Traditionally, the player who dons the number 10 jersey is the man who makes things happen in the middle of the park. He is generally acknowledged as the heartbeat of the team. But a seismic shift appears underway in local football. Mmegi Sport correspondent MOMPATI TLHANKANE argues that the respected jersey is fast losing prestige
In the beginning, football jersey numbers were meant for referees to distinguish players on the field. Permanent numbers allocated to each player were first introduced at the 1954 World Cup.
But as time went by, it became more than just a number printed at the back of the shirt. It changed to the significance attached to a certain player.
Jersey numbers, specifically number 10, were first popularised by the legendary Brazilian footballer Edison Arantes Do Nascimento also known as Pele.
Regarded as the best player of all time, Pele was honoured by FIFA as the footballer of the century in 2013. Pele first wore the number 10 jersey in the 1958 World Cup when he was 17 years old. Given the number by FIFA, he helped Brazil win their first ever World Cup and afterwards he never wore any other jersey number except the number 10.
As his legend grew, Pele popularised the jersey number 10 and it became associated with a player of his qualities. Pele was skillful with an unique technique while his athleticism made him an influential playmaker.
More players of the same calibre came after him to popularise the jersey.
Argentinean football legend Diego Maradona was another case in point. Closer to home, South African soccer magician Matsilele Jomo Sono also made his mark at Orlando Pirates and they have since retired the jersey to honour him.
Other players like Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Ferenc Puskás, Ronaldinho and Jay Jay Okocha wore the jersey and the trend caught on like a global conflagration.
It is not a rule but a tradition that the jersey number should be given to a playmaker. But in Botswana, the tradition has not been followed from regional leagues straight up to the national team. Local teams appear to give out the number10 jersey to players without any consideration for the significance attached to it.
Extension Gunners spokesperson, Keorapetse Kgasa says the decision to issue jersey numbers is taken by the coach and the team manager.
“Normally we have been liberal along the years, but recently it became a concern between the coach and the manager,” he explains. He says the coach and the manager look at the player’s interests but at the end of the day, it is up to the officials to make the final decision.
Township Rollers coach, Mark Harrison says the jersey number does not make a difference when it comes to roles on the field.
“Whether a player wears number 10 or 7 it doesn’t really matter to me because I was not brought up that way,” he says.
Harrison indicates that from his own point of view, players are issued a jersey number looking at the position they play.
“It’s associated with the position, not the skill,” he argues. In the Zebras setup, players like Mmoni ‘States’ Segopolo, Shana Sefako, Jomo Mosweu, Moreetsi Simanyana, Bakang Moeng, Vincent Phiri and Moemedi Jomo Moatlhaping have worn it.
Of recent it has rotated between players like Kabelo Seakanyeng, Onalethata Tshekiso, Mpho Kgaswane and Segolame Boy. Not a single one of them has ever held on to the number for more than 10 caps.
But elsewhere, particularly in South Africa and South America, the jersey still carries weight. Brazil’s talisman, Neymar wears it and so does the irrepressible Argentinian, Lionel Messi for both club and country.
Orlando Pirates retired the traditional squad number 10 after skillful Steve ‘Chippa’ Lekoelea became the last player to wear it in the 2002/03 season.
Italian club Napoli have retired the jersey in honour of Maradona.
beMOBILE Premiership’s number 10 jersey holders
Mochudi Centre Chiefs – Tendai Nyumasi
Township Rollers – Galabgwe ‘Galaxy’ Moyana
Extension Gunners – Emmanuel Machinya
Gaborone United – Kgololo Kgogobi
Miscellaneous – Resaobaka Thatanyane
Police XI – Ogomoditswe Sitang
Jwaneng Galaxy Olebogeng Malebye
BDF XI – Bitwell Phiri
Orapa United – Bonolo Fraizer
Green Lovers – Moemedi Ralesotla
FC Satmos – Katlego Mpoeleng
Motlakase – Itumeleng Mabuaeme
BR Highlanders – Tapiwa Nyamandira
Sankoyo Bush Bucks – Gosaitse Manuel
Nico United – Christopher Musonda
Gilport Lions – Bakang Moeng