My recent article on the best Current World XI has thrown up some interesting debates as to who is the world's premier number 10.
In my opinion if Saturn FC rocked up and challenged us to a game, Andres Iniesta is still the man I would choose. Quite a lot of people felt in the comment section there are other candidates who deserve the spot with German maestro Mesut Ozil being the main contender.
People will always have differing opinions due to club allegiances and their own preferences on the way a number 10 should play, but I feel Iniesta has revolutionised the role, combining the deep lying playmaker, box-to-box midfielder and advanced playmaker roles in to the ultimate midfield master.
Now, before any of the more observant of you point out that Messi wears the number 10 shirt, that is true but, he is obviously a striker and Iniesta generally plays in the “number 10” position.
The Spaniard’s intuitive movement, silky passing and vision have led both club and country through their most successful periods in their respective histories. So far with Barcelona, Iniesta has won six La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey cups, five Spanish Super Cups, three Champions Leagues, two European Super Cups and two Club World Cups.
For Spain he has won two successive European Cups and the World Cup which is quite a collection. Now obviously playing for both the best international and club side of the era should lead to that amount of silverware but Iniesta has been the lynchpin for both teams. His importance to both sides is demonstrated in his personal awards collection.
I will be here all day if I am to write the whole list so I will go over the awards picked up from 2012 onwards: Euro team of the tournament, Euro player of the tournament, La Liga best attacking midfielder, FIFPro World XI, UEFA Team of the Year, third place in the Ballon d’Or, Champions League best player, UEFA best player in Europe, worlds best playmaker and the silver ball at the Confederations Cup.
His career is littered with breathtaking stats and achievements the most impressive of which has to be Barcelona’s triumphs in 2009, the club won six trophies in one season which has never been done before and is unlikely to ever be done again.
The main criticism people have with Iniesta is that he doesn’t directly produce the same level of goals as someone like Juan Mata or Mesut Ozil. In the past three seasons Iniesta has clocked up 28 goals and 45 assists. For such a successful player that seems like an unusually small number but that is entirely down to the playing style of Barcelona and Spain.
Short passing and clever dribbling are the foundation of the teams and so the goal scoring players are not looking to be found by a spectacular pass like they are for say Real Madrid. The goals often come from dribbles into the box where no assist is required or alternatively the ball gets passed into the net. Iniesta may not play the final killer ball or score the goal but if you watch the build up play he creates virtually everything.
He receives the ball from midfield and then moves it around the opponent's half, bouncing the ball backwards and forwards off Xavi until the rest of the team has penned the opposition into their penalty area. Eventually somebody moves to tackle him, a gap appears and he may not play the final delivery but his roaming movement is the reason the goal gets scored.
This is the reason Iniesta has been so successful and is deemed as so vital to both club and country. Iniesta virtually breaks double figures for goals and assists each season so nobody could claim he hasn’t got it in him. As a Chelsea fan I know all too well the goal threat he possesses after his stunning strike knocked the Blues out of the Champions League in 2009.
There are plenty of the classic Zidane-style number 10s out there with Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata currently being the two best in my opinion, but to play the role Iniesta does for Barcelona and Spain takes a lifetime of practice. You have to grow in the academy ranks at La Masia and perfect your trade for Barcelona B. It takes discipline and ability beyond the average player. Alex Ferguson once referred to Barcelona’s midfield as a carousel, the ref blows his whistle, the lights come on and masterfully organised chaos ensues.
Players roam all over the pitch and yet Iniesta and Xavi remain throughout orchestrating every movement. It takes concentration, discipline and training that virtually no player on the planet has received which is demonstrated in Fabregas’ struggle to cement a place in the Barca midfield. For virtually every other team on the planet Fabregas would walk into the starting line up but not at Barcelona.
Even as one of the worlds top midfielders and a graduate of the Barcelona academy, has had to practice and perfect his game to accommodate Barcelona’s style and even now, two seasons on can’t really call himself an indispensable member of the squad as shown by Barcelona’s apparent willingness to sell him to Manchester United.
Mesut Ozil has for several seasons now been one of the most productive players in the world notching 91 assists and 41 goals in the past three seasons. His ability is made apparent by Werder Bremen's dramatic fall from grace since his departure.
His goals and assists are mightily impressive and for fast and direct attacking teams like Real Madrid and Germany he works perfectly. He has a La Liga title, a Copa del Rey title and a Spanish Super Cup medal in his trophy cabinet and were it not down to the dominance of Spain and Barcelona in recent years would probably have a lot more to be proud of. Despite his clear brilliance he doesn’t have the game control of Iniesta which is why he falls short of the Spaniard in my eyes.
His passing ability is faultless but if you swapped the two midfielders Iniesta would seamlessly fit into Real’s attack whereas Ozil would more than likely struggle at Barcelona in the same ways that Fabregas has.
Of course this is all hypothetical and ultimately it comes down to your opinion. Our views are normally clouded by the style of football excites us more and which teams we love to watch. In my mind I struggle to look past the success that both Spain and Barcelona have had since Iniesta cemented his place in the teams and to his importance to both those sides to see he really is the best we've got.
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