Lionel Messi wears no. 10.
Neymar wears no. 10.
Wayne Rooney wears no. 10.
Recent winners of the Ballon d’Or, given to the best player in the world, include Michael Owen, Kaká, and Ronaldinho, all of whom wore no. 10.
Part of the reasoning for the popularity of the no. 10 goes back to Diego Maradona and Pelé, two of the greatest players that ever lived. They both wore no. 10, so it would be a natural extension for many of today’s best players to choose that number.
But there is actually more to it than that and it starts with why both Maradona and Pelé wore the greatest of football numbers.
When players were first assigned numbers, the starting 11 were given numbers 1-11 with the goalkeeper wearing no. 1, the defenders wearing the next lowest numbers, and the forwards wearing the biggest numbers.
This is much the same reason that single digits are so popular in baseball. When numbers were first assigned it was based on their position in the batting order. Thus Babe Ruth wore no. 3 and Lou Gehrig wore no. 4, for example.
The most common formation used by soccer teams when numbering started was 2-3-5, that is two defenders, three midfielders, and five forwards. The players were assigned numbers based on these positions.
Over time, teams moved away from the 2-3-5 and the 4-4-2 became more popular. Teams tried to retain the original numbering as much as possible.
The nos. 4 and 5 became the center backs, with the nos. 2 and 3 moving wide. In addition, the no. 7 and 11, wingers in the original formation, remained wingers in the new formation, only now they are in the midfield.
The switch looked like this:
Now positions were numbered like this, with nos. 9 and 10 being assigned to the two forwards.
Traditionally, one of these players would be better all-around player, a scorer and a playmaker, and that player was most often assigned no. 10.
Thus Pelé and Maradona wore no. 10 and many of the best all-around players have followed..
The other player has traditionally been more of a straight scorer, a striker.
Because of this, the no. 9 is also a popular number among the great players, including Luis Suarez for Uruguay and Robin van Persie of Netherlands.
Of course, today, teams no longer strictly adhere to the numbering system. It is done more out of tradition or respect to the greats with players often choosing numbers greater than 11. David Beckham wore no. 23 with the Los Angeles Galaxy, for example.
Curiously, Landon Donovan wore no. 10 for the United States. That number has now been assigned to Mix Diskerud, a midfielder.
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