Yeah!!! Football is back, leagues are beginning to kick off new campaigns and while some like those in Belgium, Scotland and France have started, others are set to start soon with the English Premier League to return this weekend.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has crippled almost every activity globally not sparing the sports sector, the football calendar has witnessed a slight tweak and has been halted for a couple of months as part of an enforced lockdown, matches had to be rescheduled to rap up the 2019/20 season, while some were cancelled altogether.
As football returned to stadiums, one could notice that something vital to the game didn’t return with it.
Yes, you’re right, the FANS.
But changes have been part of the game for quite a long time, from the widely accepted application of goal-line technology to the ever-controversial adoption of the VAR (Video Assistant Referee), with new rules on off-side and substitution rammed somewhere in between, you’ll agree with me that these changes aren’t going to end soon.
However, the game is witnessing one major change, one that nobody is paying close attention to and is part of the game itself.
That’s the gradual extinction of no.10s behind the strikers.
The arrival of the 21st century saw more priority given to them but less than 2 decades later, they now find game time hard to come by.
As we all know, #10s are regarded as the playmakers, the flamboyant slippery creators, blessed with the superb technical ability to dictate play by drifting into pockets of space in opposition defence.
Reasons for their recent increase in unemployment rate is what we’re are going to be looked at, so let’s jump right into it.
As their role implies, they’re the one player responsible for creating chances for attackers, so with that in mind, all opposition defences have to do is give them little or no space and time on the ball.
They’re often hurried to pass the ball back out or take their chances from range, sometimes even get dispossessed. It limits their ability to pick out teammates which often puts the team in great disadvantage.
But someone’s got to do the job, and that takes me to the second reason.
The emergence of versatile wingers and wing-backs
Let’s start with wingers; they’re usually the fastest on the field, they often possess a wide range of trickery to lure opposition defenders out creating spaces behind them for no.10s to work with, but there’s more to what these speed stars can do nowadays.
With enough skill, control and slick movements, modern-day wingers don’t just terrorize and run down full backs just to whip crosses and cut-backs into the box. They’re now comfortable playing at the base of the box, cutting in from the wing to help in building up play and creating chances as well as scoring them with equally deadly effect, then we have the wing-backs.
Gone are the days when full-backs are just defensive, they are now an offensive tool. With them joining in the attack, wingers can afford to fill up spaces in the box without their natural positions being empty; in fact, nowadays they even switch positions.
It’s just like a factory worker who shows up to work one day and his employer tells him his services are no longer needed because some machine has taken his job over.
I know you’ll be like “machines, seriously?”
But combining pace, dribbling, crossing, playmaking and scoring together, hell yeah! These guys are indeed machines.
Now, not just one player’s doing the creating, we’ve got more than one in the squad. For fact’s sake, you can check out the most assists in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2019/20. You’ll find out that wingers and wing-backs now run the show.
It is a known fact that most no.10s don’t like to track back and help out with defending, which makes them a luxury most managers can’t afford. So instead of going for a no.10 behind the striker whose job is just to roam freely when the team is out of possession, they prefer to take them out replace them with defensive options, a major reason why we’ve seen a transition to three central defenders rather than the custom two.
Though the creativity aspect is accounted for, how about the transition of play, dictation of game pace and recycling of the ball? Now that’s the role of no.8s in modern football.
They’re often referred to as central or box-to-box midfielders. Just like wingers and wing-backs, they’ve transitioned into combining creativity, control, distribution and tenacious defending all in one; they’re more or less like an engine room of the team.
So in a back three formation (3-4-3 or 3-5-2) while the wing-backs support in attack, the no. 8s control and regulate gameplay. Should things go south up front and they get hit on the counter, defensive midfielders instantly acts as a fourth defender, then the no.8 can switch to a makeshift defensive midfield role, trackback to help win the ball back.
This also works well in with a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formation; this time you may have to employ more than one no.8 to share the job. If you, however, find a no.10 that’s willing to take up defensive duties of a no.8 instead, it would surely be a luxury you can afford, BUT they’re rare.
The reason we have this problem is the fact that some other positions have learned over the years to take up additional roles, so no.10s need to adapt to the modern game. Even strikers these days are required to track back to the midfield and assist in the build-up, the same also with goalkeepers who have become more ball-playing.
For example, should they add speed to their game, they could be used as wingers. Should they take up the task of scoring goals, they could easily pass as false-9s. Or should they add a bit of physicality and stamina, they could get the box-to-box midfield role.
I know you’ve got some payers in mind already in this situation, but should they not up to their game, it’s a matter of time before they get laid-off completely.