Diego Maradona celebrates his wonder goal against England in 1986.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Clarín
Not only do we believe that Diego Maradona is the greatest number 10 in Argentina’s history, but we also think that he’s the greatest number 10 football history.
Other players may have scored more goals, or won more medals, but no-one else has made us want to watch or play football like Maradona did. As kids growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s we were left open-mouthed at some of the things he was doing, such as the first time we’d seen a reverse stepover and a rabona in the match against Switzerland in 1980. Yes, he had plenty of faults, and had to fight his own personal demons along the way, but that's what we love about Maradona. Despite all the issues and everything that went on, this loveable rogue still captured the imagination and managed to drive his teams on to glory against the odds, not only thanks to his footballing genius but also his leadership, passion and charisma.
Maradona is one of the few genuine boy wonders who went on to live up to the hype. And then some. He made his professional debut as a 15 year old in a match for Argentinos Juniors against Talleres de Córdoba on 20th October 1976. It took just a few minutes for those watching to realise they were witnessing the start of something special when Maradona, faced by Talleres midfielder Juan Cabrera, did a cheeky nutmeg, skipped passed him, and was yards away before Cabrera knew what had hit him. It was the start of a glorious career, full of skill, invention and a bit of devilment.
Maradona's story, from those early days in Argentina with Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, to Barcelona and then the glory days with Napoli and Argentina, deserves more than a few paragraphs in this article.
His dribbling and close control were incredible. When he ran with the ball it literally looked like it had somehow been connected to his foot, whilst his small size and low centre of gravity meant he could twist, turn and accelerate incredibly quickly.
Like Messi, Maradona was extremely left footed. Some people suggested he was too left-footed, but he seemed to cope okay. When he scored the "Goal of the Century" against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter final, he didn't use his right foot once, despite running with the ball for over half the length of the pitch down the right-hand side! And in the semi-final against Belgium he nearly did exactly the same, although he did briefly control the ball with his right foot before setting off again and solely using his left.
As well as being exceedingly dangerous running with the ball, Maradona had tremendous vision and passing, his number of assists were incredible. And if he wasn't creating opportunities for team-mates then he was putting away chances for himself - his goalscoring rate was excellent, whilst his dead-ball skills made him extremely dangerous with free-kicks.
A really dynamic player, and strong too, his small size was deceiving, as his stocky build and huge thighs, coupled with his tremendous balance, made him hard to knock off the ball.
As well as all of the technical and physical attributes, Maradona had other qualities too. He was a charismatic and a natural leader. Not only did his talent command instant respect but his personality did too. One of his team-mates once said that Maradona took pressure off his team for two reasons. Firstly, they went on the pitch knowing they already had an advantage because they had Maradona in their team. And secondly, they also had less pressure on them because if they lost Maradona would absorb the majority of the blame and the pressure because so much of the focus was on him instead of all the other players, implying that many team-mates loved playing with him because they could effectively play with less pressure!
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Agencia de Noticias ANDES.
Just four years after Maradona’s playing career ended, another incredible Argentine talent was unearthed, and he too would be signed by Barcelona. Yet Messi’s move to the Nou Camp was a lot different to Maradona’s. He’d been with Newell's Old Boys since he was a six year old, but never got the chance to get near their first team as the Catalan giants snapped him up whilst he was still only thirteen. As a youngster in Argentina he’d played the classic no.10 enganche role behind the strikers, whereas in Spain he started his career as a left winger. It wasn’t hard to see why a coach would play Messi on the wing - his dribbling and close control were phenomenal, particularly when running at speed, the ball seemingly stuck to his left foot in the same way it did with Maradona. Indeed, later on when Pep Guardiola was in charge at Barcelona he said, "Messi is the only player who runs faster with the ball than he does without it.".
As Messi's career progressed he was moved to different positions by the various managers who coached him; Frank Rijkaard played him on the right wing so that he could cut inside and shoot with his left foot, rather than cross. Pep Guardiola played him as a false 9. Luis Enrique often deployed him deeper as a playmaker. And Ernesto Valverde played him everywhere!
