Changing tactics, Eric Cantona, and an underappreciated Tottenham legend February 13, 2021 – Posted in: Soccer
There must be something in the water in the Premier League.
After years with no true English No.10, four starlets have come along at once and are lighting up the division.
James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, and Phil Foden have all been exceptional this season but how come the Three Lions now have a creative quartet the likes of which we haven’t seen for some time?
We’ve had some one-offs over the years, capable of playmaking behind a striker, plus a tremendous amount of box-to-box stars like Steven Gerrard.
Four aces who can all flourish in the role, though, that’s another matter.
Three of the four English number 10’s feature in talkSPORT commentary games today. James Maddison, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish are all in action with Mason Mount expected to feature for Chelsea, in their match on Monday.
But how did we get to a place of such riches? talkSPORT takes a look…
The English game was historically stubborn to change and perhaps one of the major reasons behind our new influx of talents is tactical shifts in the 1990s/2000s.
With more foreign players and coaches in the Premier League, different formations also arrived, or were given more time to showcase their talents.
Manchester United legend Mark Hughes told talkSPORT: “Probably the first time I became aware of someone who understood that role was when Eric Cantona came to Old Trafford.
“He was very cute. He would go to the left-hand side to just look for those little pockets and then receive the ball in deeper positions and then break and create from there.”
Previously the game over here had been besotted by strike partnerships, the likes of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton at Blackburn Rovers were to be aspired to.
But gradually one of the duo became the more creative and dropped deeper before the role changed totally.
“Growing up a No.10 was a No.9, so your No.9 and No.10 were centre forwards,” said current Queens Park Rangers centre forward Charlie Austin.
“Now we’ve lost the second striker and we’ve pulled him back into this position that we’ve kind of created. Now it’s the No.10 role. Nobody wants to be a No.9 anymore. Everyone wants to be that luxury player being a No.10.
“Not only has the role changed but it’s been taken away from being the second striker.”
Modern No.10s don’t just sit in a central pocket of space behind a striker anymore either and at various points our four youngsters have also played in roles off the wing.
Former Aston Villa midfielder Andy Townsend said: “In my day you wanted that guy to be able to hold the ball up to link the play, to have the little pictures when he’s got his back to goal of what’s in and around him. Drag defenders out of position and then have the quality to thread something through for a striker and score his goals.
“I think the modern day key players in most teams are often coming off one side. If you’re a right footer, you’re coming off the left. If you’re a left footer, you’re coming off the right. That way you’re just a bit more difficult to tag and deny.”
England’s initial inability to incorporate a creative No.10 as many flourished around the globe in the 1970s and 1980s meant some stars never got the recognition they truly deserved.
“If Glenn Hoddle was around now he’ be a £150million player,” Henry Winter, Chief Football Writer for The Times, insists.
”If he’d been in France he would have had the sort of career that Michel Platini had. If he’d been born in Italy with the love of a Gianfranco Zola or Roberto Baggio, the type of players they had there.
“In that era in England there was a complete mistrust of flair.
“Tottenham fans cherished him, quite rightly but he wasn’t cherished enough by English football.”
Other reasons behind the current array of talents we have are the encouragement in academies to develop creative talents, with Spain’s success seeing more emphasis on skills rather than physique.
Meanwhile, better pitches and training grounds also helped the next current generation.
Now, we have a bigger problem on our hands. Just who should get the role at Euro 2020 for England?
“Mason Mount is going to have a good finish to the season, I think. So that may well push him to the forefront of Gareth Southgate’s thinking,” said former Man United man Hughes.
Ex-Villa star Townsend is flying the flag for a Villan, though, he added: “I think England would be not quite the same, personally, if Jack Grealish isn’t given a starting role.”
Meanwhile Liverpool legend John Barnes has another name he would prefer.
He said: “That one No.10 has to be somebody that will get the ball, play one and two-touch, create space, play the ball quickly in the right areas at the right pace, in the right positions for Sterling, Rashford and Kane.
“Not someone who is going to dribble and do it himself so you need a No.10 like James Maddison.”
We’ll leave this decision to Gareth Southgate.
You can hear Leicester vs Liverpool, Man City vs Tottenham, and Brighton vs Aston Villa on GameDay live on talkSPORT