Squad number (association football)

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Squad numbers are used in association football to identify and distinguish players that are on the field. Numbers were originally used to also indicate position, with starting players being assigned numbers 1–11. Although these numbers often bear little or no significance in the modern game other than the players' favorite numbers and the numbers available. However, numbers 1–11 are often still worn by players of the previously associated position.[1]

As national leagues adopted squad numbers and game tactics evolved over the decades, numbering systems evolved separately in each football scene, and so different countries have different conventions. Still, there are some numbers that are universally agreed upon being used for a particular position, because they are quintessentially associated with that role.[1]

1 is frequently used by the starting goalkeeper, for instance, as the keeper is the first player in a line-up.[1]

10 is one of the most emblematic squad numbers in football, due the sheer number of football legends that used the number 10 shirt; playmakers, second strikers, and attacking midfielders usually wear this number.[1]

7 is often associated with effective and profitable wingers or second strikers.[1]

9 is usually worn by centre forwards or strikers, who hold the most advanced offensive positions on the pitch, and are often the highest scorers in the team.[1]

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.[2]

The first time numbers were used in Association football in Europe was 25 August 1928 when Sheffield Wednesday played Arsenal[3] and Chelsea hosted Swansea Town at Stamford Bridge. Numbers were assigned by field location:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Right full back (right side center back)
  3. Left full back (left side center back)
  4. Right half back (right side defensive midfield)
  5. Center half back (center defensive midfield)
  6. Left half back (left side defensive midfield)
  7. Outside right (right winger)
  8. Inside right (attacking midfield)
  9. Center 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' (the numbered) 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:

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 the A-League, second-choice goalkeepers mostly wear number 20.

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. Prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, only 22 players were permitted in international squads, therefore the third goalkeeper was often awarded the number 22 jersey in previous tournaments.

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.

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.[4][5]

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).[6]) 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.[7] 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.[8][9] On July 2007, a FIFA document issuing regulations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finally stated that the number 1 jersey must be issued to a goalkeeper.[10]

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.[11]

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.

Squad numbers became optional in the three divisions of the Football League at the same time, but only 10 out of 70 clubs utilized them. One of those clubs, Brighton & Hove Albion, issued 25 players with squad numbers but reverted to traditional 1–11 numbering halfway through the season.[12]In the Premier League, Arsenal temporarily reverted to the old system halfway through that same season, but reverted to the new numbering system for the following campaign.

Most European top leagues adopted the system during the 1990s.

The Football League made squad numbers compulsory for the 1999–2000 season, and the Football Conference followed suit for the 2002–03 season.

The traditional 1–11 numbers have been worn on occasions by English clubs since their respective leagues introduced squad numbers. Premier League clubs often used the traditional squad numbering system when competing in domestic or European cups, often when their opponents still made use of the traditional squad numbering system. This included Manchester United's Premier League clash with Manchester City at Old Trafford on 10 February 2008, when 1950s style kits were worn as part of the Munich air disaster's 50th anniversary commemorations.

Charlton Athletic were among the 10 Football League clubs who chose to adopt squad numbers for the 1993–94 season (with squad numbers assigned to players in alphabetical order according to their surname), before reverting to 1–11 shirt numbering a year later, and when they reached the Premier League in 1998, they retained the 1–11 shirt numbering for their first two games of the league season before adopting squad numbers for their third game.[13]

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 78, by Manchester City's José Ángel Pozo v Sunderland on 3 December 2014.[citation needed]

Nico Yennaris wore 64 for Arsenal in the League Cup on 26 September 2012, in a match against Coventry City[14] 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.[15]

In the Football League, the number 55 has been worn by Ade Akinbiyi, for Crystal Palace,[16] Dominik Werling, for Barnsley,[17] 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.[18]

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 is Celtic's Scott McDonald, who, after the departure of former no.7 Maciej Żurawski, was given the number, a change down from 27.[19] Another example 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 8. More recently, Spurs striker Harry Kane changed his number 37 shirt from the 2013/2014 season to 10 for the 2014/2015 season when he became one of the club's first-choice strikers.

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.[20] 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,[21] 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 player)
  • 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


Argentina developed its numeration system independently from the rest of the world. This was due to the fact that until the 1960s, Argentine football developed more or less isolated from the evolution brought by English, Italian and Hungarian coaches, owing to technological limitations at the time in communications and travelling with Europe, lack of information as to keeping up with news, lack of awareness and/or interest in the latest innovations, and strong nationalism promoted by the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (for example, back then Argentines playing in Europe were banned from playing in the Argentine national team).

