A Take On The #10

Not really trying to call out David Hirshey here…

Pele was perhaps the first to popularize "the #10"

Hirshey has written a column that suggests that the United States biggest need is for a true #10. It’s a discussion that merits debate, though I think Hirshey is too strong in his assessment of who and where a “#10″ will come from for the States.

It’s all honesty, many teams have “good” #10’s–Clint Dempsey proved to make a solid effort in the role on Saturday–but a great #10? Maybe twenty to thirty in the past 30 years of global soccer?

I’ll leave that debate for the commentary or another day.

I do, however, take umbrage with one of Hirshey’s contentions in the article as both incorrect and steroetypical.

Hirshey’s comments:

My guess is that the combination of liking a certain type of player, in conjunction with a relative lack of comfort with the flair that is so traditionally the province of the South American soccer senseis, has led to Bradley historically ignoring the type of player who thrives in the fabled 10 hole.

First, Jose Francisco Torres was thought to be too brittle to merit more than a cameo in the World Cup. And on Saturday, Alejandro Bedoya was very much “off the pace” in his 30 minutes of action against Poland. What Torres and Bedoya have in common, beside their immaculate ball control and deft touches, is that they are both Hispanic (Torres has a Mexican father, Bedoya is of Colombian descent) and are therefore, along with Brazilian-born midfielder Benny Feilhaber, closer to the roots of the No. 10 phenomenon than other American players.

First, to suggest that Jose Torres (more a holding midfielder who likes to hub and pass like a Xavi) or Alejandro Bedoya (who is typically deployed on the flank as a winger/forward for club and country) are closed to the #10 on the United States is offbase and is a misunderstanding of those players talents. Oddly enough I see Bedoya a bit more of a Thomas Muller–the burgeoning winger-forward for Germany.

We agree on Feilhaber (who trails another great #10 in Kaka in this picture)

Hirshey’s suggestion that Benny Feilhaber is more apt as Feilhaber plays well centrally and excels in movement in the attack.

Hirshey further suggests that the #10 has “Hispanic roots” and thus Bedoya and Torres are more “closer to the roots” as Hirshey states.

What is Mr. Hirshey trying to say here? I well think the author is suggesting that due to these players’ heritage they are more likely to have success as a #10. I think that type of thinking is dangerous and I’ll leave that part of this column there.

As we commented above, Clint Dempsey has some of the skills of #10. He has both deft touches and excellent ball control–is he not a candidate because he’s not Hispanic in Mr. Hirshey’s eyes?

Next, the term “Hispanic” means Spanish-speaking or, if interpreted broadly, meets of or pertaining to the Iberian pennisula. Not only was the #10 originally popularized by Pete–a Brazilian–and the “five 10’s” attack of Brazil during the 1950’s which is using the definition of “Hispanic” quite loosely; but beyond definitions, many, many others of origin nowhere near “Hispanic” both historically and contemporarily thrive in the #10 role.

With a mullet that badass you have to be good...

Historically, beyond South Americans in Pele and Maradona, you may suggest France’s Michel Platini an excellent #10 along with Ruud Gullit who hails from the Netherlands. Or how about another man from the land of windmills, Dennis Bergkamp. Italy’s Roberto Baggio was perhaps one of the best also.

Today, players like Mesut Ozil–who Hirshey actually points out–and Japan’s Kaisuke Honda are clearly two up-and-comers.

Honda for Japan...

A TSG fave Antonio Cassano in our mind is nearly up there with Messi when discussing the impact of a #10 (don’t worry, I’m not putting Cassano in the same class as Messi, but I am suggesting his impact at times is just as great).

Cassano is good to point out though, because as we wrote here the strength of a number #10 is being a “360-degree” player…all directions and angles are an option for the player and the #10 can beat you in a number of ways.

I applaud David Hirshey for taking on the topic, but have a challenge in his suggestion that the Americans he points out–Americans with, according to Hirshey, the necessary “roots”–are best able to man the Yanks #10 specifically because of those roots.

31 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Henry on 2010/10/11 at 11:24 AM

    Yeah, I think that was a lazy column that Hirshey probably wrote in haste and frustration after watching the US on Saturday. The accusation that some one like Torres isn’t getting a fair shake because he’s “too technical” or “too latin” is naive and ignorant. We all saw Torres play, and he wasn’t that good (aside from some nice bits in the Turkey friendly – but everyone was playing well in that match). (Another aside, to suggest that JFT is an international quality No. 10 is beyond ridiculous. 1, because it’s not his position, and 2, because he’s a substitute on a mediocre Mexican team.)