The common factor was that all of his managers realised that Messi was clever enough and talented enough to play in any attacking role. And they all knew that they needed to get him on the ball as often as possible. His game was no longer just about dribbling - his link up play, vision and ability to thread a through ball that no-one else could see were just second to none. And to top it all, his goalscoring rate was just off the scale. Between 2009 and 2019 Messi won the Pichichi Trophy and the European Golden Boot award six times out of ten, incredible stats for a player who wasn’t always playing as an out-and-out striker.
People will inevitably argue the toss about who was better, Messi or Maradona, but both will go down in history as two of the greatest players ever to wear the number 10 shirt.
Omar Sívori, socks rolled down, playing for River Plate vs Huracán.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
One of the footballing greats of the 1950s and 60s, Omar Sivori seemed way ahead of his time with some of his skills and tricks, including his trademark tunnel (nutmeg).
Sívori started his career at River Plate and didn't waste any time in showing the club's fans exactly what he was about. Despite his small stature and inexperience, he immediately showed real confidence in his ability, and there was almost an arrogance about him when he was on the ball. Sívori's dribbling and pace when running with the ball were phenomenal, whilst his flicks, feints and movement highlighted his invention and speed of thought. He'd only just turned twenty as he helped River Plate regain the Argentine title in 1955, before winning the following two titles as well.
In 1957, aged only 21, he was named player of the tournament as Argentina won the South American Championship with a wonderful attacking partnership that was nicknamed “Los Carasucias” (the Angels with Dirty Faces). This deadly partnership saw Omar Sívori alongside Omar Corbatta, Osvaldo Cruz, Humberto Maschio and Antonio Angelillo. Their form alerted big spending Italian clubs and resulted in Sívori, Maschio and Angelillo being transferred to Juventus, Bologna and Inter respectively. In the case of Sívori, such was his talent that Juventus broke the world record transfer fee to take him to Turin, the story goes that the money River Plate received for him allowed them to complete the building of a fourth stand at their El Monumental stadium.
In Turin Sívori soon endeared himself to the Juve faithful with his creativity, skill and passion, forming a formidable attacking trident with Welshman John Charles and club legend Giampiero Boniperti. This earned him another football partnership nickname - "Le Trio Magico" (The Magic Trio). There's a great quote from Giampiero Boniperti about Sivori that gives a real flavour of his playing-style and attitude; "Playing alongside Sivori was pure fun. Charles was the target man, while Omar used the space to put defenders in trouble. He used to play with socks down around his ankles, without any kind of protection, to show he wasn't scared of defenders. He had an incredible winning mentality.". He won the Scudetto three times in his first four seasons at Juventus, and his performances earned him the Ballon d'Or award in 1961.
Finally, few players are given a retrospective nickname, but in articles written about Omar Sivori in recent years he's been dubbed "the Maradona of the Sixties", which shows exactly just how highly he was rated.
Juan Román Riquelme, playing for Argentina at the 2006 World Cup.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A true number 10. When Juan Román Riquelme was on song there was literally no better sight in football, the way he linked and stitched play together with his passing and touches was just a joy to behold.
Riquelme had excellent footwork and ball technique, but it's his passing, vision and creativity for which he was renowned. His ability to dictate the tempo of play was second to none - a rare attribute even amongst the most highly gifted of footballers. Riquelme was a genuine football conductor - orchestrating moves, probing away with clever little passes, noticing angles and openings for his team-mates that other players couldn't.
A Boca Juniors legend with seven year stints at both the start and end of his career, Riquelme won every trophy going at La Bombonera, including Argentinian league titles, three Copa Libertadores and an Intercontinental Cup. He was also named South American Footballer of the Year in 2001 during his first spell with La Boca.
