Talking about the best players to ever wear the number 10 jersey is a tricky ground to tread on. The number 10 position is the creative outlet of the most football teams but there not everyone who wore the jersey played in that position. John Carew and Ruud van Nistelrooy both wore the jersey but played as strikers. Then there is the case of players like William Gallas and Lassana Diarra who strangely wore the jersey playing in defensive positions.
Before you start getting excited about your favorite player being on our list, we’d like to lay down the criteria for the chosen few on our list. The players on our list must have worn the number jersey, played in attacking position and left an indelible mark on their teams (club or national). Having said this, let us proceed to see our best players
#1. Ronaldinho (Barcelona)
Ronaldinho deservedly makes our list. The Brazilian may not have hundreds of goals to boast of like Lionel Messi but Barcelona’s story can never be complete without Ronaldinho. He was signed from Paris Saint-Germain in 2003 at a time when Real Madrid dominated La Liga and Europe. Ronaldinho arrived and he single-handedly turned the story around for Barcelona. By 2005, he led them to the UEFA Champions League trophy defeating Arsenal by a 2-1 scoreline. Even Messi and Puyol publicly admitted that the change in Barcelona’s fortune was because of him.
#2. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in Manchester United’s history. He left Old Trafford as the record goalscorer but more importantly, he gave his all for the team. The 2012/2013 season stands out among the many seasons in which he wore the number 10 jersey. Sir Alex had signed Robin van Persie from Arsenal but Rooney was not affected. He selflessly adjusted his game to fit in with the Dutchman. The story had a happy ending as United ended the season as champions of England. Rooney scored 12 goals and assisted 10 that season.
#3. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Messi is undisputedly the greatest player to ever wear a Barcelona shirt. If you are having any doubts, look up his stats- they are out of this world. The diminutive forward took the number 10 shirt at Barcelona after Ronaldinho’s departure in 2008. The rest is history. He has led them to multiple titles wearing the number 10 jersey including three UEFA Champions League titles. Messi is the life of F.C. Barcelona and they are bound to miss him greatly when he leaves.
#4. Jay Jay Okocha (Bolton and Nigeria)
Okocha is definitely one of the best players to ever wear the number 10 jersey. He wore it playing for Nigeria and Bolton and the fact is these two teams sorely missed him. He was the go-to guy for freekicks, dribbles, tricks, and some spectacular goals. His freekick against Cameroon at the 2004 AFCON helped take Nigeria to the semifinals. He was also one of the players that established Bolton in the Premier League. Sadly, Bolton now play in England’s lower divisions and Nigeria has never had a better number 10 since Jay Jay.
#5. Roberto Baggio (Italy)
Baggio was the star of the Italian national team in the 1990s. As the talisman, he led the Azzuris to the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup against all odds. If not for his penalty, they probably would have even been eliminated by debutants Nigeria in the round of 16. There is no surprise he won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year in 1993. Many have won the number 10 jersey after him but have not been able to measure up.
#6. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
There may be arguments here and there about who the best number 10 to ever play for Argentina is between Messi and Maradona. While they are both one of the best players to ever play for Argentina, we choose to pick Maradona. The controversial figure singlehandedly led his national football team to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. His solo goal against England in that tournament remains one of the best goals in World Cup history.
#7. Pele (Brazil)
When talking about number 10s, Pele is in his own world. Regarded in some quarters as the greatest player to ever play the game, the Brazil legend had the world at his feet even as a teenager. He led Brazil to three World titles and scored 77 goals for Brazil in just 92 appearances. Brazil’s number 10 shirts should probably be retired because of him as no number 10 has been able to replicate his achievements with Brazil.
#8. Gheorghe Hagi (Romania)
Some players just seem to be unlucky. Hagi played for Romania at a time when there was hardly any player in that squad that was at his level technically. Hagi singlehandedly lifted Romania from being underdogs into dark horses. He led them to a round of 16 finish in the 1990 World Cup and to the quarterfinals in the USA ’94. The 1994 World Cup remains Romania’s best ever international performance to date. His son Ianis has followed in his strides to play for the national team too.
#9. Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
Dennis Bergkamp comes from a long line of Dutch greats as far as the number 10 is concerned. A product of Ajax, Bergkamp was the creative brain of Arsenal throughout his time there. He was also part of the ‘invincibles’ team that won the league undefeated in the 2003/2004 season. Playing just off Henry, he formed a formidable partnership with the Frenchman that lasted till he retired from club football.
#10. Zinedine Zidane (France)
We end our list of the best players to ever wear the number 10 with the great Zinedine Zidane. If you are looking for class, finesse, and elegance on the ball, Zidane was your go-to man. At a time when France were struggling to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Zizou came out of retirement and helped them qualify. He even went further to lead them to the final of the tournament where they lost to Italy. Zidane currently coaches Real Madrid.
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