When Juan Roman Riquelme retired from professional football last year the whole football world was grieving. He was the last truly “romantic” player; one of those players who doesn’t see soccer as a job, but plays for love to the game. Roman was the last player who treated the ball with respect and did not see it just as an object to play the game.
He was the last number 10, the last true playmaker, the last of generation that didn’t run or play soccer in the traditional way but were valued for their “magic.” The downfall of the traditional number 10 in the football world showcases how the game has evolved over the years in all its aspects.
Not only has it become commercial, but the way it is played has also changed. To think of a team without a number 10 was impossible ten years ago, but look now. No team that is challenging for a title plays with a classic 10. The luxury of having a player who barely breaks the trot when not with the ball just because he can create magic out of nothing is something no team can afford.
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The game has become so intense and fast that you can’t play with “one player less” when defending. To have lost the magicians of the football world is sad. However, by no means am I saying that players now a days are worse than before. They are just different.
For all of Eden Hazard’s or Gareth Bale’s qualities, they are not the type of players that Francescolli or Juan Roman Riquelme were. They are physical monsters with tons of quality, but their game is based on athleticism and power, over the magic of the fallen giants.
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What Riquelme or Ronaldinho did with the ball at their feet is inhumane. They did it with such patience that they made it seem as if they were alone in the field.
When these majestic magicians of the game took the field and started creating plays, the stadium was left dumbfounded. They glided across the field as if on roller skates, while gently taking the ball next to their feet.
Leo Messi may do it these days with the same ease that Juan Roman did, but his game is completely different. Never will you see Messi complaining about playing by the sides because he has to run too much. Well, Roman did precisely that at Barcelona and he was shipped away. A number 10 doesn’t run to help the team, they run for him. He is just there to touch the ball and make magic occur.
Although, they could be called prima donnas, selfish and spoiled it is thanks to these magicians the game got its nickname “The Beautiful Game”. Hopefully, future generations fall in love with these athletic monsters and the beautiful game, while different, stays beautiful forever.
It would be a shame if it became mechanical, just as Nike exemplified in their World Cup ad, which showed that if there is no touch of magic, then the game becomes dull. Optimistically, the new physical powerhouses today will regain the lost magic of playing with love and the beautiful game will remain ever gorgeous.