In between his two stints with the Buenos Aires giants he had an unsuccessful spell at Barcelona, where Louis Van Gaal seemed loathe to play him, and when he did it was often out of position on the wing, When Barcelona signed Ronaldinho in 2003 it meant they exceeded the maximum number of foreign players, so Riquelme moved to Villarreal on a two-year loan deal. His time with El Submarino Amarillo proved much more successful than his short spell at the Nou Camp, Riquelme not only topping the assist charts but also achieving his best ever goalscoring rate as he inspired Villareal to third place - their highest ever La Liga position. Villareal made the loan deal permanent and they continued to be a surprise package - even reaching the Champions League semi-final in 2006.
Riquelme retuned to Boca Juniors in 2007, and kept his form going - winning the Argentine Footballer of the Year award twice more in 2008 and 2011. He finished his career in 2014 at the club where he'd started his youth career - Argentinos Juniors.
Ricardo Bochine, master of the Pase Bochinesco.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
The childhood idol of Diego Maradona, Ricardo Bochini is an Independiente legend, a one-club-man who spent his entire career with the Avellaneda club from 1972 to 1991.
A small attacking midfielder, what Bochini lacked in physical presence he more than made up for with his incredible vision and passing. One of the best playmakers of the 1970s and 80s, Bochini's assists were crucial as El Rojo claimed four Argentinian league titles, an incredible five Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups during his time with the club.
Bochini became a master of the killer through ball, it became his speciality and even had its own terminology named after him - "Pase Bochinesco". Pundits and players would rave about the timing of his passing, he had an intrinsic ability to know when to keep hold of the ball and when exactly to release it. In Argentina it was known as La Pausa, the moment when a playmaker pauses slightly as he waits for his target to get into the best position, Bochini became renowned for it.
At international level, Bochini received 28 caps for La Albiceleste between 1973 and 1986. One of the main issues was the number of fine attacking midfielders who were fighting it out for the number 10 shirt at the time. The likes of Carlos Babington, Brindisi, Valencia and Beto Alonso during the 1970s, and then the emergence of a certain prodigious young talent called Diego Maradona, all made it hard for one player to stake a long-standing claim in the role. Bochini did win a World Cup winners medal in 1986, although his pitch time was limited to a five minute cameo in the semi-final against Belgium.
Adolfo Pedernera (3rd from the left) as part of River Plate's legendary La Máquina line-up of 1941.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Clarín
Adolfo Pedernera is a legendary figure of Argentinian football and widely accepted as one of the greatest players of the 1940s. Nicknamed "El Maestro" (The Teacher), Pedernera was best known for his phenomenal passing and intelligent play.
Operating mainly as an inside forward, he was a key part of the fabled River Plate team of the 1940s that were known as La Máquina (Spanish for "The Machine"), winning five Argentine titles alongside other great attacking talents such as Ángel Labruna and José Manuel Moreno. Pedernera and his La Máquina teammates were skilful, adaptable and intelligent enough to be able to interchange positions, one of the earliest examples of a team adopting a dynamic Total Football style of play.
At international level, Pedernera was part of a great Argentinian side that won three Copa América titles in 1941, 1945 and 1946.
After leaving River Plate for short spells with Atlanta and Huracán, Pedernera enjoyed a great career swansong in Colombia with Millonarios. Argentinian players were heading to the north of the continent as a result of a players' strike in 1948, and Pedernera signed up with fellow countrymen Alfredo Di Stéfano and Néstor Rossi. Pedernera would win the league title four years out of five during his time with Millonarios, and this team would also have its own fantastic nickname... Ballet Azul (the Blue Ballet). The great Di Stéfano himself was quoted as saying that Pedernera was the best player he'd ever seen. High praise indeed.
Beto Alonso, River Plate 1984.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Widely known as Beto Alonso, rather than Norberto, he’s one of River Plate’s most iconic footballers having enjoyed fourteen seasons during three different spells at El Monumental from the early 1970s to the mid 80s.
An attacking midfielder, Alonso had great feet and an eye for a killer-pass, whilst his goalscoring rate was tremendous for a number 10 - he’s fifth on the all-time scorers list for Los Millonarios with 158 goals.
