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The Best Ever Number 10s in Soccer

The game of soccer has been graced by some of the greatest number 10s to ever walk on the pitch. These players possessed extraordinary talent and skills that set them apart from the rest.

All-Time Best Number 10 Players

Many topics in the world of soccer can go up for debate. However, very few can disagree with or deny the selection of players for this list. They go down in the history books as legends and trailblazers for the game we all love and adore.

1. Pelé

Pele number 10 in soccer

Pelé was a Brazilian-born professional soccer player. He is regarded as the most impactful number 10 in soccer and one of the best players to ever play the game.

He played most of his professional career with Santos FC, a Brazilian soccer club.

Brazilian National Team

Pelé was a member of the Brazilian national soccer team between the years 1957 and 1971.

He won 3 world cups: 1958, 1962, and 1970.

Additionally, Pelé scored a total of 77 goals in 92 appearances, making him the all-time goalscorer for the Brazilian national team.

Individual awards

On December 11, 2000, Pelé was recognized as a joint winner of the FIFA Player of the Century award. It was a one-time award recognizing the greatest player of the 20th century. The other joint winner was Diego Maradona.

On December 14, 2020, Pelé was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 1st team.

The Ballon d’Or award is considered the most prestigious individual award for soccer players. The award only recognized European club players during Pele’s career.

However, an extensive study was conducted in 2015. It determined that Pele would have won the award a record 7 times.

Records held

Pelé also holds two Guinness World Records. The first is for Most Career Goals, scoring 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, including friendlies. The other is for Most World Cup Winners’ Medals.

Additionally, Pelé is the only player in the world to win the World Cup 3 times.

There will never be another Pele. One of the best number 10’s in soccer. He will always be regarded as “O Rei do Futebol, Rei Pelé,” which translates to “The King of soccer, King Pelé “.

2. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi number 10 in soccer

Lionel Messi is an Argentinian-born professional soccer phenomenon. He has been considered by most to be the greatest player and number 10 ever to play the game.

He caught the eye of FC Barcelona at a very young age while playing for a local youth club in Argentina. After attending a tryout for FC Barcelona, the club immediately wanted to sign him.

Messi ultimately made the first team and dominated for the 17 years he was with the club.

He is still one of the most impactful soccer players while playing with his current club PSG.

He excels in being an elusive dribbler and being a dynamic passer and shooter. These qualities have allowed him to break down defensive formations and score many goals easily.

Individual awards and records held

Lionel Messi won the 2022 World Cup Golden Ball Award.

Messi holds the record for the most Ballon d’Or awards with a total of 7.

He also holds the record for most European Golden Boot awards, a total of 6.

On December 14, 2020, Lionel Messi was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 1st team.

Lionel Messi sits in first place as La Liga’s all-time top scorer with a total of 474 goals.

He also holds first place for most career league assists at 192.

During his time in La Liga, Messi was able to set other individual records that still stand.

Barcelona FC

Messi helped Barcelona FC win:

  • 10 La Liga titles
  • 7 Copa del Rey’s
  • 4 UEFA Champions League titles

Argentinian National Team

As a member of the Argentinian national team, Messi holds the record as the all-time top scorer and the capped player with 102 goals and 174 caps.

He helped the national team win a Copa America in 2021 and the coveted World Cup in 2022.

Lionel Messi is a once-in-a-generation talent. His mark will be left on the game forever.

3. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona number 10 in soccer
Street art of Diego Armando Maradona at Caminito Street in La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Diego Maradona was an Argentinian-born professional soccer superstar. He has been regarded as one of the best number 10s in soccer.

Maradona was an elite-level attacking mid-fielder who played the role of a classic number 10 position in soccer. His play-making abilities and creativity were second to none.

He played for several Argentinian clubs. He transferred to Barcelona FC in 1982 for a record transfer fee of 5 million euros.

Barcelona FC

He helped the club win 1 Copa del Rey, 1 Copa de La Liga, and 1 Supercopa de España

In 1984 Maradona broke his previous record by being transferred to Napoli for a fee of 6.9 million euros.

Napoli

He helped Napoli win:

  • 1 Coppa Italia
  • 2 Seria A titles
  • 1 Supercoppa Italiana
  • 1 UEFA Cup

Argentinian National Team

Maradona also had a great impact during his time with the Argentinian national team. He won the World Cup in 1986.

Individual awards

On December 11, 2000, Diego Maradona was recognized as a joint winner of the FIFA Player of the Century award. It was a one-time award recognizing the greatest player of the 20th century. The other joint winner was Pele.

On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 1st team.

Maradona was an iconic soccer player who will always hold his place as one of the game’s legends.

4. Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff number 10 in soccer
Johan Cruyff Painting in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Hendrik Johannes Cruyff was a Dutch professional soccer player. He captivated the world with his unique ability to play the game.

Johan introduced aspects to the game that had never been seen before his time. He was referred to as the father of modern soccer.

Johan’s club career consisted of him playing:

  • 10 years with Ajax
  • 5 years with Barcelona FC

He ultimately returned to the Eredivisie league in 1981 and played 2 additional seasons with Ajax.

He finished his career playing for Feyenoord in the 1983-1984 season.

Ajax

Johan helped Ajax win:

  • 8 Eredivisie titles
  • 5 KNVB Cup titles
  • 3 European Cup titles
  • 1 European Super Cup title

Barcelona FC

For Barcelona FC, he helped the club win 1 La Liga title and 1 Copa del Rey.

Feyenoord

His last season was with Feyenoord. He helped the club win the Eredivisie title and the KNVB Cup.

Honors

He was considered to be a legend for both clubs.

In 2018 Ajax renamed their stadium “Johan Cruyff Arena” in his honor. Additionally, In 2020 Ajax unveiled a statue of Cruyff in front of the stadium.

Ajax also retired his number, #14, for his contributions to the club.

In 2019 Barcelona FC unveiled a statue of Johan Cruyff in front of Camp Nao. They also named one of the club’s stadiums after him. They call it the “Johan Cruyff Stadium”.

Individual awards

Johan won numerous individual awards. Most notably, the winner of 3 Ballon d’Ors.

On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 2nd team.

Johan saw the game differently. He used high intellect to introduce new concepts to the number 10 position in soccer and the game as a whole.

Cruyff was considered to be a “total footballer” who left an everlasting impact.

5. Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano was an Argentinian-born professional soccer player. He is regarded as one of the best and most versatile number 10s in soccer ever to play.

He was known as “La Saeta Rubia,” which translates to “The Blond Arrow.” Di Stefano was known for his power, stamina, creativity, vision, and quickness. One of the few players in the sport that could play any position on the pitch.

He started his career playing for several Argentinan clubs.

He then transferred to Real Madrid in 1953. Before his arrival, the club was average and had not won a league title in over 20 years. He played a total of 11 seasons with the club.

Real Madrid

His impact on the club would immediately be felt. In October 1953, Di Stefano made his debut in a Clasico against Barcelona FC. His team ultimately won 5-0, and he finished the game with a hat trick.

He helped the club win 8 La Liga titles, 2 Latin Cups, 1 Copa del Rey, and 5 European Cups.

Honors

For his contribution to the team, in 2006, Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium was opened at Real Madrid’s training center and has a statue of Di Stefano at the entrance.

Individual awards

Di Stefano won many individual awards. Most recognized, he was the winner of 2 Ballon d’Ors.

On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 2nd team.

6. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane was a professional French soccer player. He is arguably one of the greatest Number 10s in soccer to play the game.

His greatest attributes were associated with his elegance and grace as a dribbler and his dominance in big moments. Zidane’s vision and ability to control the speed and pace of a game showed his intelligence toward the game.

He was best known for being a dominant leader for each team he was a part of. In the words of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, “Zidane was from another planer. When Zidane stepped onto the pitch, the ten other guys just got suddenly better. It is that simple”.

Zidane’s club career was mostly made by his time with Juventus and Real Madrid.

Juventus

He helped the club win 2 Serie A titles, 1 Supercoppa Italiana, and 1 UEFA Supercup.

Real Madrid

He helped Real Madrid win 1 La Liga title, 2 Supercopa de España titles, 1 UEFA Champions League title, and 1 UEFA Super Cup.

French National Team

As a member of the French national team, Zidane was instrumental in winning the FIFA World Cup in 1998. They beat the powerful Brazilian national team 3-0, with Zidane scoring 2 goals.

He also won the UEFA European Championship in 2000.

Individual awards and records held

Zinedine Zidane won many individual awards, notably a Ballon d’Or in 1998. However, Zidane holds a record that displays his dominance in the game.

Zidane is the only player in the history of the sport ever to win a:

  • Ballon d’Or
  • World Cup
  • World Cup Player of the Tournament
  • Euro Cup
  • Euro Cup Player of the Tournament
  • Champions League Title

On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 2nd team.

Zidane will always be remembered for being a true artist of the game and a master of elegance. The pitch was his canvass, and the ball was his brush.

7. Michel Platini

Michel Platini was a professional French soccer player who deserves his place as one of the best number 10s ever played.

Platini operated with great finesse and was regarded as one of the most accurate passers the game had ever seen. He was also an excellent penalty kicker and a free-kick specialist.

