Similarly to what beset the early humans prior and during the Ice Age, the number 10 has expanded to most areas of the pitch and had to adapt, after their position behind the striker was phased out because of the preference for the flat 4-4-2. However, the emergence of the 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 means that now a position for all different types of fantasista’s to play has returned. The Barclays Premier League has not been exempt to the change nor has it tried to resist it but what can work in other countries does not in the English game. This ilk of player has had to adapt the pace of play and the physicality that the opposing team are legally permitted to exert upon them. The speed of thought; technical prowess and general intelligent play has been proven to bear more fruit whilst they occupy a position not from behind the striker but rather from the wing in Premier League, putting a second striker there instead.
Origins of the Fantasista
The idea of the trequartista, number 10, originated from the Italian coaching philosophy that explained to attack, only three players are needed to pose a sufficient threat. Still, each of the players would have to fulfil a specific role and possess certain qualities:
The prima punta – main striker and the goal getter for the team;
The secondo punta – a mixture of the prima punta & the trequartista and;
The fantasista – the attacking playmaker for the team.
This is illustrated explicitly in the team that Carlo Ancelotti forged at his tenure with AC Milan. Rui Costa, and then Kaka, behind Andriy Shevchenko and Christian Vieri, also Hernan Crespo and Filippo Inzaghi, at different points during the former Rossoneri midfielder’s time there was the crux of the team’s success and being the world’s best team, despite lacking the domestic domination.
The Premier League and the Number 10
In the Premier League, the attacking midfielder playing behind the striker simply does not work as well. Various reasons can be ascribed as to why but the main two entail the fact that they are often crowded out and they have a limited somatic capability. The dangers of these players are easy to identify and leaving space for them to operate will enhance the power that the team will show. Therefore, it is with little wonder that they are given such heavy attention by the manager, who instructs their players to allow no space for the player and cast a constant eye over him during the game. Battered and bruised as a result of the tight marking, fantasistas are not often big specimens like box-to-box midfielders are. They cannot compete with the ‘brutality’ of the Premier League, especially given that they play just ahead of the middle of the park. On the wing, however, the full backs cannot deal with them and it is an occurrence that should have been noted by the managers in the Premier League.
Amongst the Premier League, there are many clubs who possess the number 10 and have persisted with him in behind the striker, however, in the rounds it will be discussed whether the player should be moved to the wing position and the success shown when they have moved him to the wing.
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Manchester City – Carlos Tevez and David Silva
When Carlos Tevez was introduced back into the team after his escapades in Argentina, he was employed directly behind Sergio Aguero, where their Argentine connection bore significant fruit that would eventually lead the Citizens to their third league title. Significantly for a Spanish attacking midfielder, it meant that he, David Silva, would have to be moved from his position to the wing, the left wing was where Mancini decided to place him. From there, he caused all sorts of problems for the right back as he would slip into the ‘cheating positions’ and ‘halfway inside’, as Gary Neville refers to them as. He was free to roam wherever he wanted, which could mean that the defensive midfielder on the opposing team would have to deal with two players occupying his zone. Silva’s incisive passing and Tevez’s general work rate coupled with his striking instinct made Manchester City a larger threat than they were when Tevez was not in the team.
