As a young man I was an above average footballer. In my mind my destiny was to equal and then surpass all the famous number 10's in world history, Pele, Maradona, Greaves and Law. As a supporter of QPR my heritage was that of Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles.
Unfortunately for me and many others, in the early 1970's a quiet revolution occurred in football that dramatically affected my chances of fulfilling such dreams. It was started by Don Revie, the manager of Leeds United and subsequently England, his success came from applying the work ethic equally to the 11 players on the pitch. That was heresy as far as I was concerned. Number tens didn't do working back or lots of running without the ball. They had loftier aspirations.
The traditional role of the number ten was the equivalent of The Magician in the tarot, also known as the visionary, catalyst and inventor. The number ten was a member of the team, but his contribution often transcended the mundane, he brought magic and the impossible into play. By definition, such a role can't be played by someone who concerns themselves with the mere basic struggle for existence that the muddy midfield battle for possession represents. The number ten was an aloof observer of such mired thinking, and had a distain of getting his socks, let alone his shorts or shirt dirty.
The shadow aspect of The Magician is The Fool, and number tens could suffer in any number of very cruel ways. Whilst attempting magic, conjuring space, time on the ball, seeing the bigger picture, he could often tangle his legs and feet, fall flat on his face, make a complete idiot of himself. For the number ten this was the necessary payback for genius. But with the success of Leeds United and others, such flamboyance was no longer tolerated on the football pitch.
Leeds United's very brief period of success (bitter, me?) meant that other managers and coaches emulated them. They aspired to having eleven players working equally as hard all over the pitch. By doing so the number ten's magical existence was threatened in the beautiful game, and I didn't rise to fame and stardom.
The last upholders of the traditional number ten role have become rare beasts, however they do still exist, Zidan particularly, and Messi, are shining beacons to all of us who's dream of being a number ten professionally were shattered. Todays' players don't necessarily wear the number, it is called the false nine, or the second striker, but we know the pure beauty and essence from which such roles are tapped.
We, the short breathed geniuses, who the mangers and coaches rejected and told to work hard, train hard, pass it short, still play on the parks of Britain. We maintain the tradition of magic, inspiration and retain the ability to make something simple look incredibly complex, and to make complete idiots of ourselves.
Football, as ever, reflects life. The mass conformity to the social norm of drone and mortgage bearer, has stifled the inspirational energies of naturally born number tens. By conforming and accepting our grey fearful existence, we have lost touch with the internal Magician. The fear of failure and making mistakes restricts our internal genius.
Right now we need to re-connect to our internal visionary and inventor, and allow ourselves the opportunity to make decisive, innovative and extraordinary contributions to the present game of life. Long live the number ten.