Along with the likes of Daniel Passarella and Roberto Perfumo, Alonso was one of the key players as River Plate ended an 18 year wait for an Argentinian league title in 1975, winning both the Metropolitano and Nacional titles.
Alonso picked up a World Cup winner’s medal in 1978 after Argentina's victory on home soil, although his game time was limited to three substitute appearances as head coach César Luis Menotti gave Mario Kempes the nod in the attacking midfielder berth.
After a couple of seasons with Vélez Sársfield in the early 1980's, El Beto returned to River Plate for the third time in 1983 and would enjoy a great finale to his career. In one of the best seasons of his career, River plate beat Colombian side América de Cali to win the 1986 Copa Liberadores, Alonso scoring in the first leg as they won 3:1 on aggregate, before picking up a winners medal six weeks later in the Intercontinental Cup as they beat European Cup winners Steaua Bucarest 1:0 in Tokyo. It was a fitting way to end a great career as Alonso would then retire in 1987.
Pabla Aimar at Benfica.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Aimar was one of two teenage sensations at River Plate in the late 1990s, the other one being Javier Saviola. Both were ridiculously talented, oozing skill and class, and both were immediately added to the ever-growing list of "the New Maradonas". However, whilst Saviola was phenomenal operating as a second-striker, it was Aimar's vision, invention and passing that made him a classic Argentinian number 10 and lead to him becoming one of the finest attacking midfielders of the late 90s and 2000s.
Aimar first came to global attention in 1997 as he was awarded the Bronze Ball as part of the Argentinian team that won the U-20 World Cup, alongside the likes of Juan Román Riquelme and Esteban Cambiasso. Having won three titles with River Plate, Spanish side Valencia paid a club-record transfer fee of 24m euros to take the 20 year-old Aimar to the Mestalla. Aimar started off impressively and his assists and goals proved crucial as Valencia won the Spanish title in 2002, their first La Liga triumph in over 30 years. He became a huge crowd favourite with his elegant playmaking style. He had a bit of everything in his locker, as well as the great vision and passing he was flamboyant and a great dribbler who could quickly beat a couple of opponents to make something out of nothing. Aimar was the sort of player that fans would happily pay to watch.
Unfortunately, having won La Liga again in 2004, Aimar started to pick up injuries, and it was a problem that would plague him throughout the remainder of his career. After five years at Valencia, Aimar moved to Real Zaragoza in 2006. Aimar had two contrasting seasons with Los Maños; his assists helped the club reach a hugely respectable sixth place at the end of his first season, but the injuries returned to haunt him in the second season and Zaragoza were relegated.
Despite the injuries, European clubs were still interested in taking a gamble on signing Aimar because they knew that on his day he was as a talented as any player in the world. Benfica did just that in 2008. The Lisbon giants had only won one league title in thirteen years and were looking to build something to try and break Porto's dominance. An injury hit start to Aimar's first season didn't bode well for the Benfiquistas, but the following season saw new manager Jorge Jesus put together a fantastic attacking quartet that would take the Portuguese league by storm. With Paraguayan forward Óscar Cardozo up front and 21 year old Ángel Di María on the wing, Aimar was also joined by his old River Plate team-mate Javier Saviola who'd just been released by Real Madrid following his own injury problems. With Aimar and Saviola forming an almost telepathic playing partnership behind Cardozo, Benfica romped to the league title, scoring 78 goals along the way.
Aimar would have five years at Benfica, becoming a huge fan favourite there despite the ongoing injury issues. His career would end with a short spell with Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim, before one last substitute appearance for the club where his professional career had started, River Plate, in 2015. Aimar was a beautiful footballer, one of our favourites in the 2000's, and if it hadn't have been for the injuries who knows how great he could have been.
