It is no secret that some of the greatest players ever to play the beautiful game have donned the number 10 shirt. Here, we run through the most iconic player from each decade to pull on the famous number 10 for their club, from post-WWII up until the present day
40’s and 50’s – Ferenc Puskás
Ferenc Puskás was a shoe-in for this era, although you may not have predicted it based off the Hungarian’s physical stature alone. Puskás was often ridiculed for his physical appearance and inability to head the ball or use his right foot by opposition players pre-game. However, his level of technique and skill ensured that post-game the only thing the opposition were talking about was how good he was. The Olympic champion, World Cup winner and 3-time European Cup winner was truly a pioneer of the beautiful game and paved the way for the modern player we know and love today.
Puskás reportedly wore the number 10 his whole career, and although its rare for a club to retire such a popular number, that is exactly what his old club Budapest Honvéd did in his honour in 2000.
Swinging 60’s and 70’s – Pelé
With Puskás retiring in 1966, it was Pelé that took up the number 10 mantle. Before the emergence of Ronaldo and Messi, Pelé was widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. The Brazilian holds the Guinness World Record for the most career goals with a staggering 1283. The list of personal and team accolades that Pele amassed during his 21-year career is virtually endless and includes 3 World Cups with Brazil.
Pelé also reportedly wore the number 10 his whole career at both club and international level, with his second club New York Cosmos retiring the famous number in his honour.
80’s and 90’s – Diego Maradona
When Pelé’s career was coming to an end in the late 90’s, many doubted whether we would see a player anywhere near his level again, Diego Maradona firmly proved the doubters wrong. A proper traditional number 10 in every sense of the word. No one claims he was the greatest finisher of all time, he didn’t win as many trophies as some of his number 10 counterparts, but you’ll rarely find a clip of Maradona with the ball at his feet where he doesn’t produce absolute magic. Maradona famously struggled, both during his career and after, with alcohol and drug problems which undoubtedly held him back. On natural talent alone, the Argentine could arguably be streets ahead of any other player to ever play the game.
The diminutive midfielder wore the number 10 throughout his career at both club and international level, truly making the number his own.
Noughties – Ronaldinho
It is quite easy to forget just how good Ronaldinho was in the early noughties for Barcelona. The Brazilian is easily one of the most skilful players we have ever seen, and his outstanding ability to score and create goals both at club level and on the international stage has cemented Ronaldinho’s place in the history books as one of the greatest players of all time.
Ronaldinho just edges Luis Figo out on this list by virtue of wearing the number 10 throughout his golden years at Barcelona, whereas Figo only wore it after making his move to Real Madrid.
2010’s – Lionel Messi
Was this ever in doubt? What can you say about Lionel Messi that has not been said a million times before? The man is a living legend and a strong case can be made that he is the greatest player ever to play the game. Having made his Barcelona debut in 2004 at just 17 years old, Messi has gone on to win a record 6 Balon d’Or’s and 33 major trophies, as well as bagging over 700 goals for club and country.
It wasn’t until 2008, after the departure of Ronaldinho, that Messi first pulled on the Barcelona number 10 shirt. The rest, as they say, is history.
Being given the number 10 at a big club truly is a special honour. To follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest players ever to play the game is no easy task. It is not clear who will pick up the mantle going forward into the 2020’s, whether it will be an existing superstar, or an emerging talent remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, to place his name amongst those on this list he will need to be a very special talent.