The number 10

 

The magic of the number 10 comes from the trequartista's feet, the player of inventiveness, the one who is capable of wrong-footing “everyone with a piece of skill perhaps he is not even fully aware of.”

Roberto Mancini's 2000/01 Master's Thesis for the professional coach certification has been devoted to the role of the trequartista (in English the playmaker in central attacking midfield).

 

 

THE TREQUARTISTA

mancini-sampdoria

WHO IS THE TREQUARTISTA IN A TEAM'S LINE-UP?

From the point of view of “football culture”:

The trequartista is a player with great technical skills and specific characteristics:

  • sublime unmarking qualities;
  • great basic technical skills and good applied technique quality;
  • unpredictability;
  • ability to serve the strikers with ease in various ways;
  • predisposition to dribble and individual play;
  • poor attitude to the defensive phase.

From the point of view of the “position on the field”:

The trequartista is a player who places himself in the central zone between the defensive midfielders and the strikers' lines.

 

HISTORICAL NOTES

maradona-platini

maradona-platiniZico, Platini and Maradona are the best expressions that football has proposed in that role over the past 20-25 years. In the 90s the role fell into a crisis: coaches often sacrificed the historical figure of the "number 10" because of the need to preserve the balance of the team. It is hard to understand if such a choice - which led to a few years of speculative and muscular football - was dictated by theoretical reasons or by the lack of "talented players."

In recent years there has been a resurgence: today many teams are "built" right around the trequartista (e.g., Brescia and Juventus).

However, the role has undergone a strong evolutionary process: Zidane, Rivaldo, Rui Costa and others - i.e. the best ones in the "new role" - are very different players than their counterparts of the past; that is to say, they combine undisputed technical qualities with good physical skills that allow them to participate more actively in the ball recovery phase.

The different physical constitution of the "new trequartistas" allows them to compensate for the reduction of space and time to "play the ball." Hence fantasistas have also had to adapt to a more athletic football where the "technique" is no longer enough to emerge at certain levels if not supported by good physical and characterial qualities. For all these reasons, it is increasingly difficult for the trequartista to "make a difference" as it used to happened in football in the past. At least this explains the choice to give up on the trequartista, especially by mid-low table teams. However, they can still give something more with their personal characteristics. For all these reasons, today it is easier for teams to support – rather than bear - the modern "number 10."

 

OBSERVATION OF THE TREQUARTISTA

A statistical definition of the role
Trying to define in a more objective way if a player does belong to the role of trequartista or not, it is possible to use the statistical survey that associates to each player one of the eight roles - goalkeeper, fullback, centre-back, central midfielder, wide midfielder, central attacking midfielder or trequartista, supporting striker, pure striker - designed to identify the position and therefore give a meaningful assessment. This research uses the density of game, which is based on the position the player holds when he comes into possession during the match and the time of possession for every ball played. In every match you can assign to every player his real role. Therefore, at the end of the season we can calculate an average density using all the information obtained during the term. In this way it is possible to assign a role to every player. In accordance with this model there are only 11 players in the current Italian league who fit into the category of trequartista (considering those who have played for at least one-third of the available minutes):

PlayerTeam
Locatelli Thomas Bologna
Baggio Roberto Brescia
Pirlo Andrea Brescia
Rui Costa Manuel Fiorentina
Seedorf Clarence Inter
Zidane Zinedine Juventus
Veron Juan Sebastian Lazio
Micoud Johan Parma
Zauli Lamberto Francesco Reggina
Fiore Stefano Udinese
Zauli Lamberto Vicenza

Which system is the trequartista included in?
The presence of a trequartista does not necessarily impose a certain system, because teams change their tactics very often during the game or the season and because the role of the trequartista can have very different aspects.

However, most of the teams playing with a "central attacking midfielder" are lined up in a 3-4-1-2 (e.g., Bologna, Parma, Inter or Vicenza). Other teams - such as Juventus and Fiorentina – use the 4-3-1-2 which requires fullbacks very good at pushing forward and three midfielders more dynamic and inclined to interception.