Arsenal – Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla
The Arsenal faithful circled in excitement when the club announced that they would acquire Santi Cazorla, the Spanish international, from Malaga. The technically gifted player was played behind the striker, namely Olivier Giroud. After making an impressive start, the Spaniard has waned in his form; been on the end of harsh tackles and intense pressure. Cazorla played from the wing for Malaga and was their most productive player of last season, in terms of goals and assists. Jack Wilshere’s deployment in the double pivot defensive midfield pairing has caused problems defensively for the Gunners. Given the fact he is an offensively minded player, it means he leaves spaces for the opponent to exploit on the counter attack. Wilshere, in his years of development through the youth teams and reserves, has played as an attacking midfielder before and has the ability to cut through teams with his defence splitting passes. In addition, he has the quintessential English qualities that would have made him seen as a prospective world-class central midfielder but letting drop back into midfield to make it a three when on the defensive would be better for Arsenal rather than constraining him to the deeper position of the team. Wilshere played in the role, behind the striker, against Swansea, in the FA Cup 3rd round replay and turned out a stunning performance, capped off with a low drive in the bottom left hand corner.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa
When the Japanese sensation joined the Red Devils in the summer, it was up for debate whether he would feature behind Wayne Rooney. The latter purchase of Robin van Persie immediately made it a direct competition between the two for the position. Because of both Rooney and Shinji Kagawa’s injury this season, it has meant that they have not played together for much of it. Now they are both fit, Ferguson has a decision to make about whichever one should occupy the role. Kagawa has found it hard, in the limited appearances he has made, to exert dominance over the game and control the ebb and flow of Man Utd’s game. When Rooney plays, he is able to play like an extra midfield in some games where it is necessary for the team to have a defensive attitude. Kagawa works best between the lines, like Cazorla and Silva. If Kagawa was able to play from the left, he will combine his attacking midfielder skills whilst getting the most space to utilise them. Kagawa plays on the wing for Japan, given the fact that the manager wants Keisuke Honda in the fantasista spot, meaning he is used to playing there, shown in the way he tracked back for the team against Liverpool.
Chelsea – Victor Moses and Juan Mata
Superficially, one would think that Juan Mata would be the best player to play in the role behind Fernando Torres or now, Demba Ba. Nonetheless, Mata exudes all the abilities that a trequartista does and has shown himself to play better from the flanks. Rafael Benitez would help his Chelsea team play better if he put Victor Moses as the second striker, over Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Under Andre Villas Boas, Mata gave an extraordinary account of himself in the games as he coupled his ability with goals and assists. Villas Boas originally was opposed to playing Mata there given that at his previous club, F.C. Porto, he played with an out and out winger and a goal scoring one from the other touchline. When frustrated in the transfer market, the Portuguese manager played with Mata there. Up until the managerial changes occurring, Mata was a standout performer in the Blues ranks. Once Di Matteo changed the whole philosophy of the play for the remainder of the season, he was shackled to the defensive side of the game. Freed from the start of the 2012-13 Premier League season, he continued where he left off, this time playing from the right, as opposed to the left. He seemed to be able to pick up from where he left off. Originally, Moses’ move from Wigan to Chelsea was met with criticism as it was thought he would mostly be seated on the bench for Chelsea. Nevertheless, he has shown himself to be a real opportunity for Chelsea as his danger from the wing has caused many a team problems throughout the game. He would pose more of a threat through the middle as he would have a direct line to goal and not have to cut it to fashion a chance for him to shoot.
A feature of the Premier League has been to play the 4-2-3-1 without having two defensive minded midfielders. Wilshere has been handed the mantle to do so with Arteta and it has affected the whole balance of the Arsenal team. Ultimately, this decision serves to undermine the effect that the advanced playmaker can have in the game, especially if he is being played from the wing position. The full backs rampaging forward and the ‘defensive’ midfield finding his way into the final third of the opposition puts defensive responsibilities on the more creative players. If played correctly, the full fruit of the creative prowess that they possess would be fully realised.
Creative players were explored as a means to getting the English clubs to the levels that the other team in the European competitions scaled. Given that they are now in the game, their adaptation to the British way of football has been factored into many deals where managers have passed on buying these players. Now, there is an influx as those who gambled have prospered in a big way, like Modric and Tottenham Hotspur. Although there are more of them, the English philosophy has not changed and these players must be protected as given that bubble to perform, they do so very well. In fact, a team could field a team full of number 10s – apart from the goalkeeper / defence – and given that the formation is correct it could work (Barca maybe?). It is the survival of the fittest and the way they adapt when formation preferences changed, it would not be surreal for such a situation to happen.
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