The death of the number 10 role not only made way for an incredibly robotic era of football, but kicked to the curb some truly glorious ballers who never quite got their flowers.
Our beautiful game once championed the art of playing between the lines and looking like the least bothered player on the pitch, but simultaneously the most dangerous.
Being a number 10 was more than just flicks, tricks and goal contributions. It was aura. The ultimate eye test. And the game’s very purists championed that calibre of player with everything they had.
Isco was the very creme of the crop, patrolling between the lines for a ruthless Real Madrid outfit that had an obsession with winning the Champions League in the 2010s.
But when football decided it was time for the number 10 role to take a breather in favour of more rigid tactical systems involving more running and behaving like robots, Isco and his peers were done.
Until now. The Spaniard is back in the limelight and thriving in the sun of San Sebastian with Real Betis, enjoying a career renaissance that nobody saw coming after a release from Real, a torrid time with Sevilla and a failed move to Union Berlin.
His best traits are being championed on the green side of Seville by a veteran Manuel Pellegrini, who’s letting the 31-year-old run riot between the lines, zapping defenders with mesmeric ankle movements and footballing IQ like no other.
As Betis played out a Europa League thriller with Rangers under the lights at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, it was Ayoze Perez who stole the headlines for his wicked, whipped finish, but it wouldn’t have happened without the sheer wizardry of his Spanish colleague.
A lovely finish from Ayoze Perez 🤩
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) December 14, 2023
You can’t teach that sort of skill from Isco. So simple, but so effective. He’s a silent assassin with the ball at his feet.
With Rangers scrambling like a bunch of lost puppies, desperately trying to get back into some sort of system, the ball lands with Isco – the very last person you want in a dangerous area while you’re out of shape.
Instead of unleashing an almighty sh*tpinger like the mere mortal would in his position, Isco simply waits. Biding his time, you’d think the chance was gone due to him not moving the ball quick enough.
Time waits for the immortal, though.
Poking and prodding from left to right to unsettle the defenders before him, Isco finally unleashes the killer ball into the path of Perez just at the perfect time, putting it on a plate for him to nestle home.
A brilliant finish made even better by a show of artistry. There are a very select number of players left in football capable of making an assist like that, if any.
In an era of cutting inside and passing a team to death with strict instructions from an analyst with an iPad, Isco’s innovative improvisations with the ball in the high-pressure zone is a breath of fresh air.
The football world didn’t want him to bow out on his own terms, but it should’ve finished him off when it had the chance.
For as long as he’s kicking around a ball, the number 10 position is alive and well.
By Mitch Wilks