Platini’s club career consisted of playing for Nancy, Saint-Etienne, and Juventus.

Juventus

He helped Juventus win 2 Seria A titles, 1 Coppa Italia, 1 European Cup, and 1 European Supercup.

French National Team

As a French national team member, he helped win the UEFA European Championship in 1984. Platini scored a total of 9 goals during the entire tournament. It is a record for the most goals scored in a single tournament.

It is no surprise that he was also awarded:

  • UEFA European Championship Player of the Tournament
  • UEFA European Championship Top Scorer

Individual awards

Platini was the winner of 3 Ballon d’Ors. On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 3rd team.

Michel Platini was adored by all his fans and the entire soccer world. He will always be remembered for being a legend of the game.

8. Ronaldinho

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho, was a professional Brazilian soccer player.

A magician with the ball at his feet and a genius of the game. Ronaldinho had tricks and skills never before seen. He would thrive under the greatest amount of pressure and deliver a spectacular show every time he played the game.

His club career mainly consisted of his time with Barcelona FC and AC Milan.

Barcelona FC

He helped Barcelona FC by winning 2 La Liga titles, 2 Supercopa de España titles, and 1 UEFA Champions League title.

AC Milan

Ronaldinho helped AC Milan win 1 Serie A league title.

Brazilian National Team

As a member of the Brazilian national team, he helped win 1 Copa America title, 1 FIFA Confederations Cup title, and 1 FIFA World Cup in 2002.

Individual awards

Ronaldinho’s most recognized individual awards were a Ballon d’Or in 2005 and a Golden Foot award in 2009. On December 14, 2020, he was selected for the Ballon d’Or Dream Team, 2nd team.

Ronaldinho’s confidence, skill, creativity, craftiness, and talent were one of a kind. He goes down in the history books as one of the greatest players and number 10s in soccer.

9. Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio was an Italian professional soccer player. He was a unique attacking midfielder who captivated the world with his amazing talent and skills.

He was called the “Divine Ponytail” due to his hairstyle and divine ability to play the game.

Baggio played for several clubs during his career but mainly accomplished most of his feats while playing for Juventus and AC Milan.

Juventus

He helped Juventus by winning 1 Seria A title, 1 Coppa Italiana, and 1 UEFA Cup.

AC Milan

He helped AC Milan by winning 1 Serie A title.

Italian National Team

Roberto was very instrumental in the national team. He never won a World Cup. But he did make it to a World Cup final in 1994.

He currently sits in fourth place on the all-time top scorers’ list with a total of 27 goals.

Individual awards

Baggio won many individual awards during his career. Here are some of the most prestigious:

  • Ballon d’Or 1993
  • FIFA World Player of the Year 1993
  • Golden Foot 2003
  • Man of Peace 2010
  • Italian Football Hall of Fame 2011 (The first player ever to be selected)

10. Zico

Better known as Zico, Arthur Antunes Coimbra was a Brazilian-born professional soccer player. Zico was an excellent soccer player and regarded as one of the best number 10s in the game.

So much so that he earned the nickname “The White Pele”.

His club career mainly consisted of his time with the Brazilian club Flamengo. He then played a couple of seasons for Udinese Calcio in Seria A.

Flamengo

Zico is regarded as a legend for Flamengo. He helped the club win:

  • 1 International Cup title
  • 7 Campeonato Carioca titles
  • 1 Copa Libertadores title
  • 3 Campeonato Brasileiro Séria A titles
  • 1 Copa União title

Needless to say, he was a dynamic and explosive player that elevated the club to new heights.

Brazilian National Team

Zico never won a World Cup. However, Zico was a very important piece of the National Team. He helped his team win the Bronze in the 1978 FIFA World Cup and the Bronze in the 1979 Copa América.

Individual awards and records

Zico currently holds the Flamengo record for All-Time Goalscorer at a total of 509. Additionally, he sits in 5th place on the Brazilian National Team All-Time Goalscorers list at a total of 48.

Zico’s most prestigious individual awards:

  • Golden Foot 2006
  • FIFA Order of Merit 1996
  • Seria A Player of the Year 1984
  • South American Footballer of the Year 1977, 1981, 1982

In Summary

Many have played, but few are remembered. This list of the best number 10s to ever play the game of soccer is a list that will remain intact for many years to come.

What each one of these players did for the game has been etched in the legacy of the beautiful game we love. They all possessed elite-level skill, vision, intellect, leadership, dominance, and talent. True legends and ambassadors of the game.


To better understand the number 10 position, read my article Impact of the Number 10 in Soccer.

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