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Mystery solved: Why do the best soccer players wear No. 10?

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Neymar of Brazil celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)

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Unlike any jersey number in any other sport, the No. 10 jersey in soccer carries with it a certain caché, a sense of prestige, a sign of respect. For as long as I can remember, the 10 shirt has been the hottest commodity on the youth level and what the best players strive toward earning.

But how did that come about? It’s partially because the game’s all-time greats, including Pele and Diego Maradona, donned the number while starring on the biggest stages for their countries. A generation of children worldwide grew up idolizing everything about them, from their fancy footwork to their passing panache to the shirts on their backs. Kids identified with everything about them, extending to what number they wore.

[Related: Neymar under enormous pressure as Brazil's No. 10]

Going even further into the way-back machine, there are reasons why Pele and Maradona wore the No. 10. Per our friends at Business Insider, numerical designations from 1-11 were given to players based on their position. Historically, goalkeepers wore No. 1 and forwards wore No. 10 and 11. Wingers, typically wearing No. 7 and 11, later drifted into the midfield, leaving the No. 10 up top.

(Check out BI’s fancy moving diagram for a visual):

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Business Insider takes a look at the old numerical system for assigning jersey numbers. (Business Insider)

Business Insider takes a look at the old numerical system for assigning jersey numbers. (Business Insider)

Usually, you want your best all-around, offensive-minded players at the forward position, so lots of creative playmakers were assigned the No. 10. That trend just stuck over the years, although there’s no numerical system nowadays. The tradition of paying homage to the sport’s icons, though, continues.

[Photos: Photogenic fans of the World Cup]

Several of the marquee players in this World Cup wear the coveted No. 10 for their countries. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Wayne Rooney, Wesley Sneijder, Karim Benzema and Lukas Podolski currently have the honors in Brazil. They’re the latest in a long list of stars to do so that includes iconic names like Michael Owen, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Baggio and yes, Landon Donovan.

The mysterious persona behind wearing the No. 10 jersey has taken on a life of its own over the years. A player filling “the No. 10 role” even has become a talking point for experts and pundits. It comes with immense pressure – which the game’s greats relish.

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