Top 10 Number 10s in Football History

The prestige associated with the number 10 jersey in football (soccer) is that some of the best players in football history have worn the number. It elevates them into an upper echelon of best players in football of all time. This association with greatness and the number 10 is partly due to historic team formations and player positions, but also the fact that some of the greatest players in the history of football have shown themselves to be leaders on the pitch, playmakers and maestros of the game while wearing the number 10 on their back. 

When it comes to the greatest number 10s, Pelé and Maradona are unequivocally on everyone‘s list as the top one and two players of all time. Then the issue becomes, who is next? In addition, what we consider a “number 10” player, a legend among legends, may not have even worn the actual number 10 on their jersey, but certainly played the role. (Read More: The Number 10)

If you're not careful, you can easily get sucked into a debate between “Trequartistas” and “Registas.” A Trequartista is a playmaker who operates behind the front line but in front of the midfield. A Regista is a creative player who operates in front of the defense, almost always in a central position, and looks to get on the ball as often as possible. 

Why is that relevant, one might ask? The game has changed. Some of the old Trequartistas have become Registas because that is the way their team plays. Alessandro Del Piero would have made a great number 10 in the days of Baggio. 

And so, we’ve ranked our top 10 footballers of all time regardless of whether they ever wore the number 10 on their backs. Those of you who share our undying passion for football, will hopefully agree that these are truly the greatest players of all time. Depending on your age, younger fans may look for a debate, but the men listed below have carved their mark in the memories of millions of fans for decades. 

Top 10 Number 10s in Football History

  1. Dí Stefano

ALFREDO DI STEFANO

While he is hailed as a footballing god among Madridistas, it is perhaps his international career where he falls in line with the likes of Pelé and Maradona in the rankings of the best players of all time. He was a legend before TV was much of a factor, let alone social media! Dí Stefano was the original support striker. While history has given some strikes for a lack of World Cup experience and success, a Super Ballon d'Or awarded to him in 1989 goes a long way in demonstrating where he is held in the estimations of the football world.

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  1. Zico

zico

Zico was a player with amazing technique, vision, an unmatchable passing range, and the ability to finish. Pelé once said: “...throughout the years, the one player who came closest to me was Zico,” handing the former Flamengo man the nickname “white Pelé.” A dead-ball specialist, he was Beckham before you could get paid for wearing fancy pants. We were lucky enough to meet the man and he was like on the pitch, nothing but class. 

  1. Messi

Messi

Messi is, by far, the greatest goal-maker of his era. He's also the best passer, and the best dribbler, and the best free-kick taker. It is fair to say that Lionel Messi has been on top of the footballing world for 13 years, along with Cristiano Ronaldo. There is arguably a generation-long debate over who is the better player between Messi and Cristiano. 

  1. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho

At his peak, the only word that could be used to describe Ronaldinho is magician. He was simply amazing to watch. No one will ever match the technical ability and creativity he demonstrated with the ball at their feet. Watching Ronaldinho play was an event - sit back, relax and enjoy the show! 

Contrary to many wannabes, Ronnie was not only schooling opponents on the pitch, but consistently delivering and helping the team as a whole win. Watching him play evoked a certain level of passion for the game that no one else had before. It was a show, but Ronnie also had a winning mentality. Unfortunately, his candle burned bright, but he could not sustain it for long. If he had, he may have been THE best ever. Read More

  1. Baggio

Baggio

Il Codino was an exceptional footballer and a joy to watch. In some ways, he was more than a great number 10, and probably the first true Trequartista in Italian football. He is also one of the greatest Italian goalscorers of all time on many different counts, scoring 218 in 488 matches at club level and 27 in 56 for his country. He was the “Divine Ponytail who had the angels singing in his legs,” (according to Aldo Agroppi). For calcio fans, Roberto Baggio was a glimpse of God. Read More

  1. Cruyff

Cruyff

Cruyff was a footballing genius. He was neither a number 9, nor a true number 10, due to the playing style of “Total Football,” and because of his freedom to play wherever he wanted on the pitch.

Even though he was not exactly a number 10, no list of best-ever top 10 footballers can be constructed without his name in it. He invented moves that were never seen before. Johann Cruyff was the father of Barcelona's modern style of football. Its roots were in "Total Football" played by the great Dutch side of the 1970s. Cruyff had it all: technique, speed, great acceleration, executive function, creativity, vision to pick a pass and the skill to beat his man. Read More

  1. Zidane

Zidane

The 1998 France World Cup is known as “Zidane’s World Cup.” The final established the superstar’s name in the history books of football forever. He was the man who defined the true essence of what it takes to make a statement to the world in the most elegant and soothing manner. 

It’s not only about what he was capable of, or what kind of work ethic he subscribed to in ensuring he would outrun his opponents, but there’s something intangible about Zidane which made the world bow down its head in honor of him. He was more than technical perfection. The sum of Zidane is greater than the parts, and he proved to be much more for football than just stellar numbers or statistics. He is a true maestro, an artist with the ball at his feet. Academies all around the world should drive home his controlling skills 24/7! Read More

  1. Platini

PLATINI

Let’s look back to a golden age in football… Le Roi would get the better of you in the air or on the ground. He could take apart your defense with a killer pass or a silky dribble. There was nothing Platini couldn’t do. He was one of the best passers, free-kick specialists and finishers in footballing history. 

He was phenomenal with the ball at his feet and a prolific goalscorer, scoring over 350 goals throughout his career. He could seemingly find a pass or create an opportunity out of nothing, and was often one step ahead of everyone else on the field.The Frenchman was also known for his ability at set-pieces. He would regularly score or set up a goal from a free-kick or score from a penalty kick. Platini is a solid number 10 in our hearts. Read More

  1. Maradona

Maradona

So much controversy surrounds Diego’s life, but there is no doubt that on the field, he was one of the most gifted footballers in the history of the game. Personal views on Diego may depend on age or nationality. He was a villain in Europe (except perhaps in Napoli) and a hero in Latin America. 

His stocky build and bullish frame made him a nightmare to stop when he picked up at full speed. Blessed with a low center of gravity, he could twist and turn beyond multiple players in the blink of an eye. It was as if he single handedly won the 1986 World Cup. He had an incredible sense of confidence that had you feeling like he could have taken on the opposition by himself, every night, and still won. At his very best, he is our pick for the second greatest footballer of all time. He was simply effective and exceptional in equal measure. Read More

  • 1 Pelé
  • Pele

    It’s no surprise Pelé is our top pick. The most significant footballer of modern time, Edson Arantes do Nascimento (more popularly known as Pelé), is considered to be one of, if not the greatest soccer player of all time. When playing the role of number 10, his incredible spatial vision for what was happening on the pitch, along with tactical awareness, combined with his passing accuracy allowed him to execute a multitude of goals and opportunities for the other players around him to score. 

    He first played in the World Cup 1958 at the young age of 17, and in all, won three titles. He was initially given the number 10 shirt by accident. Brazil had forgotten to allocate numbers, so FIFA did it for them, and Pelé was assigned the number 10 jersey. He is widely considered the greatest and the best footballer of all time. Read More

    We all have a right to our opinions. A statistician may argue with numbers, but we are definite in our admiration for these players as being the legends we admire and tried to emulate on the pitch. Join us and share your top pick!

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