The game as we know was shaped in the mid-1990s' at the Greatest coaching seminar the world has ever seen (at Barcelona). The possession-based football saw the emergence of the number 10 position to an elite level.
The classical No.10 position in football, is a string-pulling midfielder, playing in the hole behind his team’s central striker, and threading the wingers. The players who fit themselves in that position are technically gifted and they are the crux of a team’s attack.
James Rodriguez, The Golden Boy
James Rodriguez is one of the last true breeds of classical no 10. In his early days at Real Madrid, we saw the emergence of a player under Carlo Ancelotti who can do anything in the field. In a true sense, he was running the show. With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale in front of the goal (sometimes only the former two) and him in behind in the no 10 position with the double pivot of Kross and Modric gave him a system where he could play to his full potential. He was an elite goal scorer. He would drift near the box with a very swift pace and create all kinds of problems. The Puskas Winner's left foot was a thing of beauty. Those screamers from outside the box echoed his goal-scoring prowess. He was selfless and had a very good understanding of Ronaldo, Benzema and Marcelo. Who could ever forget James, Marcelo, Cristiano doing their samba celebration after combining for a fantastic goal. He could play as a midfielder. He did so with Madrid. The famous Team B of Zinedine Zidane for La Liga in their title-winning 2016-17 season revolved around James and Isco. That year Madrid relished the brilliance of both James and Isco. But things went sideways after that.
What happened at Los Blancos?
Despite achieving 11 goals and 13 assists in his 2016-2017 season at Real Madrid he failed to gain more playing time than the previous season under Zidane. Despite his influence on the pitch, he requested a loan transfer for more playing time. He was scoring goals but the emergence of Casemiro and Isco, who were defensively more astute and fit better under the system of Zidane left him with no option but to move on. It was not because he played bad. It was because without him the team played more in the way Zidane wanted. Zidane preferred attacks in transition. With a classical no 10, you need one two many passes more to thread the ball to the poachers. But without James, Real Madrid needed two passes less to convert defensive transition to offense.
The desperate revival
James Rodríguez (2017)-
To James’ fortune, he reunited with Ancelotti at Bayern Munich. But injury set him at the side. When he returned, Jupp Heyncks took the charge of Bayern. He played some of the best football in that season. But after the spell of Jupp; James ran out of favor again. He even played started some of the important matches of the Champions League. Notably, he even scored against Real Madrid in the 2nd leg of the semi-final of 2017-18 season UCL. But after Jupp Heyncks time at Bayern and the end of his loan period there he was released back to the Spanish capital. It is then he realized the extinction of his positional play. He returned to Real Madrid only to find bad fortune. He was nowhere near the pecking order of Zinedine Zidane.
A true revival?
He was sold to Everton in 2020 after a dry spell at Real Madrid. But the player returned was special. There are some stories written in stars. He reunited with Carlo Ancelotti again. Carlo is building a new sporting project at Everton. He wanted his prodigal ‘son’ James Rodriguez back to his order. James had a very impressive start in the Premier League. He is performing beyond expectations. But he is not exactly playing as a number 10. He is playing in wing position and acting more as a box to box player, sometimes dropping centrally to connect with Richarlison and Calvert Lewin. He is not the number 10 of Everton but in these early games of PL, we could see him creating and dropping to that position and scoring some brilliant goals. He already scored 3 and assisted 4 in English football. We could hope nothing but great things from him. But despite his brilliant start, he was trapped by injuries. He was a guaranteed starter on Ancelloti's side. But the injuries are pushing him down. He is fit now and performing well for Everton. Everton is looking solid in the Premier League. He could help them secure a Champions League spot next season. But there is no doubt that Ancelloti will try him as a number 10 in Everton at some point of the season.
Aesthetic but dying?
He is truly the dying breed of authentic number ‘10’s of football. With the likes of Lionel Messi, Ozil, David Silva at the horizon of their career we could hope for nothing but some more magic from that iconic number 10 position. Now Paulo Dybala and Kevin De Bruyne are two such players in modern Football who have this inherent capability of playing in that special position. But with the player profile they play with now, they are often used in a more advanced position. Much to James’ fortune he is now with a manager who believes in his position in modern football.
I hope with the cycle of life in football, we could see the emergence of football’s one of the most aesthetic and eye-pleasing positional play, number 10.
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