The first formation used in Argentine football was the 2–3–5 and, until the '60s, it was the sole formation employed by Argentine clubs and the Argentina national football team, with only very few exceptions like River Plate's La Máquina from the '40s that used 3–2–2–3. It wasn't until the mid '60s in the national team, with Argentina winning the Taça das Nações (1964) using 3–2–5, and the late '60s, for clubs, with Estudiantes winning the treble of the Copa Libertadores (1968, 1969, 1970) using 4–4–2, that Argentine football finally adopted modern formations on major scale, and caught up with its counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

While the original 2–3–5 formation used the same numbering system dictated by the English clubs in 1928, subsequent changes were developed independently.

The basic formation to understand the Argentine numeration system is the 4–3–3 formation, like the one used by the coach César Menotti that made Argentina win the 1978 FIFA World Cup, the squad numbers employed are:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 4 Right Back [22]
  • 2 First Centre Back / Sweeper
  • 6 Second Centre Back / Stopper
  • 3 Left Back[23]
  • 8 Right Midfielder
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder[24]
  • 10 Left Midfielder
  • 7 Right Winger
  • 9 Centreforward
  • 11 Left Winger

However, in a 4–3–1–2 like those used by the multichampion teams of Independiente in the '80s and Boca Juniors in the 2000s, the use of an enganche (playmaker) and the re-accommodation of other roles changes the numbers:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 4 Right Back
  • 2 First Centre Back
  • 6 Second Centre Back
  • 3 Left Back
  • 8 Right Midfielder
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder
  • 11 Left Midfielder
  • 10 Playmaker
  • 7 Second Striker
  • 9 Centreforward

When using a 4–4–2 like that of the multichampion Estudiantes of the '60s or the Argentine national team that became runners-up in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the numbers are the same as in 4–3–3, except that the box-to-box midfielder may have any number. In Argentina the role is called doble 5 so there isn't any fixed convention as to which number it has. Also, due to the use of just 2 strikers, the number 11 may not be used at all. So, the numbers are:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 4 Right Back
  • 2 First Centre Back / Sweeper
  • 6 Second Centre Back / Stopper
  • 3 Left Back
  • 8 Right Midfielder
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder
  • # Box-to-box Midfielder (may have any number)
  • 10 Left Midfielder
  • 7 Second Striker
  • 9 Centreforward

Then there's the 4–2–3–1 formation, ubiquitous at world-level in the 2010s, and employed in Argentina by the national team nicknamed Los 4 Fantásticos that finished 1st in the Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers, attacking with the forwards Agüero, Messi, Di María and Higuaín. The numbers used are:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 4 Right Back
  • 2 First Centre Back
  • 6 Second Centre Back
  • 3 Left Back
  • 8 Midfielder
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder
  • 7 Right Winger
  • 10 Playmaker
  • 11 Left Winger
  • 9 Centreforward

Meanwhile, the 3–5–2 formation, famously used by the coach Carlos Bilardo to make Argentina win the 1986 FIFA World Cup and become runners-up in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, and one of the last major changes in the history of football formations, changes drastically the use of numbers, due to major movements in roles and positions:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 2 Sweeper
  • 4 Right Stopper
  • 6 Left Stopper
  • 8 Right Wing-Back
  • 7 Right Central Midfielder
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder
  • 11 Left Central Midfielder
  • 3 Left Wing-Back
  • 10 Playmaker / Second Striker
  • 9 Centreforward

And, last, the 3–3–3–1, used by the coach Marcelo Bielsa to make Argentina finish 1st in the CONMEBOL's 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, become runners-up in the 2004 Copa América and win the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. It was also employed by the Argentina national under-20 football team that won the 2015 South American Youth Football Championship. 3–3–3–1 uses mixtures from many of the aforementioned formations:

  • 1 Goalkeeper
  • 2 Sweeper
  • 4 Right Stopper
  • 6 Left Stopper
  • 8 Right Wing-Back
  • 5 Central Defensive Midfielder
  • 3 Left Wing-Back
  • 7 Right Winger
  • 10 Playmaker
  • 11 Left Winger
  • 9 Centreforward


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 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.[25]

Retired numbers[edit]

Unusual or notable numbers[edit]

Commemorative numbers[edit]


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  23. ^ lateral izquierdo, ¿una especie en extinción?
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External links[edit]