are second to none and often he’s the best on the team at these particular skills. Whenever he receives the ball, he should be able to reset the play and re-build it from the ground up, dictating the game at a pace he sees fit. It’s for this reason that some of the best number 10’s in the world are not the fastest, their ball skills make up for their clear lack of pace. Francesco Totti is still dictating the games pace at the age of 38 because he has the ball skills to play that role.


messiLionel Messi wears number 10 for Barcelona yet he plays in the number 9 role. Hmm….


Vision: Picture the scene: you’re sat at home on the sofa watching England vs. San Marino and Wayne Rooney has just picked out Andros Townsend on the wing. Townsend is 50 yards away but that doesn’t stop Rooney playing a zipping diagonal pass right into his feet and England go on to score. But you’re still that there in awe at that pass. How on Earth has he managed to spot that pass with all those bodies in the way? Well having a world class number 10 is a bit like having a player with mind of the world’s best chess player, he can see a scoring chance at least three passes before it actually arises. Whenever they’re in possession, they have the intuition to pick out the best passing option not just for him but for the team. Think about a quarterback in American Football and it becomes a lot clearer.

Leadership: Every team has a leader and more often than not this player is the captain of the team. However, the number 10 needs to be a leader himself. They need to have a dominant presence both on and off the football field. They have to lead by example and be a role model for the younger players in the side. Not just this though, the number 10 has to be trusted by his team-mates. Trusted that if they pass the ball to him, he’s going to create a chance for the team; they must be willing to let the game flow through him in order for the team to be successful. Possibly the hardest quality to display as part of the number 10 role because they need to be selfish and always calling for the ball, but they also need the trust of his team-mates that he’s not just going to be caught in possession and give the ball away.

I saw an article the other day that suggested the number 10 has become an ‘honorary number rather than a positional number in recent years.’ I would like to argue that it’s both though, because in order to earn the number 10 on the back of your shirt, you need to be a master of the basics and complexities of the game of football. You must be confident in not just your own ability but also your team-mates. You need to have an air of cockiness about your play without actually portraying it in a brash manner. However I’d like to argue that there is no such thing as a ‘complete’ player, there is always training to be done and there is always opportunity to take your game to the next level. From youth level to the Premier League, a good number 10 has the ability to completely transform a team.

Next Friday I’ll be taking a look at some of the most underrated players of all time!

Kelsey De Maria


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