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Then there are teams fielded in a traditional 4-4-2 where there is a player with more freedom to move and support the offensive department (Veron at Lazio). 

schema-gioco 3

Otherwise, the trequartista can also play in systems set out with a lone striker (Fiorentina, Lazio and Brescia).

schema-gioco 6schema-gioco 5

As we have already said, there are potential trequartistas who find space in the offensive department to take advantage of their skills close to the opponents' area and also not to weigh on the team for their poor attitude to interception: it is the case of Recoba at Inter, Leonardo in the three-man attack at Milan and Morfeo at Atalanta.
After all, Roma's situation with Totti is also clear since he has played more as second striker than trequartista and with the hypothetical supporting striker (Delvecchio) often more backward on the left wing.

schema-gioco 4

Beyond personal characteristics and the inclusion in various systems, the trequartista is an artist who knows how and where to unmark himself depending on where ball, team-mates and opponents are and move. In other words, he has a 360-degree vision and when he comes into possession he can create something new. We will see how he moves and what his characteristics are both in offensive and non-possession phases.

 

WHAT DOES THE TREQUARTISTA DO ON THE FIELD?

As previously mentioned, within the group of trequartistas there are players with quite different characteristics. Our general considerations from now on will necessarily have to take it into account.


 

OFFENSIVE PHASE

In general I really think that the trequartista should have an individual technique of the highest level, closely and quickly connected with a certain tactical intelligence. They are "strongbox" players, capable of "pieces of skill", but above all they can destabilize the various defensive set-ups thanks to unpredictable intuitions.


As we have already seen and read, this type of player tries to stand between the defensive midfielders' line and the forwards in the central zone, looking for space and light to dictate low and medium-distance through balls. His attempt - especially when he delivers the ball to the defensive midfielders - is to stand in the central zone unmarking himself in tight spaces. While it is difficult for his teammates to serve him forward, it is also true that if the trequartista receives the ball in that zone he becomes dangerous for the opponents. The trequartista - although receiving when he is turned away from the goal - has already read the entire situation around him before touching the ball and can understand when to stop and quickly turn in a single movement.

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This eye for situations occurring behind him allows him to quickly read the movements of players in order to serve them promptly, accurately and in the most suited way to shoot. The trequartista become protagonists of the assist since they can easily set up team-mates to score or shoot. The assist average and the percentage of the team's overall assists are two useful indicators to assess the performance of a trequartista. The contribution of trequartistas to the assists of a team is about 25%:

ASSIST
 AverageIncidence
BAGGIO R. 2.0 33.7%
PIRLO 1.9 32.2%
RUI COSTA 2.8 29.4%
ZIDANE 2.8 26.5%
VERON 2.4 25.4%
FIOR 1.8 24.7%
SEEDORF 2.4 24.6%
LOCATELLI 1.5 23.7%
COZZA 1.4 22.3%
ZAULI 1.4 17.9%
MICOUD 1.5 16.8%
  1.99 25.2%

Except Baggio (33.7% of Brescia's overall assists) and Pirlo (32.2% in relation to minutes played) facilitated by the technical gap that distinguishes them from their team-mates, the most effective ones - in relation to the teams they play for – have been Rui Costa and Zidane.

Here are the zones where the Portuguese has served assists this season:
zone-01
And here is where the Frenchman has put his team-mates in position to score:
zone-02

Another way for the trequartista to move around is finding space on the wings. And he does it with ease, sure of his ability to control the ball. This is usually a way to keep possession of the ball: in those squares of space delimited by the sideline on one side, the trequartista is skilled in “keep-ball” and then finds solutions on the opposite side.

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For right-footed players it becomes natural to go left - almost vice versa for left-footed ones - and then return to the center and serve assists in the form of inswinging crosses, lobs, through balls or spread the play with a long ball. This attitude or ability of "number 10s" to spread to the flanks – as soon as he can with his body already turned inwards - and get to the cross from the byline is interesting: in this regard, it should be noted how the starting position – in midfield - is not at all correlated to the amount of crosses, but depends on personal characteristics:

CROSSES FROM THE BYLINE
 AverageIncidence
COZZA 1.9 25.7%
RUI COSTA 3.2 23.3%
FIORE 2.2 21.9%
ZIDANE 2.3 18.5%
SEEDORF 1.8 17.3%
BAGGIO R. 1.4 17.1%
PIRLO 1.1 13.7%
VERON 1.4 10.3%
MICOUD 1.1 9.3%
LOCATELLI 0.7 8.2%
ZAULI 0.6 7.5%
  1.60 15.7%

For example, Zauli and Micoud rarely get down the flank to send a cross, although they often find themselves touching the ball in a wide position. When the situation is blocked, for example because a man-marking is used on the trequartista, we can verify that the player drops back to receive the ball because he needs to make his charisma felt as much as possible. He is a player sought by all his team-mates so that even in a backward position he is able to keep possession of the ball and also give way to plays or runs, as quarterbacks in American football do. That's why sometimes a trequartista is fielded along with one or two fast strikers running into space.

