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Mata at Manchester United and eight other No. 8 greats

David Moyes and Manchester United splashed out $61.5 million to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea in a club record deal. The spectacular Spaniard unveiled today at Old Trafford earned Blues Player of the Season honors the last two terms at Stamford Bridge while wearing No. 10, playing in the creative midfielder role.

He’ll likely be deployed in a similar way under Moyes, tucking in behind the forward line and dictating the attack, but he’ll do it while sporting No. 8, vacated by Anderson, who moved to Fiorentina on loan earlier this month.

“I think eight is a great number,” Mata said. “I know that seven is an iconic number here (worn by legends George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo), but after speaking with David (Moyes), eight is a good number for me and hopefully will bring me good luck this season.”

Mata is no doubt a prolific player who will do wonders to raise the spirits and outlook on the red side of Manchester. He could make his Red Devils debut at home on Tuesday against Cardiff City, and Moyes will sure hope his new man will reach the heights of those who made SOCCER.COM’s list of Eight Great No. 8s:

Frank Lampard, England and Chelsea

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Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer and ageless wonder Frank Lampard is a box-to-box midfielder who is as reliable as they come on a soccer field. Still elite at age 35, Lamps earned his 100th cap for England earlier this season and is second all time in the English Premier League in assists.

Steven Gerrard, Liverpool

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Born in Merseyside, Steven Gerrard joined Liverpool’s ranks before his eight birthday and has been a loyal servant ever since, reaching the status of a living legend at the club. He’s been Reds captain for a decade and has helped the team lift 11 European and English tournament trophies while winning UEFA Club Football of the Year honors, among many others.

Able to play in center midfield, on the wing or, now, as a deep-lying midfielder, Gerrard is still the only man to score in the finals of a FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League.

Andrés Iniesta, FC Barcelona

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We could have selected Iniesta or his club and country teammate Xavi, who wears No. 8 for Spain, but we went with Iniesta as he dons the figure far more frequently. We also could list a whole slew of awards—UEFA Best Player in Europe for 2012, Best Player in the UEFA Champions League for 2011-12, IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker, FIFA World XI member five times in a row, etc.—but suffice it to say that Iniesta is among the best to ever play in midfield.

Having won La Liga six times and a trio of UCL crowns, Iniesta is perhaps best known in Spain for scoring the goal that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ for La Furia Roja.

Sócrates, Brazil

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As if his technical brilliance wasn’t enough, Sócrates forever cemented his place in soccer history with a beard, headband and a doctorate in medicine that gave him his famous name.

He was the marshall of what’s widely considered one of most talented midfields ever assembled: the 1982 Brazilian team. Whether pulling off one of his trademark blind heel passes, spotting a beautiful through ball, outmuscling opponents or firing in a shot from long-range, Sócrates was a wonder on a field. He was named by Pelé in 2004 as one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers.

Dunga, Brazil

Brazilian captain Dunga holds aloft the

One of only two players (the other is Xavi) to play in a FIFA World Cup™, Olympics, Confederations Cup and continental championship, Dunga captained the Brazilian team that triumphed in the Rose Bowl in 1994, winning the World Cup on penalties.

He played in a holding midfielder role, appearing 91 times as an anchor in the heart of the pitch for the Seleção. He made the FIFA World Cup™ All Star team in 1994 and 1998. A born leader, he later managed his national team from 2006 to 2010.

Marcel Desailly, France and AC Milan

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Born in Ghana, but representing Les Blues on international level, Desailly joined Zinedine Zidane to form a potent partnership that delivered the 1998 FIFA World Cup France and Euro 2000 crowns. He retired having appeared in a then-record 116 games for France.

At club level he won the UEFA Champions League with Marseille and AC Milan and the UEFA Super Cup with Chelsea. Like Sócrates, he made Pelé’s illustrious list of living greats.

Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria and FC Barcelona

Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria

With all due respect to Dimitar Berbatov and his fans, Stoichov is without a doubt the finest Bulgarian to ever put on boots. The five-time Bulgarian Footballer of the Year was nicknamed “El Pistolero” (The Gunslinger) from his time in Barcelona firing Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” to four straight La Liga championships.

He won the 1994 FIFA World Cup Golden Boot™, the 1994 Ballon d’Or and in the 1998-99 season scored 38 goals to lead all European leagues. An intense competitor, and the only out-and-out forward on our list, Stoichkov could also play on the wing where he blazed past defenders with blinding speed and deft dribbling. Like Dunga, he also went on to become coach of his national side.

Sándor Kocsis, Hungary and FC Barcelona

Hungarian forward Sandor Kocsis (L) cele

If you are prone to shock and awe, be forewarned if you read Koscis mind-boggling stats. He scored 75 goals for Hungary in 68 appearances, an average of 1.1 per game that’s still the best all time for players who have earned at least 43 caps. Germany’s Gerd Mueller is the only other man to average better than a goal a game. Kocsis (shown scoring above) netted 11 goals, two hat tricks at the 1954 FIFA World Cup Switzerland.

He was such a star in the Hungarian domestic league that his team, Honvéd for whom he scored 153 goals in 145 matches, organized a world tour to capitalize on his fame. After the tour, he signed with Barcelona and helped them win two Spanish titles.

Did we leave someone out? Do you think Mata will replace one of these legends on this list? How do you think he’ll perform at Old Trafford? Read your crystal ball and clue us all in below in the comments section.


  • Steve

    The dates that Dunga managed Brazil are off by 10 years

    • http://www.soccer.com/ Martin North

      Fixed the dates. Thanks for the heads up, Steve.

  • http://www.soccer.com/ Martin North

    Ian Wright is a shocking omission from this list.

  • Allen

    KAKA? Ian Wright? Xavi?