Barclays Premier League's perfect 10
Maybe it was the last golden remnants of an Olympic afterglow but this past weekend I continually found my thoughts drifting towards the Perfect 10.
As the Barclays Premier League’s opening weekend unfolded before my eyes, a handful of highly-talented young men served notice of the high-quality fare we can expect between now and May next year.
Three players in particular – Eden Hazard, Santi Cazorla and Shinji Kagawa – produced performances in the “number 10” role that suggested the league has taken a step forward. Or perhaps backwards, but only in the sense that seasoned commentators found themselves drawing comparisons with all-time greats like Gianfranco Zola.
Roberto di Matteo reflected on Hazard’s league debut by saying, “Gianfranco was a wonderful talent, an artist I would say – Eden might become an artist as well.”
Hazard certainly exploded onto the Premier League canvas on Sunday as he created two goals in the opening six minutes at Wigan. He was similarly quick out of the blocks at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, winning another penalty early on then ending the game with yet another assist.
To be honest, in both games he drifted out of the action for a period but perhaps one shouldn’t be entirely surprised that Hazard did not entirely dominate proceedings. After all, he is only 21 and even though he managed an amazing 20 goals and 16 assists in Ligue Un last season, his international record is modest compared with those of Cazorla and Kagawa – suggesting that his a precocious talent and one still to blossom.
As Di Matteo observed: “He’s a talented young boy. We’ll have to see how he grows into a man, and how quickly he will be an important player for Chelsea.”
Remarkably, Di Matteo and Chelsea actually possess not one but two other players in that number 10 position. Juan Mata is, of course, the incumbent but young Brazilian Oscar demonstrated at Wigan and the Bridge when he came on that he is absolutely made for that prompting, probing role behind the striker(s).
Away from Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches, Cazorla and Kagawa may not have ended on the winning team but both produced performances that had pundits purring with positivity. Iain Dowie was full of praise for the efficiency and effectiveness of Kagawa during our Football Today show’s review of United’s loss at Everton. The 23-year-old Japanese newcomer created three goal-scoring opportunities and looks set to thrive in the company of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
Remember, he cost £12 million, compared to the £32 million Chelsea paid for Hazard. He also comes with an impressive international pedigree, having scored 11 goals in 33 games for Japan. He notched 13 goals for Dortmund in the Bundesliga last season and possesses an admirable temperament. In hindsight, his debut was pretty much what was expected.
So too was that of Santi Cazorla – for those who knew the player from his time at Malaga. Those who hadn’t known what to expect from the 27-year-old came away from the Emirates raving about a performance that was by far the best thing about a frustrating 0-0 draw with Sunderland.
Cazorla, who has somehow managed to earn nearly 50 caps for Spain despite the obvious difficulties getting into that stellar team, created seven chances for his new Arsenal teammates and had three shots of his own. He is tidy, impeccable in possession and deadly with his passing. If anyone can get Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski scoring, it is Cazorla.
Elsewhere, a man with the number 10 on his back once again showed that if Newcastle are to continue their tilt at the uppermost reaches of the league, then he will be the catalyst. Hatem Ben Arfa single-handedly earned the Magpies three precious points against Spurs by winning then converting the decisive penalty Saturday.
At the end of last season, I wrote about my hopes for the 2012/2013 campaign. I wondered in print if we dared hope for a return to the days when genuine world stars like Cristiano Ronaldo lit up our league. With the transfer window still open and with the players I have written about here joining the likes of David Silva in the Premier League, I think we have grounds for real optimism.
Thanks to these perfect 10s, we can fully expect fans in England and around the world to marvel at superhuman, Olympian sporting feats long after London 2012 has faded from our consciousness. Enjoy the season!