The importance of the number 10 role at Luton Town - Is Allan Campbell the ideal candidate for it?
The number 10 role is defined according to The Coaches Voice as “an attacker who operates in the spaces between central midfield and the front line. They often receive between the opposition's midfield and defence – a space commonly referred to as 'between the lines'.” Examples of classic number 10s through the years are; Glenn Hoddle, Dennis Bergkamp, Kaka and David Silva, who are characterised by their lack of defensive work, but when the ball comes alive for them in the final third, they will have the technical ability to operate in a tight space either finding a “smart pass” to unlock the defence (for a striker or a winger who is primed to send in a cross), make a run into space in the box, or dribble the ball through the defence creating their own goalscoring opportunity. The most recent example of a “10” that we have had in a Luton Town system was Andrew Shinnie, who operated successfully at the tip of the diamond in our successful League 1 title winning season. Shinniesta formed a formidable passing lane with Jack Stacey, who was regularly swinging in crosses from the byline for James Collins to attack. If we think about who in our current system fits the profile of Andrew Shinnie, and the examples listed above, is it Allan Campbell? No. If you cast your mind back to that Transfer Club press conference when we signed Allan Campbell, Mick Harford likened him to Kevin Nicholls, so why are we persisting with Wee Al as a "10"?
The modern definition of a “10” has changed, whereby the classic “10s” were more concerned with finding space to receive the ball and figure out how to take advantage once their fellow midfielders went and won the ball. Modern “10s” have more defensive responsibility, pressing the opposition centre backs along with the forward (or in our case forwards), sometimes they track back to make up numbers while defending, most commonly keeping a close eye on the defensive midfielder, should the opposition set up with one. Does Allan Campbell fit the requirements of a modern “10”? Yes. However, are there better options in our squad who could offer similar pressing intensity, but more technical composure for unlocking the defence with smart passes and late runs into the box? Yes.
For the system that we played last season, as well as this season it appears that we are utilising a modern 10, meaning a pressing machine who will often bypass our front line and go on an adventure. However, looking at our key pass metrics, James Bree leads the way from right wing back (52! Second highest in the Championship – I talk about his creative output here), but I’m not flogging this dead horse, yet again, we know how good Bree is, I would like to point out that with our defensive crisis worsening, and the suspension to Bell, expect another reshuffle which forces Bree into the 3 man backline again. Regardless, it shouldn’t fall on our right wing back to be the creative heartbeat of our team. The player who is first for chance creation in the Championship is Illias Chair, QPRs’ “10”. Only 2 wing backs occupy the top 10 for chance creation, Bree and Ryan Giles, Middlesbroughs’ left back. The remaining 8 spots are taken up by attacking midfielders, which is exactly what you would expect, and exactly what I would like to see from Luton Town.
Who could perform in the “10” role better than Allan Campbell from our current squad? Firstly, let’s look at Wee Al’s underlying stats. He has started all 22 games so far this season and played 1846 minutes (83 minutes per game), creating 14 chances. This equates to 1 chance created every 131 minutes played or 0.63 key passes per game. You don’t need to statistics to see the energy he brings to the team, and the intensity of his press, he has 1 goal and 1 assist to his name so far this season.
Jordan Clark has performed incredibly well so far this season and has adapted well to the central midfield position. After that Messi’esque goal against Middlesbrough last week (Messi is a classic “10”), it got me thinking, shouldn’t Clark be the prime candidate to play in behind the front two. He has attacking pedigree having been converted from a winger. He can match Allan Campbell’s energy in the press. But one key metric is his attacking output, having played 20 games, Clicker has played 1828 minutes (91 minutes per game), creating 20 chances from the deeper role in midfield (classified as an “8”, you can read more about “8”s here). The math is simple for Clicker, with 1 chance every 91 minutes played or 1 key pass per game, in addition to his 2 goals and 2 assists this season. Clark would be classified as a Modern “10”.
Luke Berry is probably our most natural classic “10” in the squad, as he is a jedi master when it comes to finding space in the box. He doesn’t create many chances, with 1 chance created so far this season in his 208 minutes he’s played, starting 1 match and coming on as a substitute in the remaining 7. However, in these limited minutes he’s notched 2 goals, important goals too, snatching a win against Blackpool, and the late show against Rotherham, before the winter break, to snatch a point. Both goals were results of him finding space, and being in the right place at the right time to apply the finishing touch. That is something that comes naturally.
Luke Freeman would be my second choice to Jordan Clark in terms of a modern “10” to supply chances for the front two. Having played 828 minutes, from 9 starts and 9 bench appearances. He has 2 goals and 1 assist so far this season, as well as creating 15 chances with these limited minutes, 1 chance every 55 minutes played, or 1.64 key passes per 90 (if he were able to play 90 minutes). As demonstrated by his goals against Cardiff and Luton, he has the attributes to pop up in the box with space, and from his assist against Burnley (it was a fluffed pass for the assist), if you rewatch the build up to the goal, he demonstrates his footballing brain by dictating where the ball should be played, I quite like that, but I do believe when he plays, he needs to be affecting the game in the opposition half, as he simply doesn’t have the legs for a full game press, demonstrating the attributes of being a classic “10”.
It seems unfair that the management have persisted playing Wee Al in the “10” position. He gives off the vibe that he would literally play anywhere on the pitch and give 110%, but in my opinion it’s a waste of his attributes, energy and ability to carry the ball from deep (which I haven’t discussed, but yes, he is amazing at dribbling, helped out by his low centre of gravity). He is a tenacious tackler, a presser, but lacks the killer ball or the fox in the box instinct to be the 10 in the team who should be playing in the midfield two, with another player who has the legs for relentless pressing, which I discuss here.
The leading candidates to fill the “10” role currently are; Jordan Clark, who has remarkable numbers for playing so deep, and has a lot to prove higher up the pitch. Luke Freeman who has great chance creation numbers, but lacks the legs to fit in with our high pressing style. Luke Berry, who could find space to lay down in a phone booth, and boasts a fine goal/minute played ratio but it seems injuries are very much catching up with him.