Squad number (association football)

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Squad numbers are used in association football to identify and distinguish players on the field. Numbers were originally used to also indicate position, with starting players being assigned numbers 1–11. However these numbers bear little or no significance in the modern game other than players' favourite numbers, and the numbers available. The main numbers (1–11) are often still worn by players of the previously associated position.The number 10 is one of the most iconic numbers in football history, being worn by the likes of Lionel Messi, Pelé and Diego Maradona among others, as is the number 7, being worn by Cristiano Ronaldo, Raúl, David Beckham and many others, typically team captains. Number 9 is usually awarded to a prolific forward, for example Fernando Torres when at Liverpool F.C. or Luis Suarez at F.C. Barcelona.

First use of numbers[edit]

The first documented instance of numbers being used in Association football was on 30 March 1924 when the Fall River Marksmen played St. Louis Vesper Buick during the 1923–24 National Challenge Cup.[1]

The first time numbers were used in Association football in Europe was 25 August 1928, when Sheffield Wednesday played Arsenal[2] and Chelsea hosted Swansea Town at Stamford Bridge. Numbers were assigned by field location:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Right full back (right side centre back)
  3. Left full back (left side centre back)
  4. Right half back (right side defensive midfield)
  5. Centre half back (centre defensive midfield)
  6. Left half back (left side defensive midfield)
  7. Outside right (right winger)
  8. Inside right (attacking midfield)
  9. Centre forward
  10. Inside left (attacking midfield)
  11. Outside left (left winger)

In the first game at Stamford Bridge only the outfield players wore numbers (2–11). The Daily Express (p13, 27 August 1928) reported: ‘The 35,000 spectators were able to give credit for each bit of good work to the correct individual, because the team were numbered, and the large figures in black on white squares enabled each man to be identified without trouble.’ The Daily Mirror ('Numbered Jerseys A Success', p29, 27 August 1928) also covered the match: ‘I fancy the scheme has come to stay. All that was required was a lead and London has supplied it.’ When Chelsea toured Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil at the end of the season, in summer 1929, they also wore numbered shirts, earning the nickname 'Los Numerados' from locals.

Early evolutions of formations involved moving specific positions, e.g. moving the centre half back to become a defender rather than a half back. Their numbers went with them, hence central defenders wearing number 5, and remnants of the system remain to this day. For example, in friendly and championship qualifying matches England, when playing the 4–4–2 formation, general number their players (using the standard right to left system of listing football teams) four defenders – 2, 5, 6, 3; four midfielders – 7, 4, 8, 11; two forwards – 10, 9. This system of numbering can also be adapted to a midfield diamond with the holding midfielder wearing 4 and the attacking central midfielder wearing 8. Similarly the Swedish national team number their players: four defenders – 2, 3, 4, 5; four midfielders – 7, 6, 8, 9; two forwards – 10, 11.

In Brazil, the 4–2–4 formation was developed independently from Europe, thus leading to a different numbering – here shown in the 4–3–3 formation to stress that in Brazil, number ten is midfield:

  • 1 Goleiro (Goalkeeper)
  • 2 Lateral Direito (right wingback)
  • 3 Beque Central (centre back)
  • 4 Quarto Zagueiro (the "fourth defender", almost the same as a centre back)
  • 6 Lateral Esquerdo (left wingback)
  • 5 Volante ("Rudder", the defensive midfielder)
  • 8 Meia Direita (right midfielder)
  • 10 Meia Esquerda (left midfielder, generally more offensive than the right one)
  • 7 Ponta Direita (right winger)
  • 9 Centro-Avante (centre forward)
  • 11 Ponta Esquerda (left winger)

When in 4–2–4, number 10 passes to the Ponta de Lança (striker), and 4–4–2 formations get this configuration: four defenders – 2 (right wingback), 4, 3, 6 (left wingback); four midfielders – 5 (defensive), 8 ("segundo volante", similar to a central midfielder), 7, 10 (attacking); two strikers – 9, 11

In Argentina, 4–3–3 formations get this configuration: four defenders – 4 (right wingback), 2, 6, 3 (left wingback); three midfielders – 8, 5 (central midfielder), 10 (attacking) – 7 (right wing), 9 (centrodelantero), 11 (left wing); and in 4–3–1–2, the number 10 is for the "enganche" and the 11 goes to the left midfield.

