When you think of iconic numbers in football, the number 10 comes to mind. It is a number that is so highly revered that fans tend to have a say on who gets to wear the shirt at their clubs or national teams.
It is a number so associated with greatness in football and the players who don the shirt are expected to be the most talented members of a squad. It is usually reserved for midfielders, but in some rare cases, it has been worn by players who play in other areas of the pitch (William Gallas wore it in defence for Arsenal).
In this article, we will look at some players who have donned the number 10 jersey in the past to great effect, as well as some players who, currently, are wearing and performing very well in the number 10 jersey.
Lionel Andrés Messi, known professionally as Lionel Messi, is the second most iconic number 10 in the history of football. He is widely regarded as the best player to have ever played the sport, but it is not an opinion that cannot be argued. His records, however, speak greatly in his favour. You could literally write a book about his exploits but not to worry, we’ll tone them down for a good brief read.
Lionel Messi started his career at Barcelona after being signed by the club in a sensational deal that involved a napkin and a surprise family visit one fair afternoon in his hometown of Rosario. A few years after that visit, in 2004, Messi was fielded in his first official game for Barcelona, wearing the number 30 shirt. A few mesmerizing performances at the highest level earned him a more stable spot in the team and a new jersey number, 19.
In 2008, only four years after his official debut, Messi was given the number 10 shirt for the first time in his career. It was the start of a world-beating era which saw Barcelona dominate European football in exciting fashion. A year later, he bagged the first of his seven Ballon d’Or awards, which spurred him to go even harder against his and Barcelona’s rivals in the game.
By 2021, he had received six Ballons d’Or, broken the all-time Barcelona and LaLiga goal and assist record, and climbed to the second spot in the leading goal-scoring charts in officially recorded football history. He had also donned the number 19 jersey for Argentina for 14 straight years at that time, and became a household name as LM10. However, he currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain, who he joined in 2021, with the number 30 jersey, which he first wore when he debuted in 2004 for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi has won 39 senior titles and two junior titles, bringing his total count to 41. He is the second most decorated player of all time (and the most decorated player of all time if you add his individual trophies). Among those titles are LaLiga, Copa America, UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup and Ligue 1. He has scored 773 goals and provided 333 assists in 979 career matches so far.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known professionally as Pelé, is the former Minister of Sports for Brazil and the man who is the most iconic number 10 in football history. In his playing days, he had no rival and managers did not have an answer to his ingenuity on and off the ball.
Pelé began to make waves in football as a 15-year-old for Santos FC in Brazil after his talents became too big for his futsal career. After just one tryout with Santos, he was incorporated into the senior team immediately. The bigger space on which professional football is played gave Pelé a lot of confidence and his skills shone even more.
Soon after, the Brazil national team incorporated him into their setup and the 16-year-old Pelé took his skills to the global stage, leading his country to victory after victory.
Pelé would go on to score over 1000 goals in his career playing for Santos, Brazil and New York Cosmos in the USA. He is unofficially credited as the best goalscorer in football history, but lies in third place in the official records. He is also credited as the originator of the phrase, The Beautiful Game, which is used to describe the impact of football in human life and entertainment.
Pelé won 36 titles in his career (some of which are defunct) including three World Cups, the most by any player in history. Unofficially, and as recorded by the Guinness book of records, Pelé is recorded to have scored 1,281 goals. Officially, he scored 775 goals in his career. We might never see a number 10 like him again in the history of the sport.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, professionally known as Ronaldinho, is a brand ambassador and influencer, and football personality who once wore the number 10 jersey to great effect.
During his time as a player, Ronaldinho was known for his unique approach to the game. His passing and his shooting range were also great weapons in his arsenal. He is considered to be one of the most skillful players to have ever played the game.
Ronaldinho alternated between several numbers in his career including outlandish numbers like 80 and 49. However, it is with the number 10 that fans like to remember him and it is with this jersey that he dazzled the world, playing for both Barcelona and Brazil.
He was first given the number at Barcelona when he signed for the Catalonia-based Spanish club in 2003. In the five years he spent at the club, he made the world fall in love with football and showed that it was possible to have fun while on the pitch competing for trophies or three points in a very serious game.
Ronaldinho won 17 trophies in his career, two of which were junior trophies. He is a World Cup winner and a UEFA Champions League winner, alongside a league winner in various national leagues. He played 543 official club games before his retirement and scored 197 goals while providing a further 162 assists.
