The fantasista10 Top 50: 2013 – Pt 1

Brazil Ronaldinho fantasista

Welcome to Part 1 of the fantasista10 Top 50 for the 2012/13 season, paying homage to the playmakers we feel have been at the top of their game over the last 12 months from all corners of the globe.

Choosing the players has been an arduous task, despite the relatively straight-forward selection process, due to an ever-growing candidate list of prospective ‘number 10s’, as the role continues to become increasingly fashionable once more, albeit in a variety of modern day interpretations.

However, after whittling down the contenders, this first batch of 10 contains players from the traditional countries of football’s number 10 heritage, as well as some from slightly more unconventional places.

The list will hopefully become something of an authority on today’s best number 10s – if you agree or disagree with anybody honoured here, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below, or via our Twitter @fantasistaTEN.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out Part 2.

Diego
Brazil & Wolfsburg
Games: 32 Goals: 10 Assists: 7

Brazil playmaker

Diego Ribas da Cunha seems to have been around forever. A hailed, young prodigy at Santos where he broke through the youth set-up alongside Robinho, he promised great things but has never really lived up to his full billing.

Now 28, having played in four European leagues, including Serie A and La Liga, he has returned back to the Bundesliga after initially leaving (albeit on loan to Atletico Madrid) in controversial circumstances. After enduring initial difficulties (when his attitude was once again questioned) the Brazilian went on to enjoy a quite marvellous season – perhaps liberated by a change in the team’s coach; finishing the campaign producing the most accurate through-balls per game in the division and drawing the most fouls, whilst averaging the second highest successful dribble rate per game, as well as notching an impressive 10 goals from midfield.

This coming season will be key for the traditional number 10 if he has any designs on forcing his way back into the Brazilian squad for the 2014 World Cup, held in his homeland.

“After a tough time under Felix Magath and seemingly being on the way out of the Bundesliga permanently, Diego completely rejuvenated his career and went back to his playmaking best with Wolfsburg this season. Admittedly more mature and less temperamental, Diego was the key in Wolfsburg’s second half resurgence this season, threading his trademark through balls and playing distributor for a buzzing attack around him. No one resembles a classic No. 10 more in Germany than Diego.”Cristian Nyari (Bundesliga Fanatic)

Clement Grenier
France & Lyon
Games: 28 Goals: 7 Assists: 6

France playmaker

Whilst representing France at all youth levels and impressing, Grenier’s playing style inevitably drew comparisons to Kaka from the numerous scouts who came to view the youngster.

This season, particularly the latter half, has been a breakthrough for the 22 year old and as such, Grenier is said to be hotly pursued by a variety of clubs who have shown considerable interest; most notably Arsenal. Where will he be next season?

“With Yoan Gourcuff’s decline there was a gaping hole in the Lyon midfield for a creative player to push forward and make the position his own. Steed Malbranque sparkled in the first half of the season, but the second belonged to Grenier with seven goals and six assists. He exudes a confident elegance when on the ball, he can punish you with a great passing range and he is only getting better. His free-kick skills also came to the fore, with three superb strikes ending the season with a bang.”Andrew Gibney (France Football Weekly)

Lorenzo Insigne
Italy & Napoli
Games: 37 Goals: 5 Assists: 7

Italy playmaker

It’s not easy being a diminutive forward with excellent dribbling skills and technique in this part of the world. Add to any hyped expectation, the burden of being an actual son of Naples, thus intensifying the pressure to become the heir to Naples’ all-time favourite footballing son.

Comparisons, however unfair (or unjust), to *that* number 10 were always going to be inevitable, but aside from this (lazy) hyped view of his style and stature, Lorenzo Insigne is now beginning to make his own, justified hype after completing his first full season in Serie A with his home-town club; helping them finish second in the league, and ensuring they did not miss the departed Lavezzi.

“He obviously is less experienced than Lavezzi, but, from a technical point of view, they’re very similar. More, Insigne is more precise in front of the goal,” said Christian Maggio who has been impressed, along with coaches and team-mates, by the youngster’s attitude and dedication since becoming a first-team member.

Finishing his season later than most, Insigne recently took his impressive form to the European Under 21 Championships in Israel, where he inspired the Azzurrini all the way before falling at the final hurdle against an irresistible Spain. A highlight, a wonderful free-kick against England, along the way.

