No footballing nation is more synonymous with attacking players than Brazil who have, down the years, seen a who’s who of greats don their illustrious number 10 jersey.
Brazil’s first international game came a month after its governing body was founded on August 20, 1914. Since then, several World Cup winners and Ballon d’Or recipients have worn the fabled yellow shirt.
But, who is the greatest to wear it? Ronaldinho? What about Pele? He wasn’t too bad, come to think about it. Zico, Rivaldo and Kaka will all probably have something to say something about that as well. Neymar will also be looking to embellish his legacy in Qatar to stake a claim.
10. Juninho Paulista
A graduate of Sao Paulo’s school of excellence Juninho Paulista famously swapped O Clube da Fe for Middlesbrough, where he is remembered fondly today, largely due to two spells where he earned the nickname “The Little Fella”.
What he lacked in size, Juninho made up for it in skill and guile, like his namesake – Juninho Pernambucano – he was pretty handy when it came to free-kicks.
Across an eight-year international career, he’d, on and off, carry the weight of Brazil’s iconic number 10 jersey in which he never let those around him down.
In the early 90s, there were few better forwards than Rai, who embodied that great Sao Paulo team led by the footballing purist Tele Santana. His mastery was explicitly displayed in the 1992 Intercontinental Cup when, under the Tokyo sun, he bedazzled Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’, spearheaded by Santana’s kindred spirit, Johan Cruyff.
This earned him a move to Europe, with Paris Saint-Germain becoming his home, and in the French capital, they continue to sing his name and remember the many incredible performances.
At international level, being the brother of such an iconic figure as Socrates wasn’t easy, but Rai, with 49 international caps – and 17 goals – forged his own path with the Selecao, which included lifting the World Cup in 1994.
It’s easy to forget how good Brazil were before their emergence as a world superpower. In the years before having a star above their crest, the football-mad nation saw their heroes win three South American titles, with the 1949 championship particularly special as it came at home.
The man of the hour back then was Jair Rosa Pinto. He’d bag nine goals, a record he shares for most goals in a single tournament with Humberto Maschio and Javier Ambrois.
Many were confident that, with Brazil hosting the following year’s World Cup, they would finally break their duck. It wasn’t meant to be, despite Jair’s brilliance. A tale widely known, Flavio Costa’s side would lose the Maracana final to Uruguay, which forever haunted Jair.
The great Pele described football as the “beautiful game” and no one typified that more than his former international teammate Rivellino, whose flamboyance was unmatched at the time. Though he never invented the “flip-flap”, instead perfecting it, that piece of skill is now synonymous with him.
As part of Brazil’s legendary 1970 team, with stars everywhere you looked, the Corinthians man shone to devastating effect. Although in Mexico he wore the number 11 jersey, whenever ’10’ was on his back, Rivellino seemingly grew in prominence as if the number possessed godly powers.
Kaka was the perfect attacking midfielder and thoroughly dominated the era before a certain duo began to re-write the book. His effortless approach won him plenty of admirers with several standout performances in 2007 earning him the coveted Ballon d’Or.
He saw first-hand, as a member of Brazil’s squad at the 2002 World Cup, what the championship meant to his countrymen, and though he never came close to winning it during his peak years, Kaka nonetheless is truly his nation’s last classic trequartista.
Neymar burst onto the scene at such a ferocious pace that he seemed destined to become Brazil’s greatest-ever player. He could become the nation’s greatest-ever goalscorer, with his tally of 75 just two shy of Pele’s 77, but until he lifts the Jules Rimet Trophy, he will remain on a pedestal below the ballet blanco. Could that change in Qatar, though?
It’s fair to say Rivaldo doesn’t always get the universal love he deserves — and we are not talking about a certain theatrical moment. For a long period, the lanky winger, though comfortable inside, was near unplayable.
He’d terrify opposition defenders and had a wicked cross on him. And let’s not get started on his incredible shooting ability. Across a period Rivaldo was unplayable.
His performance at the 1999 Copa America, where he finished level on goals with Ronaldo (five apiece) to share the Golden Boot, essentially won him that year’s Ballon d’Or.
But it was his combination with Brazil’s other ‘Rs’ (the aforementioned Ronaldo and Ronaldinho) at the 2002 World Cup – in which Brazil claimed their fifth title – that everyone does fondly remember.
At his peak, Ronaldinho was the man. No one could lace a finger on ‘Brazilian magic’, whose audacity to attempt the impossible earned him a legion of supporters unseen before.
His arrival in 2003 ushered a new dawn at Barcelona and they never looked back. By combining swagger and ruthlessness, the joker prince became king — but it ended as fast as it happened.
There are, of course, many reasons why Dinho‘s time at the top was short-lived but as the saying goes: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
No one will forget the goofy smile and when he scored that infamous free-kick past David Seaman en route to Brazil’s fifth world title in 2002. Simply put, his career is one many would die for.
There are very few Brazilian footballers more loved than Zico. Nicknamed “the white Pele”, he was an exceedingly good deep-lying forward.
Allowed the freedom of the pitch, Zico was the lord and master of football no team felt that more than Liverpool who couldn’t touch him in their 1982 Intercontinental Cup showdown.
Graeme Souness wanted to see if Flamengo’s wizard could ride a challenge but couldn’t get anywhere near, instead was left to chase shadows. He may never have been champion – that Brazil 1982 team remains as one of the greatest to never win the big prize – but the impact he made, in terms of goalscoring and playmaking, is still felt today.
There can only be one. O Rei. For a generation, he is the greatest. Pele is the standard all Brazilian footballers who don the number 10 are measured against, whether rightly or wrongly.
He, simply put, changed the game. To still be in the conversation of who the game’s number one is nearly half-a-century after retiring is a testament to what he achieved.
His exploits at the 1958 World Cup finals, when as a teenager, he played an instrumental role in Brazil lifting their first championship, are still remembered. He would add two more, albeit didn’t play as much in 1962 due to injury. For now, Pele – who amassed 77 goals across 92 matches – is Brazil’s undisputed greatest ever footballer.