Greatest Number 10s in Football History: Today, the number 10 shirt in football holds a special place in the sport’s history. It’s a symbol of creativity, vision, and leadership on the field. Over the years, this iconic number has been worn by some of the most legendary midfielders and wingers in the game.
In modern football, the demands on players have evolved, with managers often looking for dynamic wingers and forwards. This shift in tactics has made true number 10s, the classic playmakers, somewhat rare. However, in the past, this shirt number was graced by some of the greatest footballers who led their teams with their exceptional passing, vision, and ability to orchestrate attacks.
Greatest Number 10s in Football History
As we explore the list of the greatest number 10s of all time, we’ll undoubtedly celebrate the incredible talent and impact these players had on the beautiful game.
Our list of the greatest number 10 players begins with one of the finest Brazilian talents, Rivaldo. He’s often regarded as one of the best players of his era.
Rivaldo was primarily an attacking midfielder but could also excel as a striker when needed. He was particularly known for his exceptional dribbling skills and creative playmaking abilities. He had a knack for taking free kicks as well. On the international stage, he proudly represented Brazil.
Rivaldo’s most exceptional club period was with FC Barcelona, where he left a lasting legacy. He’s the ninth-highest scorer in the club’s history, having netted 130 goals in all competitions across 235 games.
For the national team, Rivaldo stands as the seventh-highest scorer, with 35 goals in 74 matches. In recognition of his outstanding performances in 1999, he was honored with the Ballon d’Or award.
After his time at FC Barcelona, Rivaldo continued his football journey with notable stints at AC Milan, Cruzeiro, and Olympiacos, before eventually retiring in 2015.
9. Michael Platini
We now move on to Michel Platini as we continue our list of the best number 10 players of all time. Michel Platini was a prolific midfield striker and is widely regarded as one of the greatest French footballers in the history of the sport.
He was known for his exceptional creativity as a passer and his proficiency in taking free-kicks, all of which made him a dominant figure in the number 10 position, despite his relatively small stature. Platini began his career at Nancy and then played for Saint-Etienne and Juventus, making more than a hundred league appearances for each of these three clubs.
After retiring from playing in 1987, he took on the role of coach for the France national team in 1988 but left his managerial post in 1992. In recent years, Platini has been involved in controversies related to his positions at FIFA and UEFA and has faced corruption charges. As a result, he was banned from participating in the sport until 2023 due to corruption allegations.
Zico, often regarded as one of the greatest number 10 players in soccer history, earned the nickname “White Pelé” because of his extraordinary talent.
Most of Zico’s illustrious playing career was spent at Flamengo, where he made more than 500 appearances in various competitions and scored an impressive 378 goals. Despite his shorter stature, Zico was a brilliant playmaker with excellent passing and technique. His creativity was a driving force behind the attacks of both Flamengo and the Brazilian national team.
In 1983, he left Flamengo to join Udinese, where he quickly became a fan favorite, even though he played there for just two seasons. Zico later returned to Flamengo and, five years later, joined Kashima Antlers in Japan. He eventually retired from playing in 1994.
After retiring, Zico transitioned into a managerial role. He worked with the Japanese national team, the Iraqi national team, and FC Goa, showcasing his knowledge and expertise in the world of soccer.
7. Alfredo Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano had such a tremendous impact on Real Madrid that the club decided to name their training stadium after him.
In his prime, Di Stefano was an incredibly prolific and versatile goal-scorer. He was known for his strength and speed on the field. At Real Madrid, he formed a successful partnership with fellow countryman Ferenc Puskas. Di Stefano joined Real Madrid in 1953, coming from Millonarios. He played a total of 396 games in various competitions and scored an impressive 308 goals during his time with Los Blancos.
After a period with Espanyol, Di Stefano retired from playing in 1966. Following his playing career, he went on to manage clubs like Boca Juniors, and Valencia and even returned to manage Real Madrid. Interestingly, during his playing days, Di Stefano represented three national teams: Argentina, Colombia, and Spain, which highlights his international versatility and impact on the game.
6. John Cruyff
Johan Cruyff was an incredibly gifted player who revolutionized the game, both as a player and later as a coach.
He started his football journey in Ajax’s youth system and went on to make more than 200 league appearances, scoring 190 goals for the club he grew up with. In 1973, he moved to FC Barcelona, where he left a profound impact on the club’s future. As a player, Cruyff was famous for his signature move, the “Cruyff Turn,” and he was known for his creativity and exceptional passing ability.