With the trequartista role taken by the ever-impressive Marek Hamsik at Napoli, Insigne has been slotted into Lavezzi’s wide forward position – the fate of so many modern-day playmakers – where his pace and stamina have been put to good use. It now remains to be seen how the new, more reserved Napoli coach, Rafael Benitez, deploys his attacking starlet.

Isco         
Spain & Malaga

Games: 36 Goals: 9 Assists: 1

Spain playmaker

Similar to Insigne, this season has been his coming of age, culminating in going one better at the European Under 21 Championships. Isco ran riot, forming one-half of a formidable playmaking partnership with Barcelona’s Thiago as Spain claimed yet another international tournament at the expense of Italy.

Capable of playing in wider areas as well as more centrally, he is blessed with an almost magical ability to beat an opponent in a one-on-one situation. His dribbling is aided by a tightrope walker-like balance, and great vision that belies his meagre assists total this season.

Tipped to be Spain’s next superstar, his goals and performances for Malaga in La Liga and the Champions League brought enhanced exposure to a player who was voted World Young Player of the Year for 2012. A known Barcelona fan, Isco has surprisingly chosen to join Real Madrid this summer, when it seemed Manchester City were leading the chase for so long. Hopefully, he won’t go the way of Sergio Canales (the once exciting young playmaking starlet who’s big move to Madrid came too soon and curtailed his own rapid rise), as we’re expecting big things next season.

“To go from a promising but largely bit part player last season, to filling the huge shoes left by Santi Cazorla is quite a feat for a man so young. Aside from the obvious things like his passing and goal threat, what I’ve been most impressed with is his ability to create something magical out of nothing. There’s a touch of Ronaldinho in his prime in the way that Isco will just dumbfound opponents with skill – juggling the ball over their heads, humiliating them with an elastico.”Lee Roden (Spanish Football Writer)

Shinji Kagawa
Japan & Manchester United
Games: 20 Goals: 6 Assists: 3

Japan playmaker

At first glance, many may conclude that Kagawa had a disappointing first season in the Premier League with Manchester United; something recently acknowledged by the player himself, when stating:

“It was a tough time for me with a lot going on in my head. I am not happy with my performance for the team at all. I didn’t score that much.

“I didn’t contribute as much as I did at Dortmund. I had a lot of conflict, frustration and worries.”

What the Japanese number 10 was alluding to was the fact that United’s actual number 10, Wayne Rooney, was often played in his best position – just behind the striker – thus leading Kagawa to be frequently deployed in wider areas (if selected at all) by the then manager, Alex Ferguson – much to the dismay of his former coach at Dortmund.

“Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing! My heart breaks!”

Stated Jurgen Klopp, perhaps a little dramatically, prior to the Champions League final.

“Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw.”

What one also has to consider, again acknowledged by the player, was the impact of a knee injury he suffered which no doubt effected his debut season.

There’s no denying the playmakers ability, and despite the frustrations last season brought, he still ended it with a league winner’s medal – his third in a row. And with a new manager at the helm next season, plus the uncertainty surrounding Rooney’s future at Old Trafford, there’s every chance Kagawa’s star will shine again.

Lionel Messi
Argentina & Barcelona
Games: 32 Goals: 46 Assists: 12

Argentina playmaker

Was his place on this list ever seriously in doubt? Although there was something slightly anti-climactic to a season that saw Barcelona’s number 10 once again hailed as the world’s best. Despite the campaign seemingly petering out after the disappointment of a humiliating exit in the Champions League, and an injury sustained over that crucial period, Messi still claimed the Pichichi award to alongside yet another La Liga winner’s medal.

Not enough? How about becoming the first player to win four Ballon d’Or trophies (in a row), whilst ending 2012 by breaking Gerd Muller’s record for the most goals scored in a calendar year (for club and country), surpassing the German’s 85 by striking 91. Did we also mention that he’s also just bettered Diego Maradona’s Argentine goals record?

As The Guardian’s Spanish football correspondent, Sid Lowe, has stated, the debate surrounding Messi’s greatness has moved to another plane:

“It is not so much a question of whether Messi is the best player in the world right now, as whether Messi might just be the best player there has ever been.”