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For this purpose, it is interesting to note how trequartistas distribute passes between short-medium length (through balls or lobs) and long ones. Obvious differences emerge: there are players like Zidane or Locatelli who do not like to rely on long balls preferring to juggle in tight spaces with passes or dribbles; others such as Fiore or Veron who instead play long balls more often.

PLAYED BALLS DISTRIBUTION
 Through balls+lobsLong balls
ZIDANE 52% 9%
LOCATELLI 50% 9%
SEEDORF 55% 12%
MICOUD 60% 12%
RUI COSTA 50% 14%
BAGGIO R 56% 17%
ZAULI 48% 17%
COZZA 47% 20%
PIRLO 55% 21%
FIORE 51% 25%
VERON 57% 28%
  53% 17%

 
Here is the density of long passes played by Veron:
zone-03
And here are those played by Fiore:
zone-04

The trequartista is also a player capable of creating numerical superiority in the most easy/difficult way of football: dribbling. They are self-confident players who never lose their coolness and skillfully cause problems for the direct opponent or can come out of complicated situations.

The statistical survey says that their average dribbles is 21.4% of the team's total and that Rui Costa carries the ball efficiently.

DRIBBLING
 AverageIncidence
RUI COSTA 6.8 27.0%
COZZA 5.4 24.8%
PIRLO 5.1 23.9%
FIORE 4.2 22.2%
SEEDORF 5.6 22.2%
ZAULI 5.6 22.0%
LOCATELLI 5.4 21.0%
ZIDANE 6.4 19.9%
VERON 3.7 19.1%
BAGGIO R. 3.9 18.4%
MICOUD 3.5 14.4%
  5.05 21.4%

It is a very useful index to define the characteristics of a player: there are those who are very skilled in “sprints” and love facing the opponent in dribble (such as Zauli, Locatelli and Cozza), but also those who consider the pass as the best way to get closer to the opponents' area: as we have already seen in the long balls table, Veron has a dribbles/played balls ratio less than 4%, compared to Zauli's 11%.

DRIBBLES/PLAYED BALLS
 Average
ZAULI 11.0%
LOCATELLI 9.2%
COZZA 9.1%
SEEDORF 8.8%
RUI COSTA 8.7%
ZIDANE 7.6%
PIRLO 7.5%
BAGGIO R. 6.4%
FIORE 6.4%
MICOUD 5.6%
VERON 3.9%
  7.7%

Sometimes these players are criticized for not seeking shots very much. The number of shots compared to the number of assists can be a useful indicator to assess the predisposition of a trequartista to get to it:

ASSISTS/SHOTS DISTRIBUTION
 AssistShots
COZZA 30% 70%
ZAULI 42% 58%
BAGGIO R. 43% 57%
MICOUD 44% 56%
ZIDANE 45% 55%
FIORE 45% 55%
VERON 45% 55%
RUI COSTA 49% 51%
PIRLO 53% 47%
LOCATELLI 56% 44%
SEEDORF 57% 43%
  46% 54%

For what is shown in this table, Cozza is the most "selfish" player with a number of shots more than twice the number of assists - we will see from which positions. Seedorf and Locatelli are those who seek less shots instead.

However, it is also important for the trequartistas to move into space in order to dictate important and decisive passes. They may stand behind the opponents' defensive midfielders, in that space between the opponents' defensive line and midfield or deep into space for a low or high ball.

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In this way, trequartistas can create perfect harmony with other technically skilled players and serve important balls on a platter. Their charisma and their self-esteem give great ability from set pieces (see R. Baggio, Veron, Zidane).

 

DIAGRAMS OF THE OFFENSIVE PHASE IN SOME PLAYING SYSTEMS

offensivo-1.1

offensivo-1-2

 


 

DEFENSIVE PHASE

We know that the trequartista is a player who seeks the best position on the field and although his work is more inclined to the offensive phase he also takes part in the defensive phase with the same intuition.

Trequartistas recover an average of 10/11 balls per game, that is 6% of a team's total amount.

RECOVERED BALLS
 AverageIncidence on team's total% tackles
LOCATELLI 13.4 7.6% 25.2%
PIRLO 11.2 6.0% 23.4%
VERON 14.1 7.9% 20.3%
COZZA 10.9 6.0% 18.4%
RUI COSTA 10.1 6.1% 18.3%
BAGGIO R. 7.4 4.0% 17.0%
FIORE 11.8 6.2% 16.4%
SEEDORF 11.2 6.5% 14.9%
ZAULI 10.3 5.5% 14.5%
ZIDANE 8.7 4.9% 13.1%
MICOUD 9.3 5.0% 9.6%
  10.75 6.0%  

It is interesting to notice the difference in recoveries between the two flanks: 28% on the right, 35% on the left, a fact also recurring in other indices considered.

