Ronaldo got the 7 upon his return to Man United,
but here he is being unveiled with the number 9 at Real Madrid.
Seeing Messi play in number 30 is just plain crazy but not as insane as some players wearing 0, 1+8
or even a 111. Footballers will do a lot to get their favourite shirt number. I'm gonna
explain why they attach so much value to those digits below their name and how they choose them.
Also stay tuned for the dumbest, craziest and highest shirt numbers in football history.
The 2021 summer transfer window showed us how important digits can be to players' egos.
Amid the crazy transfer moves shirt numbers were a significant subplot.
The transfer merry-go-round kicked off when David Alaba moved to Real where he couldn't
wear his favourite 27 due to League rules limiting squad numbers to 25.
So he took the 4 vacated by Sergio Ramos who in turn went to PSG
and took that number off Thilo Kehrer who was shunted out to 24. Then Messi headed to Paris,
too, and presumably wanted his iconic number 10, but Neymar wears that.
He could have taken the 11 which he wore at Santos and Barcelona but di Maria has that number at PSG,
having failed to claim that at his previous clubs. So Messi snapped up number 30,
as that was what he wore in his first two seasons at Barca.
Meanwhile Jaden Sancho went to United, wanted the number 7, but Solskjaer said Cavani had seniority.
Sancho took 25 because, you know, 2 plus 5 equals 7, but then Ronaldo came back to United,
and he's called CR7 for a reason, so Cavani let it go and the EPL let it happen.
Now Cavani has 21, the number he usually wears for Uruguay.
I need a break!
So where does this obsession come from? Let's go back in time to when players couldn't actually
choose their numbers at all, because history and tradition plays a massive part in this.
They were actually first introduced by two obscure Australian clubs before they
made their way to Argentina and the USA and then popped up on the big stage in England in the 1933
FA cup final, with Everton wearing 1 to 11 and Man City wearing 12 to 22.
To a great burst of cheering the two teams fire out. With their shirts numbered for the
first time in the cup finals. Everton white, 1 to 11, Manchester 12-22.
The classic distribution of shirt numbers stems from the 2-3-5 formation, fairly similar to
today's classic numbering even if this looks kind of odd. Nowadays it looks more like this and those
are the shirt numbers most traditionally associated with the respective positions.
As that association grew some numbers became iconic.
That is a major factor in players decisions on digits. Along with 7, 9 and 10 carry the most
prestige. We have a whole video on the number 10 position, so go check that out on our channel.
Usually it is reserved for attacking playmakers like Maradona and Messi,
but some big-name strikers like Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, and Ruud van Nistelrooy went for it, too.
Wearing an iconic number makes players feel part of an illustrious club associated with the greats
of the game. The number 9 is the classic striker's number, signaling to every fan and defender that
this is the man to mark. Alfredo di Stefano was one early example followed by legends like George
Weah, Gabriel Batistuta, Alan Shearer and OG Ronaldo. So early on you were assigned the number
9 if you were the starting striker, and that just stuck. Now the number 7 is reserved for wingers
and evokes a whole host of creative names, in particular at Manchester United, a club where it
has actually become absurdly significant. George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham wore it,
Sancho requested it but was denied, as I mentioned earlier, and now Ronaldo is back rocking it again.
Sometimes the pressure of an iconic number can get to a player and way too heavy. Antonio
Valencia actually switched back to the 25 after failing to find form in his new number 7 shirt.
But before players could choose a number to keep some alternative
allocation reasons led to some rather bizarre results, like alphabetical order.
Argentina adhered to this policy in the 1974, 78, 82 and 86 World Cups
as did the Netherlands for some of those tournaments.
Distributing shirt numbers by alphabetical order led to some crazy results like Dutch keeper Jan
Jongbloed assigned the number 8 and Argentinian midfielder Ossie Ardiles donned the number 1.
However, on both teams the big stars got to keep their favoured numbers.
Diego Maradona wore number 10 and Johan Cruyff the number 14.
He incidentally chose the number 14 out of an act of chivalry because his teammate
at Ajax wanted to wear the 7, and 14 was the first number Cruyff picked out of the basket.
Those two set a precedent for today's big name players choosing to keep their number at whichever
club they go to, which has become a big deal in today's game because of brand recognition.
Players have begun to associate and form their own brand surrounding their own shirt numbers,
which has become an even bigger deal in the social media era.
Cristiano Ronaldo wore the number 28 at Sporting and initially the 17 for Portugal, but
Sir Alex Ferguson handed him the iconic number 7 at United. That spawned CR7,
his nickname and an international brand spanning hotels, gyms, and yes: underwear.
That was briefly messed up when he moved to Madrid in 2009 because club legend Raoul
still had the seven and was not about to hand it away. Still looks weird to this day. Previously
Raoul also caused David Beckham to have to rethink his number of choice.
Despite owning a brand called DB7 he switched to 23 in a nod to Michael Jordan and as a marketing
ploy. Keen to establish himself as a star in the USA, Beckham moved to la a few years later
and now owns an MLS club. He couldn't quite let go though, naming his daughter Harper 7 Beckham.
Özil also wore the 23 at real before getting his number 10. At Arsenal he then had to wait five
seasons before he could move from 11 to 10. A bit annoying when your brand and all your
social media handles are MO10. Some players go down a little bit of a creative route when
the number they want isn't available to them, so my next reason is second choice solution.
The Brazilian Ronaldo was arguably the most iconic number 9 of the modern era.
But what if you're a striker sharing the stage with him?
That's the position Iván Zamorano found himself in at Inter, and he decided to
improvise. The Chilean wore 18 and added a little plus sign, because you know: 1+8=9.
