Modern football, if you believe everything you read, has become a results business. However, for fans, we still turn up or tune in to the beautiful game to be entertained.
For that to happen, we want to see players that capture our imagination, get us off our feet and work magic with their feet. For that, we entrust the ball with the playmakers, the No.10s, the trequartistas. Leave the net spend to the accountants.
We’re not talking men that just wore the number, but the creators, the magicians, doing the seemingly impossible. Spotting the run, the pass, dropping a shoulder, turning on a dime. The moments you tried to copy as a kid in the playground, the images you would have paid good money to see live.
As with any Top 10, there are also players that miss out, any of which could have made the same list on another day, or with enough of an argument.
Pelé is still regarded as one of the best players to grace the game – in many eyes the best. But despite his tendency to drop back and start moves, we felt he wasn’t quite the type of player we were looking for as he more often than not played as a central forward. But it was not a decision which was taken lightly.
Roberto Baggio, ‘the Divine Ponytail’, caught the eye at the 1990 World Cup and Enzo Francescoli, ‘The Elegant Prince’, was also one of the best players of his generation, but both miss out.
Kaka, Gheorghe Hagi, Francesco Totti, Preben Elkjær, Ruud Gullit…they would all have made some fans’ lists. But here is Football Whispers’ Best Number 10s in the World, ever.
10. Dennis Bergkamp
Painting pictures with his right foot, Dennis Bergkamp was to football as Vincent van Gogh was to art. Technically, not many players, either before or after him have been able to match up. From his sublime control against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup to the almost identical move at Filbert Street against Leicester City, he could beat you with skill, guile and a killer eye for a pass.
At Arsenal, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry benefited from the Dutchman’s unselfishness. Bergkamp finished with 94 assists in the Premier League. Only Frank Lampard and Ryan Giggs managed more – but they played for a much longer period of time.
Coming through the Ajax academy, he had a difficult spell at Inter Milan before Bruce Rioch pounced. His 11-year spell at Arsenal, as well as creating countless chances for his team, he also found the back of the net 100 times himself – none better than Bergkamp’s gravity defying goal against Newcastle United.
9. Zinedine Zidane
Most images of Zinedine Zidane that spring to mind come in the iconic blue shirts of France, especially that career defining World Cup in 1998. However, before his two headed goals in the final, Zizou, had not made a telling impact. A red card in the group stage showed a glimpse of his dark side, only to leap into life at the Stade de France.
One of his best performances for Les Bleus came much later. Playing against Spain and Brazil in 2006, it was the 34-year-old that turned back the clock and handed two of the game’s powerhouses and lesson in football mastery.
A legend for every club he played for, he took both Juventus and Real Madrid to another level when he joined. No one will ever forget his stunning volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Champions League final in Glasgow. and there can be no denying he was a true Galactico.
8. Michael Laudrup
Not only was Michael Laudrup part of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘Dream Team’, the Dane was the key playmaker, so you know he must be world class. Denmark’s greatest ever player, one of the best foreigner stars ever to play in Spain and part of Real Madrid’s greatest foreign XIs, not many players successfully cross the divide like Laudrup did.
Raul, Anders Iniesta and Pep Guardiola all described him as the best player of all-time, with Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Luis Figo all naming his as the greatest player they played with or against.
Blessed with pace, Laudrup was as skilful as he was elegant. So versatile was his ability on the ball, he could play almost anywhere in the attack of midfield. As good a passer as Michel Platini, but with technique to challenge Bergkamp, the Dane had it all. Incredible balance, vision and close ball control, his only criticism of himself was a lack of selfishness aiding to him scoring too few goals.
Ronnie was the bridge between a team in transition and the juggernaut Spanish power club we have today. Dazzling footwork, moving the ball in ways that before seemed physically impossible, he was that well regarded the Brazilian managed to destroy Real Madrid so badly at the Santiago Bernabeu that Los Blancos fans could only stand and applaud the Barcelona man.
For all the flair, many forget the sublime vision to pick out a team-mate, even pulling off no-look passes at will. Before you had worked out what Ronaldinho was about to do, he’d done it and was conjuring up something else.
Multiple Player of the Year awards, two La Liga titles and the 2005/06 Champions League, had he managed to sustain his performances for a longer period of time then he would surely have been even higher up this list.
