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 Pelé, Dennis Bergkamp, Michel Platini, Paulo Di Canio, Diego Maradona, Zinédine Zidane, and Lionel Messi, as is the number 7, being worn by Cristiano Ronaldo, Raúl, David Beckham, Ángel Di María, Franck Ribéry and many others. Number 9 is usually awarded to a prolific forward, for example Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema, and Robert Lewandowski .
First use of numbers
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.
The first time numbers were used in Association football in Europe was 25 August 1928, when Sheffield Wednesday played Arsenal and Chelsea hosted Swansea Town at Stamford Bridge. Numbers were assigned by field location:
- Right full back (right side centre back)
- Left full back (left side centre back)
- Right half back (right side defensive midfield)
- Centre half back (centre defensive midfield)
- Left half back (left side defensive midfield)
- Outside right (right winger)
- Inside right (attacking midfield)
- Centre forward
- Inside left (attacking midfield)
- 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.
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.
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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
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.
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.
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).) 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. 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. More recently[when?], FIFA tournament regulations have stated that the number 1 jersey must be issued to a goalkeeper.
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.
In club football
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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, 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.
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 71, by Manchester City's José Ángel Pozo v Sunderland on 3 December 2014. It has been suggested the Swindon Town defender Brian Kilcline wore 62 during 1993–94, 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 and on 24 September 2014, again in the League Cup, Manchester City forward José Ángel Pozo wore the number 78 shirt in a match against Sheffield Wednesday.
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.
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 reassigned 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. 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. 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, 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:
4.Central Midfielder (More defensive)
8.Central Midfielder (More attacking)
9.Centre Forward (Usually a Target Man)
10.Striker (Usually a fast poacher)
Or in a more modern 4-2-3-1 system, they will be arranged like this:
6.Central Midfielder (More Defensive)
8.Central Midfielder (Deep-lying Playmaker)
10.Attacking Midfielder (Advanced Playmaker/Enganche)
Compared to the previous list, Argentine teams traditionally changed as follows:
4.Right Back 
2.Centre Back / Sweeper
3.Left Back 
5.Central Defensive Midfielder 
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.
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 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.
Unusual or notable numbers
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- Goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed unusually wore the number 8 jersey for Netherlands at the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups. He was assigned the number in 1974 when the Netherlands took an alphabetical approach to its squad numbering (striker Ruud Geels was assigned the number 1). In 1978 although this alphabetical approach was not used, many of the squad retained their 1974 numbers (goalkeeper Piet Schrijvers wore number 1).
- From 1978 to 1986, the Argentina national football team's numbers for World Cups were mostly assigned alphabetically, leading to unusual numbers being assigned for goalkeepers Ubaldo Fillol (number 5 in 1978 and 7 in 1982) and Héctor Baley (number 3 in 1978 and 2 in 1982), with number 1 being assigned to offensive players: Norberto Alonso in 1978, Osvaldo Ardiles in 1982 and Sergio Almirón in 1986.
- Hicham Zerouali was allowed to wear the number 0 for Scottish Premier League club Aberdeen after the fans nicknamed him "Zero".
- Outfield players have occasionally worn the number 1 for their clubs, including Pantelis Kafes for Olympiacos and AEK, Charlton Athletic's Stuart Balmer in the 1990s, Partizan Belgrade's Simon Vukčević in 2004–05, Beşiktaş's Daniel Pancu in 2005–06, Atlético Mineiro's Diego Souza in 2010 and Barnet player-manager Edgar Davids in 2013–14.
- In 2001, Colombian Freddy Rincón wore number 3+5 for Santos.
- In 2003, FC Porto goalkeeper Vítor Baía became the first player to wear 99 in the final of a major European competition (UEFA Champions League).
- Adolfo Bautista, when playing for Club Deportivo Guadalajara wore number 100 under special dispensation from the Mexican Football Federation (he wore 1 in CONCACAF competitions and 7 during the 2005 Copa Libertadores campaign). Later, when he was traded to Chiapas, he received jersey number 1.
- Argentine goalkeeper Federico Vilar has used number 3 for most of his career at Liga MX.
- Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci wore the numbers 7 (2005–06) and 5 (2006–07 and 2007–08).
- Since 2007, goalkeeper Rogério Ceni of São Paulo FC sports the double-digit 01 jersey for his club.
- Iván Zamorano wore number 1+8, or number 18 with a plus symbol between the two digits, for Inter Milan from 1997 to 2000, after his number 9 was given to Ronaldo.
- Juan Pablo Sorín was allowed to use the number 1+2 for Villareal because the number 3 was taken. This was only used rarely.
- Derek Riordan was given squad number 01 by Hibernian. Number 10 had already been taken by Colin Nish, and none of the club's goalkeepers had been allocated number 1.
- In 2008, AC Milan's three new signings each chose a number indicating the year of his birth: 76 (Andriy Shevchenko, born 1976), 80 (Ronaldinho, born 1980), and 84 (Mathieu Flamini, born 1984).
- The Asian Football Confederation requires players to keep the same squad numbers throughout the preliminary rounds for the AFC Asian Cup, resulting in players with squad numbers of 100 or higher, including 121 worn by Thomas Oar of Australia in a 2011 AFC Asian Cup qualification match against Indonesia.
- During the 2012–13 Liga MX season, Víctor Perales and Luis Ángel Morales of Guadalajara wore numbers 143 and 163, respectively.
- At the beginning of the 2013–14 season, Barnet midfielder and player-manager Edgar Davids allocated himself the number 1 shirt, announcing he intended to 'set a trend'.
- Jesús Arellano, when playing for Club de Futbol Monterrey wore the number 400 in 1996 to celebrate the city's 400th anniversary.
- Brazilian EC Goiás goalkeeper Harlei wore number 400 in a single match in 2006, to celebrate his 400th match for the team.
- Brazilian Santos FC goalkeeper Fábio Costa wore number 300 in a single match in 2008 to celebrate his 300th match for the team.
- Andreas Herzog wore the number 100 on his 100th match for the Austrian national team, a friendly against Norway, as he was the first Austrian player to win 100 caps.
- James Beattie and Steven Gerrard both wore 08 instead of their usual 8 in the Merseyside derby in March 2006 to promote the 08 Ambassadors Programme, which they both are signed up to, to commemorate Liverpool becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
- Tugay Kerimoğlu wore the number 94 on his 94th and final cap for Turkey against Brazil in 2007.
- Rubén Sosa wore number 100 for the 100th Anniversary of Club Nacional de Football on 14 May 1999.
- The same 1999 year, Pablo Bengoechea wore number 108 for the 108th Anniversary of Club Atletico Peñarol.
- During his record-breaking 618th game for São Paulo FC, Rogério Ceni wore number 618, the highest number ever worn in professional football.
- During his last match, number 100, for the Danish national team, Martin Jørgensen wore shirt number 100.
- During his record-breaking 100th caps for South Africa, Aaron Mokoena wore shirt number 100.
- In 2011, Vasco da Gama's heroes Felipe and Juninho Pernambucano wore the number 300, in different matches, to celebrate their 300th match for the club.
- Vasco captain Juninho also wore the 114 shirt, against Clássico dos Gigantes rivals Fluminense, for the 114th anniversary of the club in 2012.
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