Mario Kempes, Argentina's Number 10 at the 1978 World Cup.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Okay, stick with us here - we know that Kempes wasn't a traditional number 10, he was more of an out-and-out goalscoring forward. However, he did wear number 10 in the 1978 World Cup, albeit only because he was the 10th name in the squad - the numbers were done alphabetically, and he was actually played as an attacking midfielder by César Luis Menotti for the majority of the tournament, with Leopoldo Luque playing up front. It worked incredibly well. Kempes loved to run at defenders, so getting the ball a bit deeper and having a bit more space to start the attacks from wasn't a problem for him. He did move to centre-forward in the opening second round against Poland, before reverting back to an attacking midfielder for the remaining matches and becoming the standout player of the whole tournament - winning the Golden Boot with 6 goals.
At club level, Kempes spent seven seasons in La Liga with Valencia during two spells there in the 1970s and 80s, whilst in Argentina he played for Instituto, Rosario Central and River Plate.
Ariel Ortega, River Plate legend.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Nicknamed "El Burrito" (the Little Donkey), Ariel Ortega was anything but. Ortega started his professional career with Daniel Passarella's River Plate in 1991 and during the seasons that followed he'd play alongside other talented youngsters Marcelo Gallardo and Hernán Crespo, as well as legendary River Plate old boys Enzo Francescoli and Ramón Díaz.
With his dribbling skills, vision, arrogance on the ball and dynamic style, it wasn't long before the inevitable comparisons were being made with Diego Maradona, and Ortega was seen as a likely heir to the number 10 throne as he continued to master the enganche role - he even had the fiery temperament to go with it.
Having won four league titles and a Copa Libertadores within five years at River Plate, Ortega had become a huge crowd favourite at El Monumental but his success hadn't gone unnoticed in Europe, and it wasn't long before Valencia had snapped him up in 1997. Things didn't go well at the Mestella though, Ortega struggled to hold down a regular place under coach Claudio Ranieri as the Italian's tactics didn't seem to suit him.
France 1998 saw Ortega handed Argentina's fabled number 10 shirt - the first time since 1978 that anyone other than Maradona had worn it at a World Cup. Pulling the strings as the side's attacking midfielder, Ortega had a great start to the tournament, playing in every game and scoring a couple of goals as they cruised through the opening group and then beat England in an epic encounter in Saint-Étienne. However, things turned sour for Ortega and Argentina in the quarter-final clash with the Netherlands when he was sent off for headbutting Edwin van der Sar. A late Denis Bergkamp goal would seal their fate and send them home after a 2:1 defeat.
After the tournament Ortega moved to Sampdoria to replace World Cup team-mate Juan Sebastián Verón. However, despite scoring a reasonable 8 goals in 27 Serie A appearances, the season turned into a disaster, with Luciano Spalletti being replaced at the helm by David Platt halfway through the season and Platt for some reason preferring to play on-loan Lee Sharpe instead of Ortega as Samp finished third from bottom and were relegated to Serie B.
Ortega had done enough to persuade high-flying Parma to buy him though, and yet again he replaced Verón who was Lazio-bound. Despite joining up again with former River Plate team-mate Hernán Crespo, Ortega struggled and only managed three goals and a handful of assists, so it was no surprise when River Plate manager Américo Gallego announced in 2000 that they'd struck a deal to bring him back home to Argentina. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of Ortega's career as he became a man reborn at El Monumental thanks to an array of attacking talent that was the envy of Argentina - Ortega playing alongside upcoming stars Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar and Juan Pablo Ángel in a formidable partnership that was nicknamed "Los Cuatro Fantásticos" (the Fantastic Four). It was only for a short period of time but it was long enough for Ortega to fully rediscover his confidence and free-flowing footballing spirit. Even after the departure of Aimar and Saviola to Spain, Ortega was able to inspire River Plate to a 2002 Clausura title.