Certainly the different tactical position can give an explanation (players like Zauli, Cozza or Micoud usually start from the center-left for tactical reasons), but above all the characteristics of these types of players who - being predominantly "right-footed" – are more at ease on the center-left (the “inward” dribble and the resulting "Del Piero-like” assist or shot exemplify this point).

 

Here is the density of balls recovered by Zauli:

zone-05

The most efficient ones at intercepting are Veron (7.9% of total recoveries for Lazio) and Locatelli (7.6% of total recovered balls for Bologna). The degree of commitment with which a player devotes himself to the defensive phase can be detected with the tackle percentage of the total amount of recovered balls: Locatelli shows to be more inclined to tackles (with which he recovers 25.2% of balls), while Micoud is the "least nasty" (9.6%).

Guidolin's favorite player is the one who makes the highest number of tackels between fantasistas overall, here is his density of game:

zone-06

Zidane (4.9%) and Baggio (4%) have been the less involved in this type of score. It is clear that the probability of recovering balls is lower for the most offensive trequartistas. Actually they are not asked for particular covering tasks, if not for the need to drop back after losing the ball: not only to slow the opponents' attack – the mere presence in a certain zone of the field can be useful - but above all to act as a reference point for their teammates as soon as they come into possession of the ball.

 

GRAFICI FASE DIFENSIVA IN ALCUNI MODULI DI GIOCO

Fase difensiva

Indeed, I believe that it is important for the trequartista in transition between attack and defense to take the best position he will decide. His task is to occupy an uncertain space that allows him or his team-mates to steal the ball. His aim is not to mark, but to move with intuition in search of a possible counterattack. His thought is: "If I or my team-mates recover the ball and give it to me, I can do this." The trequartista places himself with this thought in the central zone and from there he moves halfway between two possible pass directions.

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This position - which is never a clear man-marking, but occupies a space in the middle - forces the trequartista to develop tactical intelligence for a defense only focused on immediately reversing the play. In midfield it is not risky, but if the same attitude were brought close to their own area it would be dangerous.

Always committed to disturb the opponents' ball circulation in the rearguard, the trequartista can bring pressure along with the other two strikers. Even in this case there is the cleverness of reading the opponents' difficulty stealing the ball forward.

Although athletic skills have improved, the trequartista must be – even for the defensive phase - a useful bearing between pure midfielders and attackers. Perhaps he will not recover many balls, but will force opponents to pass it to those who truly recover the ball and will prevent his team from flattening backwards.

 

PIECES OF SKILLS TO ADMIRE

 gesti-tecnici

We need to carry pieces of skill inside of us to explain them.


 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My career began in an amateur youth team where it came natural to place myself among midfielders and strikers. At 13 years old I went to Bologna and I played for every team of the youth sector as trequartista, a wonderful role because it allowed me to always be in the heart of the game, start the play, serve my team-mates or find the net. The nicest thing was being always very important for the team, in a few words the player who made a difference.

mancini-bologna

At 16 years old I made my debut in the Serie A. Unfortunately, Bologna were not a great team and so coach Burgnich decided to field me - with his and my great regret – as pure striker. There were rankings, balances and the fact that I also scored goals. I netted nine times, but Bologna were relegated and Sampdoria signed me. My wish for the following year was to finally play in my role, the trequartista.

mancini-samp

The season started and my dream was shattered by the new coach when I told him what my expectations were and he got up and walked away. And there ended my dream before even starting. Today that I am no longer a football player, I am very happy with my career as a striker, but I think it would have been even better if I could have played in my natural role of trequartista. I say this because unfortunately a player with these features should be lucky to find a certain type of team, but above all a coach who also knows how to change his type of game.

 

CONCLUSION

I understand, and it is right, that a team has an organized game and balance, but I think there is always need for these great players who:

  • make a difference in many games;

  • take responsibility when things do not go well on and off the field;

  • help their less technically-skilled team-mates;

  • also help the coach when the team does not go well - and during the year, this can happen;

  • entertain the fans sometimes with extraordinary pieces of skill which can also make the coach angry.

 

Roberto Mancini's 2000/01 Master's Thesis for the professional coach certification.

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