The Perfect 10

By Pat NevinBBC Radio 5 live football pundit

Who have been the best, the most exciting and the most creative football players in the world over the past 25 years?

Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane perhaps? How about Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Michel Platini?

Do they have anything in common? Well, they could all be loosely described as number 10s.

They are players who control games from a forward area using their vision, skill, intelligence and, above all, creativity.

Going back through history, the truly great teams have almost always had one of them. Right now, Barcelona have four - Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and now Cesc Fabregas. That is proof of just how highly Barca - the best in the business - rate this type of player.

The number 10 - because of squad numbers he doesn't actually have to actually wear that magical number these days - creates and scores goals for his club and country week-in, week-out.

On top of that, he is also under extra pressure because the team is reliant on him and he has to be the fulcrum of the play.

In their favour, though, number 10s are typically nurtured for years in order to be able to cope with the pressures that come with shouldering the responsibility of the hopes and dreams of team-mates, fans and even sometimes their entire nation.

Think of how Maradona was - and still is - all but deified in Argentina and you realise this is no exaggeration.

There is another thing these very top players have in common: They are not British or certainly haven't been for a generation.

Look at the truly great players in that creative mould who have played and flourished in the Premier League, the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp.

Right now, there is Luka Modric and David Silva, while Wesley Sneijder looked destined for Manchester United at one point. Not a British player in sight.

So why are we failing to produce any of these players who are so highly valued by the best clubs in the world and could make all the difference at international level?

Iniesta scored the all-important goal for Spain in the World Cup final, while Sneijder was the creative force who took the Dutch so close to success in South Africa.

Previously, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho and Zidane were the creative spark behind Italy, Brazil and France respectively. That's before you even consider such names as Pele, Ossie Ardilles and Maradona.

I have my own thoughts on the matter but I wanted to ask some of these creative geniuses, as well as some of the best technical coaches, what they think the reasons are for Britain's inability to produce a truly world-class number 10 who can unlock the door to a European Championship or even a World Cup.

Before that happens I believe a few questions have to be answered:

Firstly, did the European ban in the 1980s have a bigger impact and subsequent hangover than we have traditionally thought, making English football more insular and leaving it years behind the technical and tactical curve?

Secondly, English football's wide variety of styles is a positive selling point but did the Watford, Wimbledon, Crystal Palace and now Stoke City style of play impact the entire English game? Can you play a beautiful passing game when you face an aerial bombardment from every set piece?

Thirdly, do fans have a part in this? For years, when teams didn't lump the ball forward quickly the natives got restless. It is still happening today on this island more often than you would like to think or indeed accept.

Fourthly, is it the case that these number 10s just aren't appreciated through the lens of the British game? Certainly when I suggested to various managers that I thought I should play in the number 10 role in certain games, the reaction wasn't very positive. For the record I thought they were being very narrow-minded.

Fifthly, did the Premier League spend its time powering-up while other leagues were getting more technical?

Finally, did the coaching academies get it wrong? For all the claims about skills development, plenty of professional coaches privately claim that some youth departments still live by the maxim "a good big 'un is better than a good little 'un".

They argue that while the quality is out there at a young age, it just isn't being developed because youth coaches chase trophies in the short-term instead of focusing on long-term development.

I also want to know if there is the "Perfect 10" player and will be asking the contributors - as well as fans on the night - to highlight the attributes and qualities they think are important.

I suspect many would pick Maradona's left leg for its dribbling skills - but was it really better than Messi's is now? And what about Platini's vision? Is there somebody else who could play out a better pass?

Whatever your view, I'd love to hear from you.

Listen to the Perfect 10 on BBC Radio 5 live from 1930-2100 BST on Tuesday, 30 August. Pat will be joined in the studio by John Barnes. Plus, there will be interviews with Ardiles and Sir Trevor Brooking.