  2. Posted by jwrandolph on 2010/10/11 at 11:31 AM

    I mean, Landon Donovan is #10…just sayin.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/10/11 at 11:32 AM

      Agreed — another point of contention in the article. Donovan is best in the run of play (or he quickly moves the ball), so not a textbook #10, but still able to play it.


  3. Posted by Iggystar on 2010/10/11 at 11:33 AM

    Thank you, I read this on ESPN and it immediately rubbed me the wrong way, and I was hoping you guys, in the Shin Guardian way, would articulately pen up a rebuttal.
    Excuse me for exaggerating here (why I wish I could avoid ESPN) but the Hirshey article felt like something I could get on the BigSoccer forums.


  4. Posted by Wonderman on 2010/10/11 at 11:40 AM

    I was upset by this statement… “The sad fact remains that the U.S. hasn’t had a natural No. 10 since Tab Ramos hung up his cleats next to his broken cheekbones in 2002.”

    Tab was the man but I don’t think he had the #10 impact on a game like Lando. I think Hirshey gets away with stupid comments because of he’s detailed definition of what a #10 is.

    Those 5 minutes that I spent reading his article I will never get back. Thanks for not writing like he does TSG!


    • Posted by s44 on 2010/10/11 at 8:15 PM

      The Tab overpraise is really characteristic of a certain segment of US Soccer fandom. It’s depressing how many can miss the obvious: for all Tab’s much-discussed skill (and, perhaps as importantly in truth, identifiably “traditional” soccer pedigree), he was never a decisive player the way Donovan or even Dempsey are.

      The “golden age” mentality has no place in a still-advancing country.


  5. Wow, couldn’t agree more with TSG. That’s a terrible article by Hirshey, and should be a source of shame for him. Neither Torres or Bedoya play anything like a true #10. Dempsey is definitely the closest thing we have to that, and whether fortunately or unfortunately, Bob Bradley doesn’t deploy him like that. A true #10 needs to be able to run at defenders while also making the sublime through-pass, and of course he needs to be able to score as well as he sets up scores. It takes an absurd amount of footskill to be a true #10, and the US squad just doesn’t have anyone who fits the bill. If Dempsey proved to be hard to dispossess, I might give him the nod, but as of right now he loses the ball a little too easily.


  6. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/11 at 12:03 PM

    This sort of stereotyping is very irresponsible. The issue I would have is the impact it could have on casual fans. There’s one thing to say that the USA doesn’t possess a true Number 10 *presently*, but to suggest that the Number 10 or Trequartista will probably have Hispanic roots is just a kamikaze statement. Why does the Number 10 have to be Hispanic? It is hard enough for soccer to gain credibility in the US and globally, so seeing these baseless statements is not helpful.


  7. Given the debate and commentary here I don’t think I’ll take a read of Hirshey’s article, what I think someone should do is take a crack at defining what a #10 is anymore. Back in the days of Association Football the #10 was a central midfielder while the #11 played the in-the-hole striker. Which is where a Bergkamp type best fits in my opinion. Is the #10 the string-pulling playmaker or CAM in a 4-4-2? Is the #10 a direct-running bull/pixie who can (and I stress can) pull some of the strings, a Kaka/Messi type if you will?

    I do agree with the yearning for the US to produce a #10, whatever that means, but I disagree that this person when they arrive can only be an American of Latin descent.


  8. Posted by Jorge on 2010/10/11 at 12:04 PM

    For me a true #10 is a central midfielder. One who has vision and skill. One who makes plays and makes the players around him better with his positioning and passes. One who sees the field and doesn’t think “what is happening,” but “what will happen.” Forwards should not wear 10, they are 2 selfish and focused on one objective (~scoring -which is fine-that’s their job). 9 & 11 should be reserved for them. But a true number 10 is the engine of the team and makes all the parts gel. The number 10 should be one taking the penalties as the whole team depends on him he is used to the pressure. Zidane is a true number 10. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned him. Riquelme from Argentina is a number 10. And, even though he seems to be more adroit on the outside, Landon Donovan is a number 10.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/10/11 at 12:18 PM

      RiquelMe – perfect #10 example…which is funny because in some Fulham blogs Dempsey has actually been compared to him. I don’t see it though.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/11 at 12:46 PM

        In the 2006 WC I thought Riquelme played that ‘enganche’ role superbly. I remember everybody getting excited by the way they played.

