With superstar talents such as Philippe Coutinho, Paulo Dybala and Isco all struggling of late, we wonder if the role of the playmaker, the team's main source of creativity, is not as important as it once was. Unless, however, you name is Lionel Messi.
Click through the gallery to above see some examples of playmakers whose importance at their respective clubs appears to have declined in recent times.
The playmaker receives the ball, in between midfield and defence; he either goes past one or two players, or plays a defence-splitting pass that leaves the attacker with the job of putting the ball into the back of the net. It's not an easy role to play; it's one that requires supreme awareness of space, general positional intelligence and, of course, skill. Messi is a prime of example of this, although he is also known to score a goal or two.
In recent times, we've seen managers shy away from these types of players as they are not usually the kind of players who track back to defend, who press if their manager demands they do so; the No. 10's work ethic is not typically through the roof.
Football across Europe seems faster and more physically demanding than ever, which appears to be one of the main reasons for coaches not trusting these types. Jose Mourinho shocked the world when he dubbed Juan Mata a "luxury player" before his Chelsea exit in 2014, but perhaps the Portuguese had a vision of the direction in which the game was moving, and perhaps he was right.
Another top attacking creative midfielder is Isco, and he has battled to fit into a set system of late, although Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane will be determined to make it work. The Spaniard was one of the Frenchman's key players in his first spell at Los Blancos, but under Santiago Solari, who replaced Julen Lopetegui early this past season, Isco was an outcast.
Solari wanted more from the mercurial No. 10 than he was getting, especially on the training ground, which sounds awfully similar to Mesut Ozil's situation at Arsenal. As uniquely gifted as the German is, it is no secret that manager Unai Emery wishes he worked harder. The 30-year-old featured in just 24 Premier League matches for the Gunners in 2018/19, while he played just 26 times in the previous campaign.
Like many other playmakers have in the past few years, Philippe Coutinho has been pushed out wide. The star has always come in from the left-side of the pitch on to his preferred right foot, like he did at Liverpool, but there's a reason he looks more comfortable playing for Brazil. He's more central with the Selecao; therefore, he's more at home.
Although it looks like it is the player who is out of fashion, might it instead be the coach? For Emery, it's imperative to have all his players eager and willing to run through walls, as is the same for a manager such as Jurgen Klopp, whose "rock 'n roll" brand of football allows for little breathing time. It's attack, attack, attack. As soon as the ball is lost, it needs to be won back. Perhaps Adam Lallana learned this the hard way. To play he has got to tackle, he has got to help his midfield, which, to his credit, he seems to have improved on.
One of the few teams that still relies majorly on playmakers is Manchester City, but that is undoubtedly down to the manager. Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are all players with second-to-none creative abilities, but it's the system they've bought into. While most managers see playing just one playmaker as risky, Pep Guardiola will play three at one time, but that is only because they all display tremendous drive and determination to work for the team.
Other traditional No. 10s, such as James Rodriguez and Paulo Dybala, might not yet fully grasp the importance of adding that extra gear to their game. On their day, like all the aforementioned players, they're the best player on the field to watch, but it is, without question, the one position in the sport that is losing its significance.
Managers want more industry from their midfielders and inside forwards, they demand that everybody give their all for 90 minutes. For the No. 10 to come back into fashion? He simply needs as much brawn as he has brain; he needs mental astuteness and physical power.
Why do you think world football has seen less importance being placed on the playmaker of late? Let us know in the comments section below.