The rise of football’s forward destroyer as the No. 10 disappears

Over the last decade we have seen the disappearance of the classic number 10, especially in European football. The most famous example of course being Juan Roman Riquelme, who is one of the most talented footballers to have emerged out of Argentina.

Today, all the best players in the world either are players who are forwards or are players who have moved inside from wide areas. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Andres Iniesta and Mesut Ozil are all among the very best in the world and can play in numerous positions across the pitch. They are all mobile, more involved in the game and of course, are found in more threatening positions than a classic number 10.

Pirlo is the best example of a deep-lying playmaker in modern football.

Pirlo is the best example of a deep-lying playmaker in modern football. (Getty Images)

But over the past 2-3 years a new breed of footballers has emerged. Highly energetic, physically strong and well built players deployed in attacking positions. This emergence can be attributed to the fact that now the game is dictated largely by deep lying playmakers rather than number 10′s. Xabi Alonso, Michael Carrick, Mikel Arteta, Xavi Hernandez, Bastian Schweinstieger, Andrea Pirlo are the the key players who dictate play for their respective clubs. Initially the deep lying playmaker was successful as he found time and space aplenty and could dictate the game at his will. So this explains the emergence of the forward destroyer.

Serie A’s love affair with number 10′s is drawing a close as the league is surprisingly where the trend of playing a physically attacking midfielder has emerged. Kevin Prince Boateng perfectly exemplifies the modern attacking midfielder: not as technically gifted as some of his predecessors, he makes up for it with his energy, running and willingness to put his body on the line. While Juventus under Conte play a slightly unusual system: they have Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal ahead of Pirlo, a complete opposite to the midfield 3 of Edgar Davids, Zidane and Nedved. Back in the day, they had a defensive player protecting one or more attacking players, whereas today, Marchisio and Vidal do the dirty work, allowing Pirlo to pull the strings from behind.

Yaya Toure, who was primarily used as a defensive midfielder at Barcelona, has been used as  an attacking midfielder to great effect by Roberto Mancini. The same can be said with Marouane Fellaini, who initially was a defensive midfielder but his season has been instrumental in Everton’s push for a European place with his performances in a much more advanced role. Manchester United who under Sir Alex Ferguson in recent years trust brain and graft in the midfield generals rather than a strong physical presence realised that they had to play Jones deep in midfield to nullify the threat of the Belgian. After Roy Keane’s departure, United has never played with a true physical defensive midfielder.

Fellaini has been used to great effect higher up the field.

Fellaini has been used to great effect higher up the field. (Getty Images)

Of course like everything in life, football tactics also goes through cycles. Someone creates a successful tactic and someone else manages to counter it and then someone else comes along and creates a new problem until someone else solves it. This goes on and on.

In simpler terms, a classic Number 10 is nullified by the traditional defensive midfielder. Along come deep lying playmakers who are now nullified by the forward destroyer. And while the forward destroyer is the problem now and the solution is to return to old way by playing a defensive midfielder!

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