Lionel Messi smiles during Argentina's World Cup victory over Mexico at Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar, November 2022.

Ranking every Argentina No.10 since Maradona: Messi, Riquelme, Aimar…

For Argentina, the No. 10 shirt is more than a football kit; it’s the personification of Argentina as a nation. And it’s no wonder considering it was the jersey worn by Diego Maradona but how have each of his 14 successors fared?

In his book ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, Jonathan Wilson described how the Gauchos, their culture, and a conflict of sorts with British ex-pats paved the way for two very different styles of play to develop in what was essentially an immigrant nation after the First World War.

From this, a distinct link can be traced to demonstrate how strong and inherent the ideology of the Number 10 player is to ‘real Argentinians’. It’s the shirt prized above all others.

So we’ve ranked every single Argentina international that’s worn the No. 10 shirt since Maradona’s retirement from worst to best.

14. Pablo Barrientos

Described by the peerless Tim Vickery as ‘the man who took the No. 10 shirt from Messi’, Barrientos only ended up playing once for Argentina.

Wearing the hallowed shirt during the South American Under-20 Championships at the start of 2005 – while Messi wore No. 18 – the playmaker made his sole international appearance in 2009. 

13. Marcelo Espina

Espina only made 15 appearances for Argentina between 1994 and 1996 but is best remembered for being the first player to wear Maradona’s vacated No. 10 jersey.

It goes without saying that he graced it with less skill or success than Diego managed.

12. Angel Correa

The Rosario-born attacker wears #10 for Atletico Madrid, wore #10 for the Albiceleste at the 2016 Olympics and took it from Lionel Messi when he was out in January for World Cup qualifiers, but he only made a five-minute cameo to see out a 2-1 win over Chile.

Not the kind of contribution you associate with one of football’s most iconic shirts.

11. Nacho Gonzalez

Yes, he only played four times for Argentina. Yes, they all came during the same calendar year (1997).

But Gonzalez was a goalkeeper. For a country obsessed with the No. 10 role, that’s pretty incredible.

10. Javier Pastore

Pastore was one of those players who was probably better than you remember, especially for PSG during the 2010s.

However, his international career didn’t really hit the heights and he only wore the No. 10 shirt in Messi’s enforced absence due to injury.

9. Ever Banega

Capable of passes smoother than Usher spreading butter on a slice of toast, Banega also wore the No. 10 while Messi was out injured in 2015-16.

His best moment in an Argentina shirt came during the 2018 World Cup, playing a brilliant pass over the Nigeria defence for Messi to score. It’s a shame we didn’t see that more often.

8. Andres D’Alessandro 

He didn’t manage to replicate his River Plate – and Portsmouth – form in an Argentina shirt but that’s because D’Alessandro was up against some all-time greats for the No. 10 shirt.

But the exciting playmaker was still absolutely fabulous.

READ: A love letter to Andres D’Alessandro, River Plate legend & Pompey hero

7. Marcelo Gallardo

Widely considered one of the best managers outside of Europe’s top 5 leagues, Gallardo was also a handy player for the likes of Monaco, River Plate and PSG.

It was during his Monaco days that the former attacking midfielder wore the No. 10 jersey with pride, helping Argentina finish second in the 1995 Confederations Cup and the 1996 Summer Olympics.

6. Angel Di Maria

Arguably the greatest facilitator of the modern era, Di Maria wore the No. 10 shirt briefly during the 2015-16 season before Messi returned from injury.

5. Sergio Aguero

“I spoke to the kitman and he told me it is obligatory – someone has to use it because the numbers go from 1 to 23,” Aguero said of wearing the famous #10 shirt while Messi was out injured for World Cup qualifiers back in 2015.

“I wore it for the first time against Bosnia, in a friendly in the United States, and Leo said: ‘When I am not around, Kun has to use it.’ Then he started to send me messages: ‘Are you going to wear it? You’re not going to chicken out?’ Now every time he is absent it is up to me to wear it. I am happy to pull on the shirt, but it obviously belongs to him.”

Aguero scored twice against Bosnia while wearing the 10 shirt. Not bad going to keep the shirt warm for his best mate.

4. Pablo Aimar

Messi idolised Aimar as a child and we don’t blame him.

Pablo Aimar and Juan Roman Riquelme

READ: An ode to Aimar: A brilliant player unfairly overshadowed by Riquelme

3. Ariel Ortega

Ortega was Argentina’s great hope at France ’98 and outperformed Michael Owen during the epic last 16 victory over England.

Despite this, his tournament is best remembered for headbutting Edwin van der Sar – somewhere below the chin – during their loss to the Netherlands in a testy quarter-final and his contribution during the 2002 tournament was negligible.

But Ortega was brilliant talent, capable of taking the breath away with his silky footwork and penchant for the outrageous, and probably peaked around the millennium.

He definitely deserves a podium finish here.

2. Juan Roman Riquelme

Despite being arguably the slowest footballer to ever play the game, Riquelme was a brilliant footballer and the heartbeat of Argentina’s fantastic 2006 World Cup side.

And anybody who saw them at the Copa America a year later is using those memories to keep themselves warm this winter.

READ: An ode to Juan Roman Riquelme, one of football’s most pure No.10s

1. Lionel Messi


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