Wayne Mark Rooney, known professionally as Wayne Rooney, is the manager of MLS side DC United and one of the biggest names to ever come out of English football.
Rooney made his debut in 2001 as a teenager for hometown club Everton, wearing the number 18 jersey. After proving to be one of the best young players in the world, Manchester United swooped in for him, signing him for a world record transfer fee for a teenager. He was given the number 8 jersey for the first three years of his career at United, before getting the number 10 jersey.
In that time and wearing that jersey for Manchester United, Rooney rose to become the Premier League’s most iconic striker since Alan Shearer. His bravery and his tirelessness were very key for a lot of magical moments – popularly known as Fergie Time – which the team provided fans with.
He was also given the number 10 shirt for the England Three Lions and went on to become their all-time leading goalscorer in history with the shirt. He retired wearing the number 32 jersey, however, before immediately moving into management.
In his career, he played 763 club games, scored 313 goals and provided 171 assists. He won 16 titles in total, all of which were with Manchester United. They include five Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League title.
What a player he was! Baggio deserved so much more than just individual honors. At times he didn’t even need teammates, he had an incredible presence in any team he played in.
If a player causes riots because of his popularity then imagine how high he was thought of. Fiorentina fans caused riots because the club sold him to Juventus. At Juve, he inherited Platini’s no.10 shirt. He was a worthy successor as well. He won them the Serie A title, UEFA Cup, and Super Coppa Italia.
Baggio moved to rivals AC Milan after the emergence of Alessandro Del Piero. At AC Milan, Baggio again won the Serie A title and kept Milan competitive throughout his tenure at the club.
For Italy, Baggio’s penalty miss in the final of the 1994 World Cup against Brazil in the penalty shoot-out final will live in infamy. Despite that miss, he was one of the best players in that tournament. He was awarded the Silver Ball and was also named to the World Cup All-Star Team. Baggio finished as runners-up in the Ballon d’Or race that very same season.
Roberto Baggio did win the Ballon d’Or in 1993 for his incredible exploits at club and international level. Baggio scored 218 goals in 488 league appearances and scored 27 goals in 56 appearances for Italy. Roberto Baggio won 4 trophies in his career. Again, he deserved so much more both domestically and internationally.
Arguably the greatest French player of all time? It would be very hard to argue against Platini. Just like Zidane, Platini was a highly influential player in any team he played for. The only difference is Platini was a generation ahead of Zizou.
Platini won trophies everywhere he went. He was not just a trophy collector but he was also the main reason his teams won titles. Platini won trophies with Nancy, Saint-Etienne, and Juventus at the domestic level.
At Juventus, he was the best player on the planet. Officially. Michel Platini won three back-to-back-to-back Ballon d’Or awards between 1983 and 1985. Juventus was a dominant force under Platini’s influence as they won league titles and European Cup and other domestic trophies.
For France, Platini won the 1984 European Championship. It was the Michel Platini tournament. Platini scored an incredible 9 goals in just 5 games. The next best was Frank Arnesen at 3 goals. Platini single-handedly won France that tournament and this win was the reason for his 1984 Ballon d’Or win.
Platini had an incredible goal-scoring record despite being a midfielder. Platini scored 224 goals in 432 league appearances and scored 41 goals in 72 appearances for France. Platini won 12 trophies in his legendary career.
“EL Pibe de Oro” – The Golden Boy. Never has been a player given a more apt name. Maradona to some generations of fans is the greatest ever football player to have ever lived. He was an enigma. A genuine superstar and a world-beater.
Maradona made an unforgettable impact at all the clubs he played for. Argentinos Juniors, Diego Maradona’s first ever club named their stadium after the great man in his honour. At Boca Juniors Maradona won the league title with the Argentine giants.
Maradona moved to Europe after winning the Argentina domestic title with Boca. Despite an injury-hit and a controversial stint in Spain, Maradona was able to win the Copa del Rey and the Copa de la Liga. He scored 38 goals in just 58 games for Barcelona.
Napoli defined Maradona’s character. A club that was irrelevant until Maradona arrived. A club without a single Italian League title in their history. A club that was in the shadow of the other Italian giants. But Maradona’s presence changed Napoli’s history for good.
Maradona twice led Napoli to Serie A titles. He was hailed as a saviour and the league titles were celebrated like a festival in Naples. Napoli who were not a genuine threat in Serie A were now a force to be reckoned with. Maradona reached the peak of his career in Naples. He also won the UEFA Cup with Napoli.