With Ortega back to full form, Europe came calling once again in 2002. Despite being linked with clubs from the big-3 leagues, it was Turkish giants Fenerbahçe who stumped up the cash for El Burrito. However, it didn't go as planned for Ortega in Turkey. He starting reasonably well, scoring 5 goals in his opening 14 matches, but he couldn't settle into life there at all, and at the start of 2003 he refused to return to Turkey after international duty and was subsequently banned from football by FIFA until the end of the year.
After serving out his suspension, Ortega returned to Argentina once more in 2004, signing yet again for old boss Américo Gallego, who was now in charge of Newell’s Old Boys. It was another great homecoming as Ortega helped the side to win the 2004 Apertura, their first Argentinian title since 1992. After two fine years with La Lepra and plenty of signs that his football was back to its best, River Plate showed an interest in signing him for a third time, and Ortega couldn't resist the chance to play once again for his beloved Millonarios.
However, despite winning the Clausura title in 2008, Ortega's final spell there was a stop-start affair. As with so many other maverick footballing talents, Ortega had a self-destructive side to him and his off-field struggles with alcohol started to affect his performances and time on the pitch during his final six-year spell there. He was loaned out to a number of Nacional B sides during that spell before finally hanging up his boots in 2012, aged 38.
A year later, in 2013, River Plate arranged a farewell match for him at El Monumental. It was a fitting end for a player who, despite showing flashes of his undoubted talent during his time in Europe, was clearly far happier playing back in his homeland for a club where he'd become an icon amongst their fans. Whilst Maradona and Riquelme had become legends at rivals Boca Juniors, Ortega had likewise become a legend at El Monumental with River Plate.
Marcelo Gallardo, River Plate vs Boca Juniors 1993.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Having played second fiddle to the likes of Ariel Ortega and Enzo Francescoli in that fine River Plate team of the mid-1990s, Marcelo Gallardo finally came into his own as the team's playmaker in the late 90s. He was capable of great moments of skill and had terrific ball control but Gallardo's finest attributes were undoubtedly his passing, vision, and intelligence on the ball. He was one of those rare players who could dictate his team's tempo, stitching all the play together and then splitting the oposition's defence with a killer pass. It was this creativity that saw him play mainly as an attacking midfielder or occasionally a central midfielder.
Having won five Argentinian league titles and a Copa Libertadores winners medal, Gallardo moved to Europe in 1999, signing for French club Monaco. He joined a really talented side that included the likes of Fabien Barthez, Rafael Márquez, Philippe Christanval, Ludovic Giuly, David Trezeguet and Marco Simone. Gallardo formed a particularly good partnership with Giuly, the French winger combining brilliantly with the little Argentinian in his first season. And what a season it was too, free-scoring Monaco romping to the title ahead of PSG, whilst Gallardo was named the Ligue 1 Player of the Year.
Having hit the heights so quickly, things then went rapidly downhill for Gallardo and Monaco in the following seasons. Whilst Gallardo didn't have a bad season, the team struggled to live up to their new tag as title favourites and they failed to retain their title, finishing in a lowly 11th position that saw manager Claude Puel replaced with Didier Deschamps. Gallardo didn't seem to fit into the new manager's plans and River Plate were able to agree a deal to bring him back to El Monumental in 2003. He was soon winning titles again, as he captained the side to the 2004 Clausura. Despite his game mainly being about assists and creating chances for others, Gallardo had his best goalscoring season in 2005-06, notching a respectable 11 goals. However, Los Millonaros manager Daniel Passarella was starting to prefer Fernando Belluschi, prompting interest from both Marseille and PSG to bring Gallardo back to Ligue 1. He opted for the latter and moved to the Parc des Princes at the start of 2007, now aged 31. He would only stay for another year in France though, before signing for D.C. United at the start of 2008. The MLS was resurgent, especially after David Beckham had signed for L.A. Galaxy in 2007, and Gallardo was keen to experience it. Unfortunately Gallardo picked up a hernia injury and his time in Washington was limited to only 15 appearances. At the start of 2009 he returned to River Plate for the third time and had a couple more seasons at El Monumental before finishing his career over the border with Nacional, picking up a final career title in Uruguay.