The Observer (Kampala)

22 January 2013

Uganda: Where Are the Number 10s?

I have noticed that there is a dearth of number 10s in African football.

These were the archetypal go-to guys for any team. They dictated play, thought for the team, marvelled the spectators in the stands and, above all, made that killer pass to unlock any seemingly stern defence to get that all-important goal. But did you notice how blunt South Africa were in their opening fixture against Cape Verde? They simply lacked imagination. Not only did they fail to score, but they were too flat and unattractive to watch.

They certainly would have done with a Steven Pienaar kind of player because he is one of the few number 10s left in the game. With Pienaar, the Bafana-Bafana would have someone to engineer as many chances for their profligate striking-line. Maybe out of 10 scoring chances created, they would bury two. But there's one thing of note that the teams at the Nations Cup have improved in - defence. It is rare to get cricket scores let alone open them apart. Without the number 10s like Pienaar, most teams struggle to find space behind each other's defences.

In fact, back in the day when the Nations Cup was more thrilling, teams with classic number 10s pulling the strings used to thrill the crowds. For example, Nigeria with Jay-Jay Okocha was difficult to lock out entirely because of his dribbling skills. And then Ghana's Abedi Pele, a real gem he was. Pele's technique made centre-forwards like Anthony Yeboah flourish as they easily received the ball from him in positions that clearly favoured them to score - unmarked.

Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya did a similar job for forward Kenneth Malitoli and company in their prime. The sweetly left-footed former PSV Eindhoven man didn't only inspire as the team leader, but he was the brains behind the team; every opponent had to stop him if they were to thwart Zambia in the 1990s.

The great Algerian and Tunisian teams had Raber Madjer and Faouzi Rouissi respectively - their charismatic play was ribboned with flair and panache that left you in awe.

Today's play-makers or seeming number 10s like Zambia's Rainford Kalaba, Nigeria's Obi Mikel, Ivory Coast's Gervinho, Burkina Faso's Alain Traore and Ghana's Kwadwo Asamoah aren't the real deal and this is sad.

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