Later Ronaldo had to get creative himself during his late career stint at crosstown rivals AC,
he wore 99 and there was more of him by that point in his career as well.
Mario Balotelli mostly wears 45 for the same reason as Zamarano.
His decisions don't always make sense but no one can deny that 4 plus 5 equals 9,
and there's not much competition for that shirt usually.
For some players it isn't a specific number that makes them feel valued
though. They just want a number that conveys a certain status.
And that results in a phenomenon i'd like to dub "Lower Digit Prestige".
Players have egos and sometimes they'll make weird choices to feel more important.
If it's between a high and low number, usually footballers are gonna go for the latter. Glen
Johnson chose the number 8 when he went to Stoke, even though he's a defender.
Centre-back Khalid Boulahrouz went even bigger wearing the number 9 at Chelsea.
That was an abomination that seems to have cursed the number - we're talking to you Fernando Torres.
Maybe Lukaku turns that around for them.
Samuel Eto'o and Milan Baroš both rocked the number 5 playing for
local rivals Everton and Liverpool respectively
and three strikers in Wilfried Bony, Arouna Koné and Clint Dempsey all elected to wear number 2
rather than go up into double digits.
The most absurd example for me is probably William Gallas wearing the number 10 at Arsenal.
His request to have an important squad number after signing in 2006
was reasonable. The number 10 though previously worn by Dennis Bergkamp not so much.
Gallas didn't want the number 3
as he wanted to make clear to everyone he was a centre-back not a left-back,
and Arsene Wenger didn't want to burden a forward with Bergkamp comparisons, so this happened.
Proof that some players just want to make sure that their number is
lower than 12. So the higher the number the less important the player usually.
But some players are keen to keep the number they were assigned to when they burst onto the scene.
Bastian Schweinsteiger kept the number 31 for his entire career.
He was given it as a youth team graduate and even fought Marouane Fellaini for it at United.
But others aren't bothered about iconic numbers or youth team shirts,
they don't want to be clever or creative, they just want to be different and stand out.
Goalkeepers are particularly guilty of this. On loan from Roma Cristiano Lupatelli wore
the number 10 between the sticks at Cheivo Verona because of the bet he made with friends.
Jorge Campos also bucked the trend of keepers wearing number 1.
He wore flamboyant custom kits and played a pretty crazy brand of football
that saw him regularly switch to striker mid-match, scoring 35 goals at club level.
That's why he deservedly wore the number 9 for his efforts.
Portuguese shot stopper Vítor Baía became the first player ever to wear the number 99 in a
champions league final, and he was eventually emulated by fellow keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma,
who to be fair also chose it because he was born in the year 1999.
Attacking midfielder Adolfo Bautista wore number 100 at Chivas de Guadalajara,
the first man in history to wear three digits on the back. Then striker Luisao
sported the number 111 at flamenco in 2006 to celebrate the club's 111th anniversary.
But the highest number seems to belong to Tommy Orr, who had an
unforgettable debut for Australia in 2010. The 18-year-old came off the bench wearing 121.
He revealed later that before the Asian Cup qualifiers began, the Australian FA had to
register any potential player and give them a number that couldn't be changed.
He was just 16 and was added as the 121st player for Australia as somewhat of an afterthought.
That was also his shirt number and then he was forced to wear it. Technically the
lowest number in football is the number 1, most often worn by goalkeepers. But
the Scottish league has pushed that statement to the limit.
Firstly through Derek Riordan who had 01. Following a deadline day return to Hibernian
in 2008 he wanted the number 10, but it was taken so Hibs agreed to reverse it.
But you can't go lower than 0, which is what Aberdeen fans convinced their
Moroccan signing to wear because his name was Hicham Zerouali. He sadly
died in a car crash in 2004 which prompted the club to retire the number in his honor.
So now we are wading into weird waters.
Footballers need their fair share of luck and so superstition has yielded
some of the stranger choices.
Mario Gomez's lucky number 33 saw him reject the number 9 multiple times.
Nicklas Bendtner raised eyebrows plenty of times in his career,
especially when he switched from 26 to 52, which he said was luckier. Spoiler alert: it didn't work
out and there were rumors of him wanting to double his number to signify him being twice the player.
He also wore the number 3 at Wolfsburg because...lower digit prestige?
Asamoah Gyan was another striker who wore number
3 consistently in a career spanning three continents.
Apparently his brother advised him to because as Gyan says...
The three is very powerful. When you lift something heavy
you count to three in your head. When you warn somebody for the first time,
you warn them for a second time, then the third time is very powerful.
Apparently it's not just about giving people loads of chances though,
but also a nod to the holy trinity in christianity.
We'll finish with some odd examples from the USA. Swiss international Alain Sutter
wore the number 66 at Dallas Burn in reference to the highway route 66.
Only problem, route 66 doesn't run through Dallas.
The club Tacoma Defiance has all its players wear very high numbers for no apparent reason. The
lowest number in the squad is number 18 worn by a low knee, with the lowest permanent player number
being goalkeeper Christian Herrera's number 31. The majority of the squad has numbers above 50.
So whether it's history, superstition, status or stupidity, shirt numbers are chosen for a whole
variety of reasons. From 0 to 121 apparently, some choices more logical than others.
Let me know what number you like most and why.
I by chance was always assigned the number 6 or number 13 in any team sport I played in,
and then later found out that those were the numbers my mother always wore
during her basketball career. Coincidence or fate?
Let me know in the comments why you've chosen the number you wear and subscribe to Kick off!