Evolution from 2–3–5 to 4–4–2

In England, in a now traditional 4–4–2 formation, the standard numbering is usually: 2 (right fullback), 5, 6, 3 (left fullback); 4 (defensive midfielder), 7 (right midfielder), 8 (central/attacking midfielder), 11 (left midfielder); 10 (second/support striker), 9 (striker). This came about based on the traditional 2–3–5 system. Where the 2 fullbacks retained the numbers 2, 3. Then of the halves, 4 was kept as the central defensive midfielder, while 5 and 6 were moved backward to be in the central of defence. 7 and 11 stayed as the wide attacking players, whilst 8 dropped back a little from inside forward to a (sometimes attacking) midfield role, and 10 stayed as a second striker in support of a 'number 9'. The 4 is generally the holding midfielder, as through the formation evolution it was often used for the sweeper or libero position. This position defended behind the central defenders, but attacked in front – feeding the midfield. It is generally not used today, and developed into the holding midfielder role.

When substitutions were introduced to the game in 1965, the substitute typically took the number 12; when a second substitute was allowed, they wore 14. Players were not compelled to wear the number 13 if they were superstitious.

In Eastern Europe, The defence numbering is slightly different. The Hungarian national team under Gustav Sebes switched from a 2–3–5 formation to 3–2–5. So the defence numbers were 2 to 4 from right to left thus making the right back (2), centre back (3) and the left back (4). Since the concept of a flat back four the number (5) has become the other centre back.

In the modern game however, older number associations still carry through. The European continent can generally be seen as adopting:

1* #Goalkeeper

2* #Right full back 4* #Centre half back 5* #Centre half back 3* #Left full back

6* #Defensive midfielder 8* #Central midfielder 10* #Attacking Midfielder

7* #Right Winger 11* #Left Winger 9* #Striker

This changes from formation to formation, however the defensive number placement generally remain the same. The use of "inverted wingers" now sees traditional right wingers, the number 7's, like Cristiano Ronaldo, on the left, and traditional left wingers, the number 11's, like Gareth Bale, on the right.

Goalkeeper numbering[edit]

The first-choice goalkeeper is usually assigned the number 1 shirt.

Second-choice goalkeeper wears, on many occasions, shirt number 12, which is the first shirt of the second line up, or number 13. In the past, when it was permitted to assign five substitute players in a match, the goalkeeper would also often wear the number 16, the last shirt number in the squad. Later on, when association football laws changed and it was permitted to assign seven substitute players, second-choice goalkeepers often wore the number 18.

In international tournaments (such as FIFA World Cup or continental cups) each team must list a squad of 23 players, wearing shirts numbered 1 through 23. Thus, in this case, third-choice goalkeepers often wear the number 23.

In international football[edit]

The move to a fixed number being assigned to each player in a squad was initiated for the 1954 World Cup where each man in a country's 22-man squad wore a specific number for the duration of the tournament. As a result, the numbers 12 to 22 were assigned to different squad players, with no resemblance to their on-field positions. This meant that a team could start a match not necessarily fielding players wearing numbers one to eleven. Although the numbers one to eleven tended to be given to those players deemed to be the "first choice line-up", this was not always the case for a variety of reasons – a famous example was Johan Cruyff, who insisted on wearing the number 14 shirt for the Netherlands. Other examples of this include Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry, who wore 39 and 12, respectively, for France and also Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos, who wear 14 and 15, respectively, for Spain.

In the 1958 World Cup, the Brazilian Football Confederation forgot to send the player numbers list to the event organization. However, the Uruguayan official Lorenzo Villizzio assigned random numbers to the players. The goalkeeper Gilmar received the number 3, and Garrincha and Zagallo wore opposite winger numbers, 11 and 7, while Pelé was randomly given the number 10, for which he would become famous.[3][4]

Argentina defied convention by numbering their squads for the 1974, 1978, and 1982 World Cups alphabetically, resulting in outfield players (not goalkeepers) wearing the number 1 shirt (although Diego Maradona was given an out-of-sequence number 10 in 1982).[5]) England used a similar alphabetical scheme for the 1982 World Cup, but retained the traditional numbers for the goalkeepers (1) and the team captain (7), Kevin Keegan.[6] In the 1990 World Cup, Scotland assigned squad numbers according to the number of international matches each player had played at the time (with the exception of goalkeeper Jim Leighton, who was assigned an out-of-sequence number 1): Alex McLeish, who was the most capped player, wore number 2, whereas Robert Fleck and Bryan Gunn, who only had one cap each, wore numbers 21 and 22, respectively. In a practice that ended after the 1998 World Cup, Italy gave low squad numbers to defenders, medium to midfielders, and high ones to forwards, while numbers 1, 12 and 22 were assigned to goalkeepers.[7][8] More recently[when?], FIFA tournament regulations have stated that the number 1 jersey must be issued to a goalkeeper.[9]

