The Best #10 in Women's Soccer
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of Our Game Magazine.
When the big honcho of OGM, Tiff Weimer, asked me to be involved in the summer #10 special edition, I eagerly agreed and immediately started thinking about that position and women’s soccer. My initial thought was that I wish we were developing more #10’s in America, on the men’s side and the women’s, and that needs to be a goal for US Soccer moving forward – fun, creative, technical players. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Most of my thoughts on women’s soccer start with the 1999 World Cup, but unlike most people, my first thought isn’t about Brandi and a sports bra. Instead it’s about a shaved head, Brazilian named Sissi who played with a smile, showed creativity with the ball, and seemed to always be the player that was having the most fun on the field. The #10 position is all those things – men or women – it’s about flair, it’s trying things other players wouldn’t, it’s about confidence, it’s about dribbling, about passing, about scoring, it’s about being dangerous, about having unbelievable technique, but maybe most of all it’s about having fun. In the summer of ’99 Sissi showed all those traits to the world, but even more unbelievable, is that 15 years later, at that age of 47 she is still playing at a high level with the California Storm in the WPSL. Now that is a player that is having fun.
In honor of the #10 position, I spoke with 9 other people to give their analysis and selections on the #10.
Tony Leighton (Women’s Soccer Journalist based in the United Kingdom):
Kelly Smith is the definitive #10: she is great on the ball, has uncanny spatial awareness and tremendous passing skills, she can score from any range (I’ve seen her hit the net from the half-way line), and never shirks a tackle.
She is also, importantly for enhancing the popularity of women’s soccer, a great crowd pleaser. I recall the excitement she generated in spectators at WUSA matches (remember them?) back in 2001 and have seen her likewise thrill crowds in England and around Europe before and since then.
I’ve seen lots of #10’s over the years, Marta included, and Kelly Smith is the best.
April Kater (US Soccer Head Development Coach):
The #10 player has vision, composure and awareness unlike most players on the field. They see options in a split second as the game unfolds and have the ability on the ball to take advantage of these opportunities with an incredible range of passing and dribbling skills. It’s as if they have a 6th sense just for soccer. And this combination of their brain and feet being on the same wavelength is consistently showcased by a skillset honed over years of relentless technical work.
Physically they are strong yet adept at alluding pressure in the smallest of spaces with great lateral quickness and bursts of speed. And since they love being on the ball, their fitness level usually matches this passion for creativity.
They are the player who can instill fear in an entire side, because they have the ability to change the game at any given moment. They always wear #10 as well, easily identifying them to fans and opponents before the whistle even blows.
Pele, Maradona, Messi and Zidane are all great examples of an elite #10 player on the men’s side.
But what about the female #10 – Michelle Akers is the best #10 I competed against and with as a player, and she was the elite #10 in the world for over a decade. Carli Lollyd while at Rutgers and Ann Cook while at William and Mary are the best #10’s I coached against. Thankfully it wasn’t often. The best #10 I’ve seen, Marta. She combines world-class speed with an in-depth level of skill that is unmatched on the female side. And, Marta has elevated the women’s game in a male dominated sport in Brazil, the most successful football playing country in the world. She is the best #10 I’ve seen wear the jersey.
Phil Nielsen (Team Chicago Soccer Club Director of Coaching):
The easy part of picking my favorite female #10 is that she is German. The hard part is choosing between Bettina Wiegmann and Maren Meinert. However, I would have to go with Wiegmann, and not simply because she actually wore the #10 jersey. As the women’s game at the international level was coming of age in the 1990s, Wiegmann was the first true #10. Her soccer IQ was light-years ahead of most other female midfielders (except for Meinert, and perhaps Norwegian Hege Riise), and watching her play reminded me of watching her male counterpart Lothar Matthaus captain the Nationalelf in his #10 jersey and role.
Wiegmann’s ability to play in-between the lines, keep possession, find incisive penetrating passes, and her ability to strike from the distance made her the type of modern-day attacking midfielder that the U.S. is still hoping to develop a decade-plus after Wiegmann’s retirement. In my opinion we need more Wiegmann’s in the women’s game in order to elevate both the technical and the tactical level of the game. A player who can slow the game down when necessary, but who can also speed it up with a perfect 50-yard cross-field pass, or with a perfectly bent through-ball with the outside of her foot. Bettina Wiegmann stands as the perfect prototype of a female #10 to me.
Charlie Naimo (WNY Flash Technical Director)
When I think of the #10 in the women’s game there is one that has no equal – Kelly Smith from England. In my opinion Kelly is not just the best 10, but in my all time top 3 for greatest player to ever put on the boots. She had an innate ability to make every single player a threat in the attack. Whether it is was playing them passes that forced them to do things they were not thinking about, absorbing all the pressure herself or finding a way to get them all involved in the attacking third – one way or another – every player that played with her was better for it. As an aside, she also had the ability to do it all by herself if need be. Kelly was a true team leader and one of the greatest players/people I have ever been blessed to work with.
