“The old number 10 may have gone, but it still lives on; it’s an eternal number which transcends time.” Michel, the former Spain midfielder and Real Madrid legend, knew what he was talking about when he spoke to So Foot magazine, having played in an era when the likes of Diego Maradona, Zico, Roberto Baggio and Rui Costa wore the legendary number. “With them, the route to goal is shorter, the 90 minutes are quicker, and the pleasure is greater. For everyone,” he added.

Three years later, and the words of a man who has since become a coach – most notably with Sevilla and Marseille – ring true. Indeed, since the start of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016, Ri Hae-Yon has shone brightly with this same mythical number printed on the back of her red Korea DPR shirt. Across three Group C matches – a thrilling draw with England and two victories over Brazil (1-0) and Nigeria (3-0) – she has demonstrated all the hallmarks associated with the jersey, namely vision, technical brilliance and quality passing. So is she the perfect midfielder? 

Not really. Ri is actually a striker, and also possesses speed, heading ability and poise in front of goal, all of which have led to her already scoring four goals and sitting second on the list of top scorers at the tournament. After netting a hat-trick against Nigeria, she spoke to FIFA.com while clutching her Live Your Goals Player of the Match award: “Obviously I’m very happy every time I score a goal, but my aim isn’t to finish as the tournament’s top scorer. However, if I can score some more to take us to the final and win the World Cup, I’ll be delighted!”

Just one aim
Once you get got a taste for something, you always want more, and Ri could well add to her goal tally against Ghana in the quarter-finals. But, in keeping with the classic image of a No10 who often enjoys a great pass more than a goal, she would be quite happy to let her team-mates finish the job. As the April 25 Sports Club player herself explained: “I’d much prefer not to score a single other goal and win the tournament than score another four or five but not lift the trophy.”

Even if she admits to keeping one eye on the adidas Golden Boot Award for the tournament’s sharpest shooter – given that she sits just one goal behind Lorena Navarro of Spain, who has five – Ri has not lost sight of the main objective she has had since qualifying for the tournament in Jordan. “We’re delighted to have qualified for the quarter-finals, but since the beginning we’ve only had one aim: to reach the final and to win it,” said the self-confessed admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo. She added: “Of course, initially we were thinking about getting through the first stage. But now that we’ve qualified, next we have to aim to become world champions.”

In doing so, the Korea DPR squad would emulate their previous generation, who won the first-ever FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, in 2008. Back then, Jon Myong-Hwa had already scored four goals before the final, thus cementing her place among the top scorers. She did not find the net after that… but she did leave with the trophy. And what number do you think she had on her back? Yes, you guessed: No10.

But let’s give Michel the final word on the subject: “The importance of the number 10 is central to footballing history. All the players who made this sport the most popular in the world wore this number: Zidane, Platini, Maradona, Pele… If you love this sport, it is mainly thanks to them.”