Before the 2002 World Cup, the Argentine Football Federation (AFA) attempted to retire the number 10 in honour of Maradona by submitting a squad list of 23 players for the tournament, listed 1 through 24, with the number 10 omitted. FIFA rejected Argentina's plan, and the governing body's president, Sepp Blatter suggested the number 10 shirt be instead given to the team's third-choice goalkeeper, Roberto Bonano. AFA ultimately submitted a revised list with Ariel Ortega, originally listed as number 23, as the number 10.[10]

In club football[edit]

Great Britain[edit]

In 1993, The Football Association switched to persistent squad numbers, abandoning the mandatory use of 1–11 for the starting line-up. The first league event to feature this was the 1993 Football League Cup Final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday,[citation needed] and it became standard in the FA Premier League the following season, along with names printed above the numbers.

Most European top leagues adopted the system over the next five years.

The Football League introduced squad numbers in 1999, and the Football Conference followed suit three years later.

Players may now wear any number (as long as it is unique within their squad) between 1 and 99. To date, the highest number worn by a player in the Premier League is 62, by Manchester City's Abdul Razak.[11] It has been suggested[12] the Swindon Town defender Brian Kilcline wore 62 during 1993–94,[13] but he actually wore 31.

Nico Yennaris wore 64 for Arsenal in the League Cup on 26 September 2012, in a match against Coventry City.[14]

In the Football League, the number 55 has been worn by Ade Akinbiyi, for Crystal Palace,[15], Dominik Werling, for Barnsley,[16] and Bruce Dyer for Leicester City.

When Sunderland signed Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma on loan in 2002, he wanted the number 70, to indicate his birth year of 1970. But the Premier League refused, and he wore the number 7 instead.[17]

Players are not generally allowed to change their number during a season, although a player may change number if he changes clubs mid-season. Players may change squad numbers between seasons. Occasionally when a player has two loan spells at the same club in a single season (or returns as a permanent signing after an earlier loan spell), an alternative squad number is needed if the original number assigned during the player's first loan spell has been re-assigned by the time the player returns.

A move from a high number to a low one may be an indication that the player is likely to be a regular starter for the coming season. An example of this being Celtic's Scott McDonald, who, after the departure of former no.7 Maciej Żurawski, was given the number, a change down from 27.[18] Another example of this is Steven Gerrard who wore number 28 (which was his academy number) during his debut 1998/1999 season, then switched to number 17 in 2000/2001 season. In 2004/2005 season, after Emile Heskey left Liverpool, Gerrard then changed his number again to his famous 8.

Some players keep the number they start their career at a club with, such as Chelsea defender John Terry, who has worn the number 26 from when he became part of the first-team squad. On occasion players have moved numbers to accommodate a new player, for example Chelsea FC midfielder Yossi Benayoun handed new signing Juan Mata the number 10 shirt, and changed to the number 30, which doubles his lucky number 15.[19] Upon signing for Everton in 2007, Yakubu refused the prestigious number 9 shirt and asked to be assigned number 22, setting this number as a goal-scoring target for his first season,[20] a feat he fell one goal short of achieving.

In a traditional 4-4-2 system in the UK, the squad numbers 1-11 will usually be occupied in this manner:

1.Goalkeeper

2.Right Back

3.Left Back

4.Central Midfielder (More defensive)

5.Centre Back

6.Centre Back

7.Right Winger

8.Central Midfielder (More attacking)

9.Centre Forward (Usually a Target Man)

10.Striker (Usually a fast poacher)

11.Left Winger


Or in a more modern 4-2-3-1 system, they will be arranged like this:

1.Goalkeeper

2.Right Back

3.Left Back

4.Centre Back

5.Centre Back

6.Central Midfielder (More Defensive)

7.Right Winger

8.Central Midfielder (Deep-lying Playmaker)

9.Striker

10.Attacking Midfielder (Advanced Playmaker/Enganche)

11.Left Winger

Spain[edit]

In the Spanish La Liga players in the A-squad (maximum 25 players, including a maximum of three goalkeepers) must wear a number between 1–25. Goalkeepers must wear either 1, 13, or 25. When players from the reserve team are selected to play for the first team, they are given squad numbers between 26 and 50.