After retiring as a player in 1984, Cruyff became the coach of Ajax in 1985. It was there that he introduced his innovative football philosophy known as “total football,” which he later applied at Barcelona when he became the coach. His coaching style influenced future managers like Pep Guardiola and Quique Setien, who are strong followers of the “Cruyffista” approach. Johan Cruyff rightfully earns a place on the podium among the greatest number 10 players of all time.
Brazil has produced a wealth of attacking talent, and Ronaldinho is one of the standout players from this football powerhouse.
Known for his incredible creativity, flair, dribbling skills, and overall technical prowess, Ronaldinho is regarded as a modern football great. He first gained attention while playing for Paris Saint-Germain before making a significant impact at FC Barcelona, where he was widely considered the world’s best player due to his consistent performances. Before Lionel Messi’s rise to prominence, Ronaldinho was the star leading FC Barcelona’s attacks.
He also played a crucial role in Brazil’s victory at the 2002 World Cup and earned 97 caps for the national team, scoring 33 goals. After leaving FC Barcelona, Ronaldinho had stints with AC Milan, Flamengo, and Fluminense before retiring from professional soccer in 2015. His impressive career places him rightfully in 6th place among the greatest number 10 players of all time.
4. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane is not only one of the greatest point guards in basketball but also one of the greatest number 10 players in soccer history. He’s known for his incredible vision, precise passing, and elegant style on the field. Zidane’s exceptional performances earned him the Ballon d’Or award in 1998.
He began his career in Cannes, France, and then gained recognition while playing for Bordeaux. In 1996, he moved to Juventus, where he truly shined. His outstanding skills led to a transfer to Real Madrid in 2001 when he was 29 years old, for a staggering 77.5 million euros. Zidane’s technical brilliance and his role model status inspired many players, and he left an unforgettable mark on the game.
After retiring from playing in 2006, Zidane took on the role of manager at Real Madrid in 2016. During his time as a manager, he achieved an incredible feat by winning three consecutive Champions League titles with the club. After a brief absence, he returned to Real Madrid and won the championship once again. Today, he is widely recognized as one of the best soccer managers in the world.
3. Diego Maradona
Opinions about Diego Maradona can vary depending on your age and where you’re from. He had a stocky and strong build, which made it incredibly challenging for defenders to stop him when he got going. His low center of gravity allowed him to weave through multiple players in the blink of an eye.
In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona’s performance was so outstanding that it almost seemed like he won it all by himself, although he did have a team behind him. His exceptional dribbling skills, magnetic ball control, and superhuman acceleration set him apart.
Maradona is a legend not only for his national team but also for the clubs he played for, including FC Barcelona, Boca Juniors, and Napoli. He’s widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, not just as a number 10 player.
Pele is often considered the greatest soccer player ever. He’s also ranked as one of the second-best number 10 players in history.
Pele spent most of his career playing for Santos in Brazil, and he didn’t leave until later in life when he joined the New York Cosmos and played until he was in his forties. He scored an incredible number of goals: 589 in 605 games for Santos and 77 in 92 games for Brazil.
Unlike some other players, Pele wasn’t known for being physically strong, and in the 1966 World Cup, he had a tough time. He was deliberately fouled by Bulgarian and Portuguese players until he couldn’t continue, and this was the second time in a row he missed World Cup matches due to injury.
Pele’s first World Cup was in 1958 when he was just 17 years old, and he won three World Cup titles in total. Some people wonder if Brazil might have won in 1966 instead of England if Pele had been able to play throughout the tournament.
Interestingly, Pele got the number 10 jersey by accident. Brazil didn’t assign jersey numbers, so FIFA did it for them, and Pele ended up with the number 10.
1. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is considered one of the best soccer players ever. He currently plays for Inter Miami and represents Argentina in international matches. He’s known for giving the most assists in football history and being one of the top 10 all-time scorers.
Messi is incredibly talented, and he learned his skills at the famous La Masia academy, where he trained with other great players like Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.
While some say he’s not as amazing as before when he played for PSG, Messi is still one of the most influential soccer players. He’s won the Ballon d’Or eight times, the Champions League four times, and the Pichichi award eight times. Most importantly, he’s one of the best passers in football history.