        I honestly think it’s a little debatable whether a true Number 10 is a deep lying forward or a central midfielder. But I think we can all agree that he is the player that occupies the hole between the the defence and midfield.

        Maybe Hirshey should have said that the Number 10 has Latin roots because if you say enganche in Argentina or Trequartista in Italy, people intuitively knows what it is – a playmaker, rather than what he did say.


    • Posted by megabrain2.0 on 2010/10/11 at 6:19 PM

      Those are two great examples. For me, the #10 dictates pace. 02 was my first cognisant WC experience, so i’ve never really experienced the classics (Pele, Platini, Maradona, etc), but when I envision the #10 my first thought is Zizou in 06. The game played through him. The Brazil match was moving, and I will never forget watching that game and reconsidering my faith… but in all seriousness, the #10 should slow or quicken the game to his own desired pace. The #10 is the artist. the architect. For me, it’s Zidane.


  9. Posted by kaya on 2010/10/11 at 12:22 PM

    I skimmed the article. I wonder if he started out thinking of writing an article about #10 style and wound up writing about the US lack of focus on technical skill. Is the #10 position making a comeback? Because I seem to hear more about how this position is more of a relic.
    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on the hispanic thing, a term which I think of technically referring to of hispania origins (and thus portuguese speakers would qualify.) I think he’s trying to say that we need to embrace a certain amount of creativity that is more recognized in latin america and winds up sounding silly because he decided on the #10 theme for an article.
    I hadn’t read anything by Hirshey before, tbh, but this article does appear to have been hastily written. The author doesn’t seem to have a coherent point, and covers a lot of territory, all of it sub-standardly.


    • Posted by John Henry on 2010/10/11 at 12:29 PM

      Good points. Hirshey is usually pretty good. He tries to be funny most of the time, and does alright with that. Seems like he tried to be serious this time and… well, not his strong suit.


  10. Posted by dth on 2010/10/11 at 1:09 PM

    Here’s a question I have that I’ve never seen seriously addressed: the vast majority of great #10s come from the traditional powers of the game, with some exceptions (e.g. the Magnificent Magyars featured #10 play). So here’s the question: do the #10s make the nation or does the nation make #10s? If you want to get fatalistic, the wrong answer suggests that outsiders have little hope of breaking into the club without a bit of that magic (to produce the player with the magic).


    • Posted by Freegle on 2010/10/11 at 2:54 PM

      This is a great question and I was thinking the same thing as I read the Hirshey article. It’s easy to bemoan the fact that the USA does not have a true #10 of top quality. Regardless of the opinion on Donovan being a number ten, or whether someone can grow into the role (i think Iceman can), it undermines the fact that it is an 11 man game. All of the players mentioned in the article had other quality teammates that allowed/helped them to be what they were.

      The best #10 ever cannot overcome subpar #s 2-9 and 11. We need to improve everywhere (except GK). We need more consistency and positive possession out of the central defense. We need a true striker to develop. We need a full team of players that can maintain and move possession in small spaces and don’t need to resort to dumping the ball up the field. We need to have better focus and stop giving up soft goals. We need to improve everywhere.

      ESPN continues to churn out lazy/uninformed/irresponsible articles and pass it off as soccer journalism. They should be ashamed of themselves.


  11. Posted by scweeb on 2010/10/11 at 1:12 PM

    Well we have four years for a number 10 to show them selves (any16-18 year olds out there wanting this).
    So i have a questions for the tsg community. Is the usa doing anything to create these types of players? Can we as the tsg community do anything to help bring these type of players?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/10/11 at 5:18 PM

      Just get a bigger sampling size of players coming through the youth ranks.


      • The sampling size not only needs to be bigger, but as diverse as possible. Someone below mentioned the physicality of the US National Team and it reminded me of something a coach in my former club said to me during a tryout:

        “Make sure to take note who’s the fastest [over a 40 yard dash]; we can teach them to dribble but we can’t teach speed.”

