Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Fading of the #10

          World Football/Soccer has seen several prolific players rise in the #10 position over the last 5 years or even longer. When I say #10 here, I am specifically referring to the player that plays in the hole behind the striker (often in a 4-2-3-1 but not necessarily) and is the supposed creative center of the team. With this rise, saw the retreat of 2 strikers systems (such as the 4-4-2). Managers decided to put more of priority on packing the midfield. Wingers often became inverted and often cut in instead of following the traditional model of staying wide and making crosses in to the center forward.
           Players like Ozil and Mata became high commodities, moving to Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively. These players were usually allowed to stay high up the field, not required to track back and unlikely to help win back the ball. Of course there are often exceptions. However for the sake of this argument I am referring to players who operate like this. While these players are often supremely talented, they often lack pace and strength. In summation what they can truly offer the team is limited to how they are deployed in the side. Sometimes these players are played wide but usually to lesser success. Shinji Kagawa is another that could be added to this list.
          Currently it seems like the sport is seeing another tactical shift in which more versatile players are taking up the creative helm and making it harder for these strict #10s to be starting stalwarts. Players such as YaYa Toure, Toni Kroos, Gundogan and Michael Bradley have become the more in demand style of player because they can fill a creative role but also have strength, power and pace which allow them to be more effective all over the field. Other players such as Gotze, Iniesta, David Silva, Carzola, Rakatic and Modric can either play deeper or are equally effective playing wide. This is not the case with players such as Ozil, Kagawa and Mata. Managers have begun looking for versatile players.
         Take Jose Mourinho's management of Chelsea. Mata only lasted half a season once Mourinho had taken the Chelsea reigns. Mourinho prefers multifaceted players. This is why he much preferred Willian over Mata. As talented as Mata may be he isn't able to play anywhere else on the field. He even seems unlikely to be successful only just a bit deeper as the attacking mid in a 4-3-3 midfield triangle. Mourinho's sale of Mata to United now seems like a stroke of genius. He foresaw the problems Mata would encounter at United and knew that he would not make United more of threat to Chelsea.
        Mata is the more clear case. However, Ozil is similar. Real Madrid sold Ozil to Arsenal last year much to the elation of Arsenal fans everywhere. Ozil made a strong start to last season but his progress and performances wained as the season went on. He has similarly looked not near as effective this season.
        It seems to me that these strict #10s need a team to be designed around their style of play or built around them. While Madrid most definitely didn't build the team around Ozil, the system was perfectly suited to him there.  Now that he is at Arsenal the team isn't the same system and may not be suited as well for him. Last season at United, Mata seemed to struggle when played out wide and because of the lack of quality around him. Now He has been playing in his preferred role, he looks little better.
       The truth is that these are very talented players. Still, would you rather pay millions for a player who is great but limited to a single role or a more versatile player who can perform more than one function for the side. Most would have to give preference to the latter. A player that is intelligent and can create but is also strong on the ball and able to drop a bit deeper or play out wide is much more valuable than a player who is only useful in one role where the whole team must give deference to that player.

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