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Rivelino says iconic No 10 jersey has lost its mystique

Updated: 2014-03-06 07:20
By Reuters in Sao Paulo ( China Daily)

Think of Brazil's famous No 10 jersey and the mind conjures images of Pele, Zico or Rivaldo, swaggering past transfixed defenders with a nonchalant dip of the shoulder before firing the ball past a helpless goalkeeper.

If any soccer jersey could attain mythical status it was that one, symbolizing the flair and artistry the samba nation has given the Beautiful Game.

With a World Cup in Brazil just around the corner, however, the pulling power of the yellow No 10 is fading, according to Rivelino, another of the greats to pull it on.

"The importance of the No 10 shirt has unfortunately ended," said Rivelino. "Today the holding midfielders open the game up more than the No 10. What used to be the function of the No 10 doesn't exist in Brazilian football anymore."

Pele, the man who graced the shirt more than any other, having first worn it at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, once said his role was "to score goals and make them."

He went on to almost trademark the No 10 jersey, which until then had just been worn by any of the forwards -although he said the circumstances involved in him donning it were pure chance.

"It was luck," Pele recalled. "I was just 17 in 1958 and the numbers were drawn. I got No 10 and that's how it all started."

These days, in many nations and particularly in South America, No. 10 is still regarded as the best player on the team, "the brains," according to Rivaldo, who won FIFA's Player of the Year while wearing it for Barcelona in 1999.

However, with soccer changing and more stress being put on marking and mobility - not to mention the scarcity of pure strikers - fewer teams have a role for the often cerebral, always cultured, link man between midfield and attack.

Barcelona's Neymar fits the bill for a No 10 - a player who has fans on the edge of their seats - and he wore the shirt to good effect at last year's Confederations Cup, which was won by the host.

All eyes will be on him in this week's friendly against South Africa in Johannesburg, Brazil's last match before coach Luiz Felipe Scolari announces his World Cup squad in May.

Yet Neymar's role on the team is not one that would have been recognized by the likes of Pele and Zico, with defensive duties just as much part of his responsibility as creating and scoring.

It is a change that disappoints greats like Rivelino, who was part of the 1970 Brazil side that is regarded as the greatest team to ever take the field.

"The priority today isn't creating, but marking," the former Corinthians and Fluminense No 10 said.

Rivelino says iconic No 10 jersey has lost its mystique

"Creativity isn't as important.

"Today you have at most three good players on any team.

"Today instead of calling up the best players in each position, the tactical options for each position are called."

Changing coaching methods and tactics are not the only reason No 10 has lost some of its sheen.

Whereas teams used to line up numbered from one to 11, in the modern era of large squads players wear a whole range of numbers and some even have three digits on their back.

Real Madrid and Portugal goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo would have fitted the bill as a No 10 but he wears No 7 on his jersey.

Argentina's Lionel Messi, however, still wears 10 for his club and country.

According to Rivaldo, it still carries some significance.

"The No 10 shirt weighs on you because you know who's worn that same shirt before you," he said.

"Pele, Zico, Rivelino. The all-time greats.

"That's a lot of pressure."

(China Daily 03/06/2014 page23)