Laura Harvey (Seattle Reign General Manger & Head Coach):
The number 10 – I have been lucky to work with two of the best number 10’s in Europe (potentially the world). Kelly Smith and Kim Little are the classic number 10 in my opinion. Have technical ability, can hold the ball up and join other players into the game. Have center forward instincts that when they get in and around the box they are a threat and often end up scoring numerous amount of goals. They would naturally call themselves a ‘midfielder’ so they have a appetite to defend so when matched against a 3 man midfield they have defensive responsibilities. The other player who stands out when I think about a number 10 is Lauren Holiday (Cheney), Holiday is probably the best number 10 I’ve seen live outside of the two mentioned before and I think her abilities in that position are underrated. Holiday proved in the league last year that when she’s given the opportunity to play as a true number 10 there are not many better (if any).
Another excellent number 10 who is quickly being spoken about across the women’s football circuit is Dzsenifer Marozsán, I saw her play for Germany U15’s squad in 2005 and knew that she had the potential to be a world class player. She proved in last years European championships that she a huge talent. Germany play a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation but she is a deep lying forward who can cause people problems due to excellent technical ability and passing range. Again she is a goal scorer who for both club and country has scored numerous goals from playing the number 10 position.
Shek Borkowski (Haiti Women’s National Team Head Coach)
To me the #10 connotes a playmaker, a player with superb technique, vision, and passing ability. In my opinion, at this moment, Louisa Necib is the best #10 in the world.
Sissi (Former Member of Brazil National Team; Currently plays in WSPL for the California Storm)
During my career there have been many players that I admired, but one definitely that I enjoyed watching and playing against her was always difficult. She was hard to beat and my #10 is Michelle Akers. Her technical skills were unbelievable, her presence on the field, her passion for the game. She definitely made players around her better, she was also very aggressive, even intimidating, and lastly had a great vision. Akers was one of the greatest female soccer players that I had a chance to compete against.
Lesle Gallimore (University of Washington Head Women’s Soccer Coach)
In the early and mid-80s I was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the girls/women’s soccer revolution in America. A part of that fortune was meeting, becoming friends with, playing with and against the one and only Michelle Akers.
As an outside back or center back I often times found myself matched up against her. For anyone that saw the two of us compete it was a crazy spectacle of hair and headers.
Because I had an up close view of what she was all about, it has forever sat with me as a player and now coach what it means to be a true #10 and in the women’s game I think there have been a limited few. Because American women’s tactics have taken awhile to evolve there really wasn’t really much thought put to the role of the #10.
Carin Jennings Gabarra, a childhood friend and teammate and now head women’s coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, was probably the first true #10 I encountered. She had a flair and an innate ability with the ball at her feet, the likes and uniqueness of which I have not seen since…truly, have not seen since. You would only need ask her National Team teammates if they can compare anyone to Carin, I doubt they can. But Carin’s role was a primarily as a 1 v. 1 artist, while during Michelle’s career she played many other roles.
I’ve chosen Michelle Akers because I think most people think of her as the latter-day Abby Wambach: brawn and headers only. Not to say that Abby is entirely restricted to those qualities, but they’re a pretty significant part of her game. Michelle was different. Playing as a forward in the 91 “Triple-Edged Sword” in Anson Dorrance’s 3-front for the WC winning USWNT, Michelle could do it all. She could feed balls with range in behind, she could beat you on the dribble and in the air, and she could flat out finish. She has vision and a tactical understanding of the game that most women of her generation did not. I think her formidable size and strength made people look at her as a pure-athlete that simply dominated her opponents physically. That was absolutely NOT the case. Michelle eventually found herself in the midfield for the U.S. and there she was just as much a force to be reckoned with – a connector, a creative player who at times looked as those she had hands instead of feet on the ends of her legs. She was as polished and technical as they came. She was very, very good with a soccer ball and it was a near impossible task to get the ball off of her.
Michelle was a work-horse and a perfectionist at her craft. She looked like a lion and had the heart of one when she played. The #10 on her back to me was one of the most fitting I’ve seen on a top-players jersey because in her career, much like some of her male counterparts: Zidane, Pele, Ronaldinho, Cruyff, Maradona, Bergkamp, and Messi -Michelle Akers put that jersey on and “pulled it off”…in a big way.
Becky Burleigh (University of Florida Head Women’s Soccer Coach)
I would have to pick English international, Kelly Smith. I remember coaching Kelly in the Senior Bowl after her final year at Seton Hall and thinking that she was one of the best players I had ever seen. She was the total package…athletically dangerous, technical, and great vision. It’s too bad injuries cut her career in the USA short, as her dynamic play was a treat to watch!