More than a jersey number: Best all-around players have the privilege of wearing No. 10

Brandon Paz

What do players like Ronaldinho, Wayne Rooney, Landon Donovan and Zinedine Zidane have in common besides being icons on the teams they played for?

They all sported the number 10 on their backs.

Any casual soccer fan, maybe even any casual sports fan, can tell you that the player who wears the number 10 on their back is most likely the best player on the team.

Back before players had a say in which number they wear, they were assigned based upon the position they played. A popularized 2-3-5 formation in the early days of organized soccer left the goalkeeper with the number one jersey, defenders with two and three, etc. With this tradition taking over the football world, the positions within the formation became synonymous with the number.

However, a transition to different formations, such as 4-4-2, saw the original numbers move to different positions and became synonymous with those new ones. With the move, numbers nine and 10 were reserved for the forwards and thus, to this day those two numbers are typically reserved for the best scorers of a team.

Pelé, the Brazilian national who is often considered the best player to ever grace a soccer field, first wore the 10 jersey because of a mixup prior to the 1958 FIFA World Cup. Since then, the number never left him and is often associated mainly with him. Then there was Diego Maradona, the Argentine who played shortly after Pelé retired. It was like Beyonce following the Beatles – one incredible soccer player follows the next. He too wore the number 10 jersey and revolutionized the game so much for Argentina that the Argentine Football Association asked FIFA to retire his number 10 jersey. The number carries so much weight that FIFA denied that request.

As a result, decades after those players have cemented their legacies, many notable players have had the pleasure of wearing that number on their backs. From Ronaldo to Ronaldinho in Brazil, to Juan Román Riquelme in Argentina, those national teams have handled the prestige behind the jersey with grace.

Jumping to today, young star Neymar makes the plays as the number 10 for Brazil and it is well known that Lionel Messi creates plays from everywhere for Argentina with the jersey and captain’s armband to solidify his status on the national team.

On the American side, Landon Donovan, often considered the greatest American soccer player in the history of the team, wore the number 10 jersey and provided American fans with plenty of memories throughout his tenure on the national team. Now that Donovan has retired, the number 10 jumped around a few times before finding a solid home in up and coming 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, who makes a stronger case for holding onto the number with every appearance with the national soccer team.

The history of the game has made the number 10 a staple in soccer at all levels as the number keeps being handed down to the best all-around player on any given team, it seems the tradition will remain alive.