Think of a Number – Maradona, Cruyff and the players who define a shirt.

Stencil Graffiti Buenos Aires by Thomas Locke Hobbs, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Image by  Thomas Locke Hobbs

NUMBER 1 SHIRT: Let’s get one thing very straight: Unless you’re a goalkeeper then you should not touch this shirt. There are exceptions. Osvaldo Ardiles redefined the No.1 when Argentina decided to allocate shirts using the alphabet in the 1982 World Cup. Edgar Davids has since tried the same at Barnet, but that’s simply pretentious. The specs, yes, but the No.1? No Edgar, just no.

NUMBER 2 SHIRT: Open up a newspaper onto page 2. Dull isn’t it? It’s where the lottery numbers, horoscopes, editorial phone numbers and weather forecast go. It’s a right-back’s number. Gary Stevens of Everton wore it. As did Gary Stevens of Spurs. People called Gary Stevens wear it. So, quite what made Arouna Kone and Clint Dempsey adopt the full-back jersey in recent years one can only guess. We did wonder whether it could be a reference to the number of goals the misfiring Kone has scored so far this season – but then surely he’d have a 0 on his back?

NUMBER 3 SHIRT: Do you really think Trevor Brooking was injured for most of the 1982 World Cup? Think on. The Football Association’s decision to dish out numbers on an alphabetical basis to outfield players (bar Kevin Keegan, who demanded the No,7 shirt) meant West Ham United’s elegant midfielder Brooking was given the No.3. No wonder he avoided all public appearances until sneaking on for the final throes of England’s final game of the competition. Injured? Yeah right… Embarrassed more like. Elsewhere, AC Milan have retired this particular number in honour of Paolo Maldini. But, with two Maldini sons already in the club’s academy, Paolo has given permission for the shirt to be reintroduced should one of them emerge into first-team contention. Bless.

Eric Cantona by FOTOKIOSK Hamburg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  FOTOKIOSK Hamburg 

NUMBER 7 SHIRT: Ok, so here’s the problem – it’s testimonial night at Old Trafford for Sir Someone-Or-other. In walk Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and, erm, Russell Beardsmore. They head straight for the No.7 peg. Awkward, eh? Perhaps they can do a few minutes each? So, what to do? Maybe it should have been retired when George Best departed Planet Football to spare us all such a modern-football issue. Liverpool have a similar problem. Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Luis Suarez are among the Anfield greats to have worn the No.7. And, of course, Nigel Clough.

NUMBER 9 SHIRT: Ian Rush, Alan Shearer, Jeff Astle, Gabriel Batistuta, Kerry Dixon, Filippo Inzaghi, Cyrille Regis, Malcolm Macdonald, Didier Drogba. We all love a No.9, right? Maybe not. Who decided to give Bobby Charlton the shirt number for England for the 1966 World Cup? And then there was Chris Waddle for Spurs in 1987, another No.9 wearer. Midfielder Alan Dickens of West Ham also wore it – when strikers Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie wore eight and 10 respectively. And why did Gary Lineker refuse the number? Shunned, throughout his career. Gary, we demand answers. And we all thought the ‘false No.9’ was a new phenomenon. Nonsense. Blame Sir Bobby Charlton for this idiocy. It’s all his fault.

NUMBER 10 SHIRT: Poor John Moncur. Given the No.10 shirt by West Ham boss Harry Redknapp in 1996, the Hammers midfielder found himself caught up in a numerical storm when new signing Paolo Futre found out he had been allocated the No.16 squad number. “Pele No.10, Eusebio No.10, Maradona No.10…Futre No.10,” protested the Portuguese playmaker, without a hint of modesty. After much jumping up and down, followed by one almighty sulk, Futre finally got his wish. The No.10 shirt doesn’t always work out well, however. Argentina ‘retired’ the No.10 shirt to relieve the pressure created by its most famous wearer, Diego Maradona.

They submitted their 23-man 2002 World Cup squad with a No.24 shirt, without a No.10 jersey. FIFA said no, which meant poor Ariel Ortega was forced to wear the No.10 shirt, no doubt bogged down by the expectation of being the next ‘El Diez’. Predictably, he was rubbish. And if want to know why do we love the No.10 so much, blame FIFA. Before the 1958 World Cup the Brazilian FA forgot to allocate their squad numbers so the world governing body did it for them. Thankfully, Pele landed the No.10 shirt. Let’s face it, Pele No.3, just wouldn’t have been the same.

NUMBER 14 SHIRT: What Johan wants, Johan gets. Johan Cruyff was sponsored by Puma. Holland’s shirt was made by adidas back in the early 1970s. Solution? Cruyff simply insisted on one of the three stripes being removed from each sleeve to rid the shirt of all traces of adidas. Dutch authorities allocated shirt numbers for the 1974 World Cup based on the alphabet (goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed wore the No.8, for goodness sake) which would have meant Cruyff wearing the No.1. That was never going to happen. Cruyff demanded the No.14 – which he had already worn for Ajax, despite the old-style 1-11 sequential system still being in place. Cruyff did things like that. So No.14 it was for Cruyff in 1974. Throw in a slim font, black number with a white border, placed on an orange shirt, and, hey presto, the result is ageless football iconography.


Bundesarchiv – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany Licence

NUMBER 69 SHIRT ?: Bixente Lizarazu asked for this number when he joined Bayern Munich in 2005. Why? He was born in 1969, was 169cm tall and weighed 69kg at the point of his arrival at Munich. Why else did you think he might want 69? Honestly, you lot are shocking….

NUMBER 88 SHIRT?: Gigi Buffon, Parma goalkeeper, said in 2000: “I have chosen 88 because it reminds me of four balls and Italy we all know what it means to have balls: strength and determination…and this season I will have to have balls to get back my place in the Italy team,” Yeah, whatever Gigi. What Buffon didn’t realise was this number had caused almighty seethe in the Italian Jewish community, who pointed out that 88 was a neo-Nazi symbol as H was the eighth letter of the alphabet so, effectively, 88 meant HH, or ‘Heil Hitler”. Buffon swiftly changed to 77.


Article by © The Libero 2013 for Away Colours

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