The number 10 reason for success at the World Cup
At this time the semi-finals of the World Cup 2018 are set. France, Belgium, Croatia and England. In the earlier rounds some notable hopefuls if not favorites had to bow out. That include three of South American teams that were pegged to be contenders: Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and of course the FIFA number one ranked Germany. Coincidence? I think not. If you reflect on the great performances at this World Cup four names immediately come to mind: Modric (Croatia), De Bruyne and/or Hazard (Belgium). It is not a coincidence that they represent half of the Semi Finalists. Winning football in the modern era has become heavily dependent on the key position of the attacking mid-fielder usually wearing the number 10 jersey.
The primary role of the #10 is to act like the quarterback of the offensive lines (midfield and forward). He needs to operate in pockets of space between the defensive and midfield lines and create passing lanes for exploiting gaps in the opposition defense. What characterizes these outstanding players who carried their teams to the final four, sometime (like Modric) almost single handedly, is their first touch, precision passing and great vision, sensing where all players are, controlling the tempo of the game, exploiting weaknesses in the opposition defense and springing the strikers into scoring positions. Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo, Platini and Zidane are (now) historical examples of that classical #10.
Not all of them wore the #10 but acted as the orchestra conductors for their respective teams. But, hold on a second, are not the greatest number 10’s of our time Argentina’s Messi and Brazil’s Neymar? Yes, they are the greatest, but they have been called upon to double up as strikers and at the World Cup level that is next to impossible even for the greatest stars of the game.
Belgium, France and Croatia are blessed with more balance upfront allowing De Bruyne and Hazard to interchange in the #10 role, France has both Griezman and Mbappe to share this role that may have been designated to the disappointing Pogba, and Modric has been supported by Mandzukic and Rakatic to advance Croatia to the semis. So, what can we learn from this World Cup?
1. The reliance on a single superstar, without a quality supporting cast is perilous.
2. Team work trumps talent and the number 10 is the key to winning Football.
As of the time of writing, it appears that Belgium is poised to win it all in an exciting match with Croatia. Let’s wait and see.