It really shouldn’t spark the debate, drama, and outrage it usually does. But anyone who regularly rates the performance of football players on a scale of 1 to 10 knows what a thankless task it can be.
When fans, club staff and even players reflect on a game after the fact, it is this small number they turn to immediately and they or their loved ones are not afraid to tell you when they think you you’re wrong. Truly there is no greater guarantee of outrage than giving a footballer 5/10 for their performance when a friend, family member or supporter is convinced it is at least 7/10.
This piece can’t quite hope to explain why that number is so important, but maybe if we can offer a shared knowledge base on what should be considered a 4/10 and why it’s so hard to distribute the best grades. Maybe not…
0/10 – The Unknowable
N / A
It’s my holy grail, my white whale. For the rest of my life I will be chasing the game which perfectly encapsulates what it is to give performance so completely without redeeming features that the only option is to score it 0/10. I’ve seen the outline of 0/10s in past performances – a lazy back pass here, a comedic own goal there – but to witness such incompetence in all its majesty is something that’s woefully out of reach, so that a zero in its fullest form exists only in my imagination.
Basically, you’ll probably have to be deliberately bad, ideally kicking the ball into your own net on purpose, if you want to hit the lower grades.
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1/10 – No but seriously, do you know how to play football?
Ali Dia v Leeds United – November 23, 1996
There are ratings reserved for poor footballing performances but that is something else entirely. A 1/10 performance doesn’t beg the question “what went so wrong?” as much as the question, “is this individual capable of playing football at a professional level?”
There is only one performance that comes to mind when faced with this. When in 1996 Graeme Souness received a call from someone claiming to be George Weah urging him to give his ‘cousin’, ‘former Paris Saint-Germain player’ Ali Dia, a one-month contract , what could the Southampton manager do other than give him a swing?
On November 23, Dia’s chance came against Leeds United and, except for a cross shot that nearly squirmed, he played like a Portsmouth student. Because that’s what he was.
2/10 – Exceptionally bad
Jonathan Woodgate v Athletic Bilbao – September 22, 2005
A comedy of errors might be the most apt description here, though you’d suspect it’s not all that fun for the player who will inevitably have left a huge mark on the game to earn that rating. Thanks to him, Woodgate even saw the funniest side of his Real Madrid debut back then. “Own goal and sent off! What a start. After the own goal and the yellow card, I was like ‘Jesus Christ, don’t get sent off’ and then I got sent off.”
It’s the benchmark for a 2/10, a constant cavalcade of game-changing errors that leave your teammates with an impossible mountain to climb.
3/10 – Bad
Jules Kounde v Borussia Dortmund – March 9, 2021
Once again, we’re looking for multiple errors here, or at least one particularly abysmal error amidst a jumble of disappointing moments. To give you an example fresh in your mind, Kounde had his impressive moments for Sevilla in the 2-2 draw with Dortmund in the second leg of their round of 16. It’s just that he also hit a dead end from his center back berth, giving up the ball and letting Erling Häland exploit the position he was supposed to be in. And then conceding a penalty. You know, I’m starting to wonder if even a three was a bit generous…
4/10 – Not up to par
Cristiano Ronaldo v Porto – March 9, 2021
We chose Cristiano Ronaldo for this one because he asks one of the most intriguing questions that often comes to mind when evaluating players, if we rate some differently due to the expectations placed on them. . Indeed, it is unfair to have one scale for the best and another for the rest, but it is equally natural, when evaluating a player’s performance, not only to stick to those around him, but also to what we know the individual is capable of.
Ronaldo had some decent moments against Porto and got into reasonable shooting positions, apart from his disastrous free-kick defense which won the tie and means a 4/10 is fair enough. But put that aside and it’s one of the game’s best in a game to win. It is natural to expect a little more. All of that is a long way of saying that sometimes your favorite player gets a little more criticism because they’re expected to be the best.
