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The Perfect 10 by Richard Williams

Release date: 04th May, 2006
Publisher: Faber & Faber

List Price: £14.99
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As a youngster, playing football either in the road, on the park, or up against a row of garages (a fantastic arrangement as the brick pillars dividing the garages made excellent goalposts), was never less than hugely enjoyable.

Without any advance notice, phone calls or text messages, boys would just pitch up at what sounded like the noisiest location for a game that could last a couple of hours.

One of the most beguiling aspects of such matches was the regular opportunity it afforded participants to 'be' such-and-such player. Recalling frantic cries of "I'll be Roger Hunt", or "Tommy Smith", or "Colin Harvey" gives a clear indication of when and where these games took place and no doubt they still do, albeit with youngsters kitted out in the latest replica shirts with their favourite player's name emblazoned across the back.

In the early 70s, however, replica shirts were unheard of which meant that not surprisingly, adapting the identity of well-known forward players was always the most popular choice, although we had one lad who insisted on playing in goal and 'being' Peter Bonetti; he played like him too.

After reading The Perfect 10, one wonders who Richard Williams would have liked to emulate during such matches; judging from his obvious allegiance with, and admiration for, football's greatest number tens, he must have been some player to have had on your side.

He scores as an author too, for Williams has now written two of the finest sports books published during the last decade.

Seven years ago, he wrote The Death of Ayrton Senna, an outstanding and well received book which one critic described as "a masterly portrait". It has become the definitive account of the engaging Brazilian's life.

Now he concerns himself not with his favourite team or even a hybrid collection of his favoured XI, but with the "dreamers, schemers, playmakers and playboys" who have worn the number 10 shirt with such distinction.

The most obvious consequence of this is the debate Williams will spark by leaving out some wonderful players, although the status of many (Pele, Platini, Puskas, Maradona and Zidane) will be entirely uncontested. In fairness, Williams includes a chapter devoted to his omissions and comes clean by advising the reader that he has not necessarily seen every player on his final list in the flesh, but has included several stars after watching them on video.

Williams endeavours to establish what it is that determines why wearing the number 10 sets a player apart. Invariably, he is generally the best creative player on the team, which means that neither goalkeepers (Banks, Yashin) nor defenders (Beckenbauer, Hansen) ever get a look-in, irrespective of their importance to the team.

And there's the rub: central to Williams' footballing philosophy is an acknowledgement that without the midfield maestro, the creative hub of a team around which everything else revolves, the game cannot possibly be beautiful, a theory which certainly explains the inclusion of players such as Gunter Netzer and Gianni Rivera.

With the World Cup a matter of weeks away, a whole clutch of international number tens will stake an unwitting claim for inclusion in Williams' exclusive club. Furthermore, once the finals are over, young boys will want to 'be' one of them. For those of us getting a bit old for that, Williams permits us the opportunity to appreciate why it will take something special to be included in his team of tens. Let's hope we witness a few challengers.



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