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THE NUMBER 10 SHIRT IS SACRED IN FOOTBALL. It’s a number that carries much pressure and weight given its tradition and the players who have worn it in the past. That is no truer than at Juventus, a club with over a century of history. The legendary Italian side, winners of 33 Scudetti titles and a two-time European champion, has featured some of the world’s best players who have donned that legendary shirt.

No less than three Balon d’Or winners have worn it in addition to a host of Italian and international stars. When attacking midfielder Paulo Dybala was given that number last summer ahead of the start of the Serie A season, the Argentine wrote on Instagram that he knew how important it is to the club and its fans.

“When they asked me to change numbers, I stopped and thought about whether it was a good idea to leave number 21 that has been for me – as it will still be for the national team – a number that I care for very much and that has helped me win lots of trophies and was also worn by top players such as Zidane and Pirlo,” he wrote. “But the number 10 is a special shirt and an honour to wear it, brings with it lots of responsibility and a great link to a club like Juventus Football Club and its history. It has been on the shoulders of so many champions: Omar Sivorí, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba. For me, wearing the 10 shirt isn’t just a dream since I was a child, but something that will allow me to want to win every game, in every competition and for every trophy.”

Dybala’s post was a love letter to a number that continues to bring with it great responsibility. It was yet another reminder of how important players in that shirt have made the history of this club over the decades. Dybala did not disappoint. To start the season, the 24-year-old Dybala tallied 12 goals in his first seven Serie A matches before going on a bit of a scoring drought. The strong start helped Juventus compete at the top of the table, along with rivals Napoli and Inter Milan, and set up a possible path to win a seventh straight league title.

Former Juventus players who have worn the number, such as Alessandro Del Piero, know how much joy it can bring – but what a burden it can also be. At his farewell press conference in August 2012, Del Piero told reporters: “I hope that the number 10 can be less of a burden after me. I hope that whoever wears it can begin a glorious career like mine and perhaps even greater. I’ve really had so much that I would never want it to be retired, this way, every child can dream of day of wearing it.”

While Juventus have considered retiring the number, Del Piero urged the club to keep it in circulation so that future stars could wear it. Indeed, this is a number deeply rooted in the history of the club and the European game. A look at the past 40 years sees an impressive list of players assigned that number.

Read  |  Liam Brady’s Italian sojourn at Juventus

In 1980, Irish-born Liam Brady left Arsenal to play for the Bianconeri. The move from London to Turin was landmark given that Italian clubs were once again able to sign foreign-born players following a transfer ban throughout a part of the 1970s. Brady played just two seasons for the club, but his time there remains memorable. He won two league titles and scored the winning goal, via a penalty, with 15 minutes left to play in a 1-0 victory against Catanzaro that won the Scudetto in 1982.

Brady’s heroics, under the coaching genius of Giovanni Trapattoni, had been key during both his seasons with Juventus. He led the team to a 13-1-1 record in the second half of the season to outmanoeuvre Roma, led by Brazilian star Paulo Roberto Falcão, to win the title. As playmaker, Brady was the team’s jewel, teaming up with Roberto Bettega to form the deadliest attack force in Italy.

Brady’s ability to outpace defenders and score from anywhere in the penalty area made him the team’s top scorer. It says a lot about the Irishman’s abilities given that as many as seven of his teammates regularly featured for Italy, who won the World Cup that summer.

The goal to win the 1981/82 title – the 20th in Juve’s history – was bittersweet. With a month to go before the end of the season, Brady knew he was going to exit the club – eventually bound for Serie A side Sampdoria – after Juventus had signed Michel Platini. The Frenchman’s signing, coupled with the restrictions in place in the pre-Bosman era, meant the team could only field two non-Italian players ,with Poland striker Zbigniew Boniek filling the other slot.

Heartbroken that he had to leave Turin, he helped his side overcome Fiorentina on points – and stitch that second star on its uniform – to help his team win it all one final time. “This was a great example of fair play. It was a great example of what a gentleman he was,” recalled Candido Cannavo, the former editor of the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, in the documentary La Grande Storia della Juventus. “It was also his primary task, yes, but he did it with a style, a gusto and a pleasure that highlighted what a great player he was and what a gentleman he was, too.”

Brady was a true gentleman until the very end. In the dressing room after the match, a champagne-drenched Brady saw a microphone shoved in his face. He was asked about winning his second Scudetto in as many years and what a riveting finale it had been. “It couldn’t have gone better,” he replied. “I am very happy. I am full of joy, but also sad because I’m leaving these guys. They are real champions.” 

Read  |  How Alessandro Del Piero became the king of Turin

For as wonderful as Brady was in his two seasons, Michel Platini proved even better in the same shirt. Platini had, at first, endured a tough time adapting to a team that featured a large portion of Italian players fresh from their World Cup victory in Spain, including striker Paolo Rossi, midfielder Marco Tardelli and defenders Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea.