Italy[edit]

In 1995, the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio also switched to persistent squad numbers for Serie A and Serie B (second division), abandoning the mandatory use of 1–11 for the starting lineup. After some years during which players had to wear a number between 1–24, now they can wear any number between 1–99 (with a goalkeeper wearing 1).

North America[edit]

North American professional club soccer follows a model similar to that of European clubs, with the exception that many American and Canadian clubs do not have "reserve squads", and thus do not assign higher numbers to those players.

Most American and Canadian clubs have players numbered from 1 to 30, with higher numbers being reserved for second and third goalkeepers. In the United Soccer Leagues First Division and Major League Soccer, there were only 20 outfield players wearing squad numbers higher than 30 on the first team in the 2009 season, suggesting that the traditional model has been followed.

In 2007, Major League Soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy retired the former playing number of Cobi Jones, No. 13, becoming the first MLS team to do so.

In 2011, Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake retired the former playing number of coach Jason Kreis, No. 9.[21]

Retired numbers[edit]

Unusual or notable numbers[edit]

Commemorative numbers[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Film of 1924 National Challenge Cup Final
  2. ^ "Gunners wear numbered shirts"
  3. ^ Soccer and World Cup Trivia & Curiosities, Mienet.com. Accessed 7 January 2009.
  4. ^ MSN – Copa 2006 – Curiosidades / Copa de 1958
  5. ^ Argentina squad 1982 World Cup
  6. ^ England in World Cup 1982 – Squad Records
  7. ^ Italy squad 1998 World Cup
  8. ^ Italy squad 1994 World Cup
  9. ^ Regulations of 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa (point 4 of Article 26)
  10. ^ "Ortega fills Maradona's shirt". BBC Sport. 27 May 2002. 
  11. ^ "BBC Sport – Football – Man City 3–0 West Brom". BBC Sport. 5 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Swindon-Town-FC.co.uk
  13. ^ Ingle, Sean (10 January 2001). "Knowledge Unlimited". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "Arsenal 6–1 Coventry". Retrieved 26 September 2012. 
  15. ^ Rivals
  16. ^ Who Ate All The Pies: Crazy squad number XI
  17. ^ "Sunderland Deny Phillips for Sale". The Northern Echo. 17 February 2002. 
  18. ^ http://www.celticfc.net/news/stories/news_100708165942.aspx
  19. ^ "Deco's Top 20". Chelsea FC. 17 July 2008. 
  20. ^ Ian Doyle. "Daily Post North Wales – Sport News – Everton FC – Yakubu aims to snatch 22". Dailypost.co.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  21. ^ "Real Salt Lake retires Jason Kreis' number in unprecedented move". AOL Sporting News. 5 July 2011. 
  22. ^ Zerouali killed in car accident BBC News, 6 December 2004
  23. ^ Murray, Scott (30 May 2001). "A tale of strips, stripes and strops". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  24. ^ Peck, Bruce (28 July 2013). "Barnet player-manager Edgar Davids to 'start trend' by wearing No. 1 shirt in midfield". Dirty Tackle (Yahoo! Sports). 
  25. ^ "Santos inscreve Rincón, mas não garante retorno". Diário de Cuiabá. 10 March 2001. 
  26. ^ http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2003/matches/round=1716/match=1065206/index.html
  27. ^ weltfussball.de: Luca Bucci's profile
  28. ^ a b "Serie A – Ronaldinho plays numbers game". Eurosport. 22 July 2008. 
  29. ^ Hibernian return delights Riordan, BBC Sport, 2 September 2008.
  30. ^ Marcotti, Gabriele (23 October 2008). "Becks leaving MLS? Say it ain't so!". Inside Soccer (SI.com). 
  31. ^ "Regulations: AFC Asian Cup 2011 – Qualifiers". Asian Football Confederation. p. 37. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  32. ^ "Socceroos storm into Asian Cup". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 March 2010. 
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  37. ^ Liverpool City Council 1630 Derby kings get shirty for 08
  38. ^ Tugay bows out in stalemate
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  41. ^ "Martin Jørgensen med nummer 100 på ryggen – Øvrig landsholdsfodbold – danske og udenlandske fodboldnyheder fra". Onside.dk. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  42. ^ Aaron Mokoena vs Guatemala, 2010
  43. ^ "Veja a camisa nº 300 que Felipe usará no jogo contra o Náutico". Netvasco. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  44. ^ "Juninho fala da alegria pelos 300 jogos e Vasco prepara camisa especial". Netvasco. 29 July 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  45. ^ "Escolhido por torcedores, Juninho usará camisa 114 em clássico". Gazeta Esportiva. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 

External links[edit]