For Argentina, Maradona was phenomenal. He could rival any other great player for influencing a World Cup win. After not making much of an impact in the 1982 World Cup, Maradona dominated the 1986 World Cup.
Maradona captained Argentina to a famous World Cup win. Maradona was named the Player of the Tournament. He scored 5 goals and made 5 assists in the tournament. His most famous and controversial game in the World Cup came against England in the Quarterfinals. Maradona scored two contrasting goals to knock England out of the World Cup.
Maradona’s first goal came via his hand, now famously known as the “Hand of God” goal where he jumped for a cross and knocked the ball into the net via his hand while Peter Shilton was trying to claim the cross. If the first goal was controversial then the second was pure genius.
He beat 5 English players as he started a move from his half and then feinted Shilton to knock the ball around him and then cooly passed the ball in the net. That goal was dubbed the “Goal of the Century” in 2002 and it is the greatest ever World Cup goal ever scored.
Diego Maradona scored 259 career league goals in 491 appearances and scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina. Maradona won 10 trophies during his illustrious career.
The only one-club player on our list. Totti was Roma through and through. But this is not just about Roma, Totti’s influence on the Italian National team was great as well. Totti played as an attacking midfielder and as a forward for both Roma and Italy.
Totti’s career saw a gradual rise from a raw talented boy to a genuine superstar. Totti was handed the captaincy of Roma when he was just 22. He was also handed the No. 10 jersey at the club.
Under Fabio Capello, Roma and Totti won the Scudetto for only the third time in their history. Totti’s contribution was immense as he scored 13 goals from the attacking midfield position. Totti also won the Supercoppa Italiana the very next year.
In total, Totti won 5 trophies with Roma but trophies are secondary to what he means to Roma and their fans. He has single-handedly kept the club relevant during tumultuous times and when rivals were winning league titles and European Cups left, right, and center. Totti’s influence kept Roma competitive as well as garnered a good media spotlight.
At the International level, Totti’s influence made Del Piero give up the no.10 jersey. How strong does your influence have to be that a legendary player himself gives up his jersey no.10 to an upcoming starlet? Totti’s impressive 2000 European Championship performances made him an instant star in the national team.
Francesco Totti’s greatest moment in his footballing career came in the year 2006. Italy made it to the final of the 2006 World Cup and then beat France on penalties to win the World Cup. Totti finished the tournament with the joint-highest assists – four. He also played a key part in quarterfinal and semifinal wins. Totti was also named in the 23-man All-Star Team.
Totti may not have the most successful campaigns or trophy hauls of some of the names we’ve mentioned above but his influence on a City and a Club is unparalleled. It takes a tremendous amount of loyalty and dedication to stay at a single club despite the club going through mediocre spells for the majority parts of his career.
Totti remained loyal and he got his just reward by winning the holy grail of World Football while staying at the same club. If not for success, Totti simply makes the list of loyalty and influence.
Augustine Azuka Okocha is a Nigerian football media personality, brand ambassador and influencer who, despite not having a hugely successful career compared to many of his peers, is considered one of the most talented players to have ever played the game and one of the best out of Africa.
Known professionally as Jay-Jay Okocha, the Nigerian midfielder was a bag of tricks who loved to take his ball handling to insane levels while facing off against opponents. Much like Ronaldinho, he enjoyed the game and showed what it was like to have fun while playing in serious games.
He was first given the number 10 jersey in 1993 when he was called up to the m Super Eagles of Nigeria national team set up before getting it in 1994 at club level. Widely renowned spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Fenerbahçe, and then an iconic stint in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers led to him cementing his spot in football history as one of the best to ever wear the number 19 shirt.
He played 492 recorded club games, scored 101 goals and provided 57 assists. His total trophy count stands at 10, just like the number on his back.
Luka Modric is the captain of the Croatia national team and a player for Spanish giants Real Madrid. He is considered to be one one of the most talented midfielders of his generation.
Modric began his career in 2003 at Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, who loaned him out immediately to Zrinjski Mostar, also in Croatia. At Mostar, he wore the number 23 jersey. Upon returning to Zagreb in 2006, he was given the number 10 for the first time in his career.
He spent time at Tottenham Hotspur wearing the number 14 and the first five years of his time at Real Madrid wearing number 19, before getting the number 10 at club level in the 2017/18 season. At national team level, however, he donned the number 10 jersey for the first time in 200i and has worn it ever since.
He has won 27 titles in his career, five of which are UEFA Champions League titles, the most in history. He has played 672 club games in his career so far, scoring 71 and providing 120 assists.