But while his multitude of tricks and flicks may fade as time goes on, his smile will always remain.
Zico was a player with amazing technique, vision, an unmatchable passing range, plus the ability to finish.
Pelé once said: “throughout the years, the one player who came closest to me was Zico,” handing the former Flamengo man the nickname ‘white Pele’.
He played more than 800 times for the Brazilian club, scoring 539 goals, but known as one of the best passers of the ball, he is arguably one of the greatest players to play in the 1970s and early 80s.
His record will be tainted slightly due to not winning any of the three World Cups he played in around a period where Brazil were dominant, meaning in some eyes it’s hard to measure up to some of the other Samba legends.
Let that take nothing away from his ability to bend and manipulate the ball with both feet though. A dead-ball specialist, he was Beckham before you could get paid for wearing fancy pants.
5. Michel Platini
FIFA named the Frenchman the sixth greatest player of all-time in their Player of the Century vote and it’s hard to argue with the three-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Michel Platini was exceptional with the ball at his feet, he was easily one of the best passers of his generation. Another dead ball specialist, he was deadly from distance and cool from the penalty spot. Deceptively quick, able to play anywhere in the attack, he was another playmaker that also seemed a step ahead of the opposition.
Not blessed physically, he never looked like an athletic or gifted athlete, but despite concerns over his fitness and work-rate, put the ball at his feet and he would find a way to beat you.
Le Roi would get the better of you in the air or on the ground, take apart your defence with a killer pass or a silky dribble, there was nothing he couldn’t do. A hero as a player, winning the 1984 European Championships with France, his off-the-field career hasn’t been able to match that success.
4. Johan Cruyff
The creator of his own move, the father of total football, an influencer of the game like we will never see again. A legend for both Barcelona and Ajax, Johan Cruyff was a genius. The Dutchman, who did some of his best work out wide, would drift into all different areas of the pitch, finding space the defence didn’t even know was there.
Pushing and pulling his markers from wide areas, back to his own penalty area, he was a nightmare to mark and a joy to behold. Perhaps the most creative player of not only his generation, but of anyone to play the game.
Cruyff had it all: technique, speed, great acceleration, vision to pick a pass and the skill to beat his man when nothing was on. A tactical brain that has probably still to be matched, he saw things both on and off the pitch that players can still only dream about replicating.
3. Alfredo Di Stefano
A legend and pioneer before his time, Alfredo Di Stefano was perhaps the original support striker. Named by Pele, Eusebio and John Charles as the most complete player they ever saw, his 376 goals in 522 games give him a much-deserved mention as one of football’s best number forwards, but it was his ability to drop off the front-man and become a creative force that made him stand out.
Real Madrid class him as their greatest ever player and his partnership with Ferenc Puskas handed Los Blancos unparralled success at the time – winning five European Cups. The Argentine-born, Spanish international won two Ballon d’Ors and eight Spanish league titles and is one of the best players to ever kick a ball.
2. Diego Maradona
Your views on Diego Maradona depend on your age and your nationality. The pantomime villain in England, his performance against the Three Lions make him a cult hero in his home town of Buenos Aires.
His stocky build and bullish frame made him a nightmare to stop when he picked up a run of speed. Blessed with a low centre of gravity, he could twist and turn beyond multiple players in the blink of an eye.
Seemingly winning the 1986 World Cup on his own, you almost felt like he could have achieved that feet taking on the opposition himself. His greatest attributes were his dribbling, magnetic close control and that burst of acceleration that seemed almost superhuman.
1. Lionel Messi
Not many would put this little Argentine wizard above the great Diego, but sometimes we are blinded by nostalgia and the great players of the past.
In 20 to 30 years’ time, no one will blink an eye-lid at naming Lionel Messi as the greatest creative attacking player ever.
What’s even more impressive, he also holds the record for the most assists in La Liga history. While he will always find a way to score, he won’t do so at the behest of his team.
Even his transition into a ‘False 9’ would see him drop back, pick up the ball and begin a large majority of Barcelona’s attacks.
With eight league titles, four Champions League medals, five Ballon d’Ors and more records than Madonna, it’s frightening that he’s only just 30. There is still more to come from this little magician.