5/10 – The starting point
Edouard Mendy vs Atlético Madrid — February 23, 2021
Right off the bat, let’s be clear, 5 is the starting point for player ratings on the CBS football pages. It may be different elsewhere but if a footballer plays an adequate game, no more no less, then he gets a five. Football dads, agents and friends of the world, there’s no shame in being in the middle of the pack for a game. We have no complaints and neither should you.
So, for example, a player like Edouard Mendy in the first leg against Atlético Madrid gets a five because, through no fault of his own, he didn’t really contribute to the game (yes I’m aware that I gave him a four on the whistle, take that as proof of my fallibility). If you can’t really get involved in the game, you’ll end up back where you started.
6/10 – It was pretty good
Andrew Robertson v RB Leipzig – March 10, 2021
I think this is perhaps the hardest to describe. It’s just good. Kind of like going to Disney World as an adult. There is nothing surprising, there is no magic, but everything is done competently to slightly exceed expectations. Food? Still just as slightly tastier than the typical amusement park fair. Lines? Sure, they were long, but not as long as expected. Everything was clean, fresh and opened and closed on time. Well done all around. A performance completely thrown at the level of “well, I guess I can’t complain about that”. Like Robertson against RB Leipzig. It was good, nothing notable, but better than average. Has it become apparent that these are nightmarish performances to describe?
7/10 – A solid performance
80% of matches played by Nacho Monreal with an Arsenal shirt
Every club has one. They are often full-backs. I’m looking at you Seamus Coleman from Everton. This player who season after season performs very well under the radar. Sir 7/10.
You take a look at their in-game stats and they haven’t given the ball away yet in the final third, they’ve made three tackles, six interceptions and make the winger in charge of facing them look like everything completely to deceive. Consistent quality throughout a game, but perhaps without any box office moments, gets you a 7/10 as much as a brilliant contribution, but nothing else could.
8/10 – Now we cook
Fabinho vs RB Leipzig March 10, 2021
There are many different types of 8/10s. You can have the game-winning goal, the exceptional defensive back (read: direct the ball a lot) or my personal favorite, the 8/10 which makes me feel very smart to spot him. Looking back on another display in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Liverpool, what stands out about Fabinho is not just the quality of his role, but how his performance made life easier for his teammates around him. Thiago was more efficient as he could work higher up the pitch, Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips look more solid with protection in front of them.
9/10 – A really great display
Erling Häland v Sevilla – March 9, 2021
We have now entered rarefied territory. A 9/10 should not be given away for free. To qualify for such lofty accolades, it takes a performance that decisively swings a game from one team to another. Häland is a perfect example of that, take him from the Dortmund team and put him in Sevilla and you would have had a mirror image of how that tie played out. The same could be said for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s performance in the 2020 FA Cup Final. No player wins a game by himself, but 9/10 performances decide games.
10/10 – One for the ages
Geoff Hurst v West Germany – July 30, 1966
Apologies for the extremely English example here, but perhaps this is the example of what sets the 10/10 ball apart from its lower cousins. This is everything we discussed above with the added distinction that the context of the game is important. Gareth Bale could have a great game against Burnley like he did, but it’s a regulation win against a mid-level Premier League opponent. Unless he did it while carrying an injury with the eight-man Spurs, he doesn’t belong in the pantheon of great performances.
Of course, one of the joys of deciding if a game deserves a 10/10 is determining if a game is big enough. A hat-trick in a World Cup final, we can all agree, absolutely is. What about Kylian Mbappe’s demolition of Barcelona at Camp Nou? You could say it was just the first leg of a round of 16 draw, half a win in a draw that very easily could have come in a pear shape if not for Keylor’s save Navas in the return match. Likewise, the young PSG star showing up at Lionel Messi’s home and tearing things up felt like a pivotal moment in European play, a changing of the guard.
Should such things matter? Are we simply evaluating a performance or are we trying to contextualize it? Such questions invariably find an answer in the eye of the beholder, so it’s perhaps no wonder that that number at the end of a few sentences invariably provokes fierce debate.