The club reached the European Cup final, losing to Hamburger SV, but won the Coppa Italia, a consolation prize for sure but a harbinger of the success that would come in the 1980s. Juventus won the Serie A title in 1984 and 1986, the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1984, and the European Cup in 1985, along with the European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup that same year. Platini finished top scorer for three straight seasons – from 1982 to 1985 – and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1983, ’84 and ’85.

He also won the 1984 European Championships with France on home soil and scored nine goals in the process. For Juventus owner Gianni Agnelli, the move to sign Platini had paid off. Whatever affection the fans had had for Brady, it was erased with trophy after trophy that came to define the Platini era. The 1985 European Cup title was the climax of Platini’s dominance, although that victory was sullied by the tragic events of Heysel.

Juventus thn endured some lean years, coinciding with players wearing the number 10 shirt not up to either the calibre or expectations that it brought. From 1987 to 1990, the number was worn by Luigi De Agostini and Giancarlo Marocchi, talented Italian players who never rose to the level of international stars. It was also the years when Napoli, AC Milan and Internazionale dominated the league. Diego Maradona was the world’s best player – one Juventus passed on signing – and Napoli eclipsed their dominance. There was also AC Milan, coached by Arrigo Sacchi, who went on to win back-to-back European Cups with their Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

A new era of winning began in 1990 with the arrival of Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina. Il Divin Codino was signed by Juventus for a then-world record transfer fee of £8 million, and the move sparked riots in the streets of Florence after it was made official. In his five seasons at Juventus, Baggio became one of the world’s best players, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993 as well as the Scudetto and Coppa Italia double in 1995.

He followed in the footsteps of Sivorí and Platini in 1993 when he was awarded the Balon d’Or. That summer, Baggio’s heroics for the national team took Italy to the 1994 World Cup final, only to lose to Brazil on a penalty shootout after his decisive effort went high over the crossbar. In 1995, he was sold to AC Milan to make room for a then-up-and-coming youngster named Del Piero. 

Read  |  The coming of age of Paulo Dybala

Del Piero inherited the number 10 shirt from Baggio and wore it for an astounding 18 years – from 1994 to 2012 – making him arguably the best player in club history. Del Piero’s longevity in that shirt – he played in a record 705 matches for the club across all official competitions as well as scoring a club-record 290 goals – resulted in six Serie A titles.

It was a 21-year-old Del Piero who scored six goals and helped lead Juventus to a Champions League triumph in the 1995/96 season. At the end of 1996, the Balon d’Or was awarded to German defender Matthias Sammer, with Del Piero not even in the top three. In 1998, Del Piero was named Italian Player of the Year but lost out on the Balon d’Or to Juventus teammate Zinedine Zidane, who had won the World Cup with France earlier that year. Del Piero, despite his skill and consistency, would never win the award, although he was a member of the Italy side that won the 2006 World Cup on penalties against France.

No player wore the number during the 2012/13 season, the first without Del Piero, as Juventus won the title, and no Juve player finished in the top 10 list of the league’s top scorers that season. The following season, the number went to Carlos Tevez. The Argentine was, at the time, at the top of his game.

Juventus would reign as league champions again with Tevez netting 19 goals to finish third overall on the Serie A scoring charts. The Argentine would wear the number through the 2014/15 season, too, which resulted in a Scudetto-Coppa Italia double. Eventually, Tevez decided to go back to Argentina to play for Boca Juniors and the shirt went to Paul Pogba, who switched from number six to become the first Frenchman to wear it since Platini.

Pogba wore the shirt for just one season – during the 2015/16 campaign – and he lived up to all expectations. He had been signed by the Bianconeri to great fanfare three years earlier and the lanky central midfielder had finally come into his own in the Italian top flight that season. Like Platini, he led the team in many ways. That season, Pogba topped Serie A in assists with 12 and was second overall for most dribbles completed. Unlike the former France legend, the fans were upset by season’s end when Pogba decided to leave for a return to Manchester United.

Before Dybala was given the number, new signing Federico Bernardeschi refused to wear the number 10 over the summer, saying he did not want to draw comparisons to another former Fiorentina-turned-Juventus player. “There’s no-one like Baggio. In my opinion, comparisons are always wrong. Baggio was perhaps the greatest Italian footballer of all time, he showed that, so I don’t think you should compare me to him,” he told reporters at his introductory news conference. “I’m flattered, but I think it’s a bit disrespectful to him.”

Dybala has taken the challenge given to him. It remains to be seen if he can deliver another title or even the Champions League to a team that never tires of winning. “It’s an immense joy to wear this number. Del Piero had a lot of success with it and I don’t think anyone will repeat that [at Juventus],” Dybala said recently in an interview published on the team’s official website. “I hope to be able to live up to it.” 

By Clemente Lisi