Inside Number Ten

When I eventually die and go to hell I’ve no doubt that one the first levels of torture I’ll be forced to endure will be an endless loop of those god awful clips that DAZN airs between games and at half-time.

While the flames lick at my heels, my eyelids will be forced open while Gary Neville talks to a monotone and monosyllabic Paul Scholes, or two badly groomed men shout at each other over a Zoom call about whether corner flags should be square or rectangular for the rest of eternity.

The current iteration of the genre features James Rodriguez trying to encapsulate the talent of Dennis Bergkamp in the allotted thirty-eight seconds but, astonishingly, James does get to say something interesting.

The Colombian announces the demise of the “number ten” as not fit for purpose in the modern game.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s doing this solely to troll those in the Whitecaps fanbase who seem to believe that the answer to all the ills of the team is said number ten but, more likely, he’s just reflecting a fairly obvious truth that has been acknowledged for more than a few years.

The traditional number ten is no more, he has ceased to be, he is bereft of life, he rests in peace and is an ex-footballer.

The romance lingers on however. The yearning for a mercurial presence just behind the striker, pulling the strings and pushing the ball between defenders is a tantalizing prospect for those deprived of even a semblance of footballing imagination in recent years.

After all, there are only so many times a human being can watch a ball bounce haplessly away from another human being’s foot before the spectacle begins to induce a certain ennui.

But what the Whitecaps need isn’t a saviour in the form of a languid playmaker. They need a consistent system that isn’t reliant on the ability, or health, of an individual. A system that runs at speed both backwards and forwards. A system that acknowledges current reality.

When he arrived in Vancouver, about eight lifetimes ago, that was the plan for Marc Dos Santos. But circumstance and what seems like a lack of self-belief reduced the team to facsimiles of that idea. Always hamstrung by caution and the inability to stick to any kind of method for more than a few games in succession.

Maybe that won’t change this year? Maybe the Whitecaps are destined to be prisoners of their own misfortune? Always one hamstring away from disaster. Always one defeat away from reinvention.

But don’t let the sugar rush of signing a number ten be the hill they choose to die on.

Don’t base the season on a thing as anachronistic as a rotary dial on a smart phone, a TV Guide in world of streaming.

“Traditional” and “artisanal” should be words we associate with street markets and cheese. Not the major signing of a professional sports team..

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