With a modern focus on collective strength and shared responsibility, the classic playmaker of old has become a relic. Long gone are the days of a single man surveying the scene, usually with the No10 splashed across his back, dissecting the opposition with his vision and passing. FIFA.com takes a look back at the great creators of yesterday, and the few who remain to carry their torch.
Any discussion of the playmaking arts must begin in South America, where football defied its staid English origins and became a more elegant, artistic enterprise. One of the first true playmakers, Didi - following in the footsteps of his great Brazilian countryman Zizinho - set the bar high. Playing for a series of clubs in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Didi (or Waldyr Pereira) earned 68 caps for Brazil. He was the driving force behind the FIFA World Cup™-winning sides of 1958 and 1962, and was named top player at the former.
Of Didi, whose passing skills and vision were unrivalled, Pele - perhaps the most iconic No10 in history - was full of praise. "He was a maestro," O'Rei said of his former team-mate. "He would see things others wouldn't and his passes would always surprise the opponent."
Mexico 1970: playmaker parade
Pele then joined one of the most intuitive teams in the history of the game. Winning the FIFA World Cup for the third time at Mexico 1970, he lined up alongside no less than three other outstanding central playmakers; Gerson, Rivelino and Tostao. Unwilling to leave such talents on the bench, coach Mario Zagallo put Rivelino, whom Diego Maradona called "an inspiration", on the left, employed Tostao as an out-and-out striker and Gerson in his usual central-midfield position. The results were astounding as Brazil went on to lift the trophy, scoring 19 goals in six games. To give some indication as to the number of creators available in Brazil in the summer of 1970, Ademir da Giua - Palmeiras's No10 and the club's greatest-ever player, could not even find a way into the squad.
More recently, the likes of Zico, Socrates and Ronaldinho have carried the standard as pure playmakers for A Seleção.
Argentina, too, has rich tradition of classic creators. Maradona is the best-known, although some consider Ricardo Bochini, of Independiente fame, to have been an even superior playmaker. An ungainly and inconspicuous looking footballer, the precision of his passes and his cat-like vision have afforded him legendary status in his homeland. He even lined up, in the twilight of his career, alongside Maradona in the semi-finals of Mexico 1986, in a sentimental gesture by coach Carlos Bilardo.
Elsewhere in South America, Uruguayans Enzo Francescoli and Alvaro Recoba, the slow-moving Colombian Carlos Valderrama, and Ecuador's Alex Aguinaga have all made their presence felt in the centre of the park.
Some of the best-known playmakers also emerged in Europe in the 1950s. Chief among these early artists was Czech legend Josef Masopust, named Europe's top player in 1962 and renowned for his wide array of sharp passes. Other early trailblazers on the old continent included Nils Liedholm, who led Sweden to an Olympic title in 1948 and the 1958 FIFA World Cup Final on home soil. According to legend, it took him a full two years to misplace a pass at the San Siro after joining AC Milan. "He was incredible, he parted defences," said compatriot and former Rossoneri team-mate Gunnar Nordahl.
Jozsef Bozsik was a member of the great Hungarian side that stunned England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953. Slow of foot but sharp of mind, he was considered the greatest passer of his day. "He has no equal," Real Madrid and Hungary legend Ferenc Puskas, who played alongside one of the great all-time playmakers in Alfredo di Stefano, remarked of Bozsik. "He did things no one else could do. He wasn't just accurate, but he always chose the most dangerous pass. He was the greatest player I ever saw or knew."
The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s saw an ultra-talented second wave of playmakers emerge in Europe. Johan Cruyff was a liberated creator under the Dutch 'Total Football' system. Architecting from behind the strikers were France and Juventus's Michel Platini, who carried on from the early orchestrations of Raymond Kopa, and England's Glenn Hoddle, of whom Platini famously said: "If he were born French he would have had 150 caps," after Hoddle was neglected by a succession of English national team coaches.
Yesterday to today
Bernd Schuster is Germany's finest example. The 'Blond Angel' played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the 1980s, but his international career was cut short after a quarrel with then coach Jupp Derwall. "I am a sort of German-Spaniard," insisted the renegade creator, an artist very much outside of the rigid Germanic mould who found a home in Spain, where the legendary Luis Suarez laid early foundations.
The likes of Paul Gascoigne, Enzo Scifo, Fernando Redondo, Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Georgi Hagi, Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Zinedine Zidane have all made their mark. But by no means are the game's creators restricted to Europe and South America. Augustine 'Jay Jay' Okocha of Nigeria and Egyptian ace Mahmoud El Khatib have all proudly donned the No10 jersey, as have Shunsuke Nakamura of Japan and recent practitioners like Cuauhtemoc Blanco in Mexico.
Despite a long and sparkling tradition of creative playmakers, the modern game has become more about expediency and collectivity than the orchestrations of an anointed few. Still, the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Francesco Totti, Cesc Fabregas, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi keep the tradition of the old masters alive.
One of the small cadre of current playmakers, Brazilian Alex of Fenerbahce had the final word in a recent interview with FIFA.com: "There's less space today than in the past and the focus is on fitness, but quality players can always find a way if they adapt."
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