Juan Mata believes the role of a traditional number 10 has become almost ‘extinct’ in modern football.
The Manchester United midfielder has been regarded as one of the best creative talents in the division throughout his eight-year stay in the Premier League, either being utilised as a number 10 or in a wider role at both Old Trafford and former club Chelsea.
However, speaking on creative playmakers such as former stars Juan Roman Riquelme and Juan Carlos Valeron, Mata believes there has been a noticeable decrease in the use of a ‘pure’ number 10 in the modern game.
“This type of player, this pure No 10, is … how do you say? Extinct? Maybe not extinct, but not as used as before,” Mata said in an interview with The Athletic.
”In the past, there was always this pure No 10, behind the striker or the two strikers, depending on the team.
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”With different systems now, that position has evolved into a different one but these are players I like, where natural talent brings the best of them and they can change a game with a pass or something that nobody else sees.”
At 31, Mata is entering the twilight of a career that has brought much success, including World Cup glory with Spain and lifting the Champions League during an impressive three-year spell at Stamford Bridge.
The likeable Spaniard has been discussing the changes in footballing styles, having been part of Spain’s famed tiki-taka era which brought unprecedented dominance on the international stage.
Mata believes the decline in ‘the number 10 role’ is down to increased physical demands in modern football, believing the pace of the game is as quick as it has ever been, but insists there is no set formula for delivering success.
“It’s probably more because the game has changed and it now demands more on the physical side,” Mata added.
“Because the game is quicker, you need to be physically more ready for that. If you speak to players who played in other years, they will tell you that now it’s quicker, so there’s less space and you have to be more ready in that sense.
“I guess it depends how you see it. As with everything in life, you can have a different answer for almost every opinion. I was in the Spanish national team and we won the World Cup and European Championship playing football that I think was very attractive. So that’s for sure but I don’t think that was the norm. There have been other championships where teams that didn’t play as attractively have won.
“So… yes and no. I think there are many people positive about that in football, realising that you can play a certain type of football and that it’s normally an attractive type of football. But I also have the sense — and I think it’s human nature — that in football these days, many people feel that the fear of losing is much bigger than the joy of winning, especially in a sport where the responsibility and the social repercussions of winning and losing feel so high.
“Sometimes you feel that if you lose, it’s a tragedy and that if you win, it’s a relief. You feel that, rather than happiness, especially if you play for a big club. But I can understand why some managers can try, in that sense, to be a bit more compact and wait for the mistake of the rival and things like that, which is another way of understanding the game.”