        That kind of outlook needs to change, and I believe it is as more and more people are getting involved in coaching soccer and you’re seeing some of the dinosaurs supplanted.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/11 at 7:57 PM

          I think the emphasis at youth level should be that more must be done to improve technical ability and footballing quotient. Maybe then, people like Hirshey wouldn’t write such articles.


  12. Posted by PinowskiAP on 2010/10/11 at 2:10 PM

    This article is an insult to non-Hispanic footballers. I wonder if this author realizes that Pele, a Brazilian and perhaps one of the most famous players to wear the number 10, does is not Hispanic.

    Underlying this article is the same line of thinking that leads people to claim “The US would dominate if our black athletes chose soccer.” A nation’s footballing style or prowess has nothing to do with race or language. Tradition, culture, and especially institutions (such as academy systems) are responsible.


  13. Posted by Nelson on 2010/10/11 at 5:08 PM

    Ok, some clarification is needed here guys. Hispanic comes from the term Hispania, which refers to a region of Ancient Rome that both Portugal and Spain occupy. Therefore hispanic could possibly mean anyone in latin of spanish or portugese decent. However, it is generally used for people with roots to spain. As españa so clearly resembles hispania the old term. To say he´s using it wrongly would be like saying calling Feilhaber Brazilian is wrong cause he´s American. However, I do get the point that Pele is black, despite the fact he´s earned his whiteness in Brazil for being so famous(now that´s a real issue that one would have to earn a supposed superior status).

    And to address is this a racist comment? Seemingly perhaps, but one must take into fact how hispanics have had to adapt to the game due to their size. Read soccer books, they definitely cover how it has effected everything from game play to formations. So I doubt it´s racist, it´s just that a hispanic is more likely to have played in the certain 10 style that Pele tipifies. Granted, anyone can play like anybody with practice.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/10/11 at 5:18 PM

      Nelson – I correctly pointed out above that Hispania and Hispanic with their lowest interpretation could include Brazil — I did not say it was outright incorrect.

      My issue is with the #10 having to come from that background. Even if we subscribe to the height issue, it’s just more fodder for players like Cassano (not of Hispanic descent), Del Piero (not of Hispanic descent), Bergkamp (not of Hispanic descent), Honda (not of Hispanic descent)–all on the shorter side. Also and quite loosely Donovan and Adu.

      I would go with the height thing (but the you also have a player like Cristiano Ronaldo).


  14. Posted by Nelson on 2010/10/11 at 5:36 PM

    Yeah, I noticed you presented the fact, but some commentators were still in disarray so I decided to keep what I´d typed anyway.

    Ronaldo is just a beast. And not to mention he´s from Hispania. Lol, I´m just picking on you there.

    I think the problem is that Americans can tend to rely on strength and size as a pro to their game. We clearly perform well because we are one of the fittest sides, not the most skilled side. So Bradley needs to stop looking at mere physical facts, like how fast Findley can run or how big Jozy is, and start to appreciate intangibles like Gomez´s knack for positioning or Buddle´s goal minded mentality.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/10/11 at 7:37 PM

      Saying the USA are “one of the fittest sides” is just as bad as the main stereotype in this article that “all Number 10s are Latin!”


  15. Posted by s44 on 2010/10/11 at 8:05 PM

    Really poor article all around. Who cares how it looks or what shirt # it’s from? What the US, like any team, needs is a midfielder who creates boatloads of chances, and we’ve had one for a while. When he’s out, we usually look lost. That’s it.

    And oh yeah, offense isn’t our problem these days.


  16. Posted by sparkie on 2010/10/11 at 9:50 PM

    sorry, but i dont think Hirshey even warrants a rebuttal. the guy tries to polarize with every article on espn. why even give it a shake? the #10 debate is so open to debate and interpretation that it makes no sense to try and dissect his opinion. IMHO, no need to spend the time to comment on what was a patently awful column on his part. you have too much quality, original content to waste time on that old bugger.


  17. Posted by justin on 2010/10/11 at 9:52 PM

    is it possible that holden could BECOME a poor man’s #10? it seems if he continues to play in an attacking midfield system like bolton he could develop some of those vision and patience on the ball skills……


  18. Posted by drizzl on 2010/10/12 at 6:17 AM

    I’ve always understood the term Hispanic as referring to something from the island of Hispaniola (which Haiti and the Dominican Republic share). I think people here are using the definition of Latino as Hispanic.


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