The danger for the Argentine is that his greatness has become that commonplace; many are now mistaking it for mundane.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Armenia & Shakhtar Donetsk
Games: 29 Goals: 25 Assists: 10

Shakhtar playmaker

A phenomenal season domestically, alerted some of Europe’s biggest club sides with an additionally impressive showing in the Champions League furthering interests around the continent.

At the time of writing, the talented Armenian is said to be at the top of Liverpool FC’s wish list, with Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund also said to be interested in making him their replacement for Bayern-bound Mario Götze.

Already hailed as his country’s finest ever player (at least, since independence) Mkhitaryan’s exceptional year coincided with a positional move, placed further forward by coach Mircea Lucescu thus becoming the fulcrum of Shakhtar’s attacking forays. His tactical awareness and work-rate, stemming from his time playing deeper in midfield, also make Mkhitaryan one of the most desirable playmakers in Europe for 2013/14.

Oscar
Brazil & Chelsea
Games: 34 Goals: 4 Assists: 5

Chelsea Playmaker

It’s been a marathon season for Oscar, starting – quite fittingly – with Brazil at the London Olympics, and ending just recently; playing a major role in his national team’s successful Confederations Cup squad where la Seleção humbled world champion’s Spain to claim victory.

In between, the São Paulo native had a commendable first season adapting to Premier League life with Chelsea after his £19m transfer, forming an exciting attacking triumvirate alongside fellow playmakers Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.

Perhaps most surprisingly has come the Brazilian’s willingness to ‘mix-it’, along with his extraordinary athleticism which saw his season remain productive whilst participating at a competitively high level, late in the season – as his performances have shown during Chelsea’s victorious Europa League run and the Confederations Cup victory where he created vital goals throughout the tournament and in the final.

Ronaldinho
Brazil & Atlético Mineiro
Games (2012): 34 Goals: 10 Assists: 15 / Copa Libertadores (2013): Games: 10 Goals: 4 Assists: 6

Brazil playmaker

The man with the biggest grin in the sport has taken his delightful 2012 form into 2013 -much to the joy of football fans around the globe who adore his style of play and all that he stands for when on form.

The childlike impudence has returned as has his appetite for the game which many feared lost forever. Ronaldinho is currently inspiring Atlético towards Copa Libertadores success which might well end with him claiming one of the few trophies he’s yet to win during his glittering career.

An ultimate fantasista, Ronaldinho still has a knack for scoring goals few others could conjure, whilst crafting a ludicrous amount of assists and key chances. If this outstanding consistency (and his fitness) remains for a further 12 months, it will be nigh on impossible for Scolari to leave him out of the Brazil 2014 finals – no Ronaldinho, no party?

“The former Barcelona man has found a new lease of life in Belo Horizonte, flourishing in Cuca’s exciting Atlético side. Playing in an attack that also boasts the physical presence of Jô and the speed of wide attackers Bernard and Diego Tardelli, Ronaldinho can afford to focus on what he’s good at: sumptuous passes, dead-ball delivery and the odd piece of crowd-pleasing trickery. He was elected the Brasileirão player of the season in 2012.”Jack Lang (Brazilian football correspondent)

David Silva
Spain & Manchester City
Games: 32 Goals: 4 Assists: 8

Manchester City playmaker

A relatively quiet campaign when held in comparison to the high standards he set during the previous Championship winning season, but perhaps the former Valencia playmaker was harshly judged because of Manchester City’s limp defence of their Premier League crown, more than his overall form.

Merlin’, as his team-mates have nicknamed him, still managed to conjure up the most key passes per game (on average) in the Premier League last season, and despite playing slightly wider more often than not (for both club and country), he still invokes the image of a classic number 10 due to his movement and grace on the ball.

Silva was in the shadow of Juan Mata domestically, this season – a player that amply filled his creative shoes at Valencia – and there’s a feeling the Manchester City star will have to up his game to stop history repeating itself at national team level over the coming year, particularly with the additional emergence of Isco.

Do you feel we’ve got it right? Who’s missing? If you think we are wrong, tell us why, so we can get some debates going! Your comments are truly welcome – we invite your thoughts and opinions so please be sure to add comments, or tweet us @fantasistaTEN.