Traditional Squad Numbers: a Comparison with the Present

Squad numbers at the back of player’s backs were first used on August 25, 1928, in a match between Wednesday (now Sheffield Wednesday) and Arsenal. From then on, until as late as 1993, squad numbers were assigned according to the position on the field that the player played on a match day and were usually ranging from 1-11 for the starting line-up and from 12-16 for the substitutes. The following was the traditional method of squad numbers:- 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. 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) When substitutes were introduced to the game in 1965, the first substitute wore the number 12 before going on to the field, the second number 13 or 14 and so forth.

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Substitutes were no compelled to wear the number 13 if they were superstitious. The late great George Best had played wearing various numbers. He wore the numbers 8 and 10 often whilst playing just behind the strikers as an attacking midfielder. In his debut season and the last couple of seasons at United, he wore the number 11 shirt usually playing as a left winger. He even wore the number 9 jersey once for United, with Bobby Charlton injured, on 22 March 1969 at Old Trafford, scoring the only goal in a 1–0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Though his most famous squad number known till date is the number 7 which he wore during the 1966-68 period, playing as the right winger. This was the time United won the famous first European Cup under Sir Matt Busby in 1968 at Wembley. This squad number has passed on to many of the most talented and prosperous players who played at Manchester United, such as Steve Coppell in the 1970s, who anchored United through the relegation and promotion; Bryan Robson, who donned it from the id-1980s to the early 1990s, as the captain of the team and one of the most dedicated footballers Old Trafford has ever seen; Eric Cantona through the mid-1990s, again, as the captain for a while and mainly as the key striker who defined United’s dominance in the Premier League at the time; David Beckham, a true successor to the magical number, he sailed United through the famous Treble in 1999 and the first ever hat-trick of Premier League titles from 1998-99 through 2000-01; Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the legendary squad number by Sir Alex Ferguson, even after he requested for his squad number from Sporting CP, 28.

He did not want the pressure of living up to the expectations linked with the number earlier donned by the greatest and the finest. ”After I joined, the manager asked me what number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour”, he stated; and more recently, Michael Owen. Considering his illustrious career, the manager handed him the empty squad number vacated by the departure of Ronaldo to Real Madrid.

Many say that he hasn’t lived up to it, but the fact remains that he is capable, he has done it before and is likely to prove it this season, as we all know, he has signed a contract extension. So let us compare the recent players who have worn or are still wearing the traditional squad numbers, whether or not, they live up to its position or not. #1- Edwin Van der Sar- The most recent to have worn the first choice goalkeeper shirt for United, now for the past 6 years. He has lived up to every expectation attached with this squad number and hails near the top of the list of the greatest ever to have worn this shirt.

He’s accompanied up there by Peter Schmeichel, Alex Stepney and Harry Gregg. Gregg is also one who is known as the “Hero of Munich” as he pulled out and tried to save the lives of many of his teammates including, Sir Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet. He even helped out the injured Sir Matt Busby. The lesser successful players to have worn the number 1 shirt for United include the likes of Fabian Barthez and Mark Bosnich. Van der Sar’s reitirement has left a huge void waiting to be filled by someone worthy. #2- Gary Neville- Gary Neville was the last to have worn the number reserved for the right back of the team.

He surely was one of the greatest to have worn this number. He played in a long career spanning almost 19 years where we saw the elder of the Neville brothers showing his maturity and stability in the game, one that any defender requires. His edge in this field earned him the captain’s armband after Roy Keane‘s exit. His healthy sprints and bent in crosses from the right wing were always a boon for the team, may it be in the form of a assistance to David Beckham on the wing in the earlier days, or for assistance to the hungry strikers in the box.

He announced his retirement earlier this year, starting almost a competition for his position in the team between another set of brothers, the da Silva twins, Rafael and Fabio, who have both shown their worth throughout the season, fighting each other for that spot in the starting line-up. #3- Patrice Evra- Having succeeded Gary’s younger brother Phillip Neville in that shirt, Evra has emerged on the scene almost immediately, thus, cementing his position on the left back side of the field.

Inspired by Gary Neville’s run down the opposite wing, Evra spreads creativity all along the left wing with a few tricks he’s got up his calves, along with assisting Ryan Giggs or Nani down the wing or providing in crosses inside the box. Evra was honoured with the captain’s armband in United’s Carling Cup final victory against Aston Villa in the 2009-10 season. The ultimate predecessor to this shirt was Denis Irwin. He was one of the most mature of all players at United with a lot of experience. He was considered one of the deadliest with his spot kicks at his time. 4- Owen Hargreaves- Though the latter end of his career at United was marred with a devastating injury, he showered his talent on his squad number in the initial years here. Though he played more like a defensive midfielder, his contributions to the offense were equally useful. He played a very important part in United’s 2008 Champions League winning campaign and even scored a crucial penalty in the shootout in the final against Chelsea. He had a a lot of expectations attached with the shirt, the great Steve Bruce once wore in his days at United.

Though Brucey’s role differed a bit from Hargreaves’, the commitment and dedication was enough to fill in. For a brief stint, the two Argentines, Juan Sebastian Veron and Gabriel Hienze wore the number 4 shirt, before Hargreaves joined United from Bayern Munich. Owen’s retirement is more than likely now and as he bows out of the sport, he sure has set a great benchmark for his prospective successor. #5- Rio Ferdinand- After having been signed for a then record fee of ? 29. 1 million from rivals Leeds United, Rio has been strengthening his hold on this shirt ever since.

He has become the pillar of the United defense and is one of the most experienced and mature players in the team. He can spearhead the defense from a low to a surprise turnover of events in a game. He has successfully achieved the honour of the shirt that Gary Pallister once wore. He is much looked upto by the younger players. The speculated new signing of United, Phil Jones has admitted that he wants to become the new Rio Ferdinand at Manchester United. Let us see if he succeeds in doing so. This shirt was briefly worn by the great Laurent Blanc before Rio Ferdinand was handed the above squad number) #6- Wes Brown- Being hailed as the Bobby Moore of United when he joined, Wes Brown has been on the lower side of the expectations. Though he has been loyal to the club since the beginning, filling in whenever needed, his game has been inconsistent. His maturity in the game has preserved his place in the squad till now. He hasn’t been able to fill Jaap Stam‘s void on this squad number after his exit from United nor Rio Ferdinand‘s one year grasp on it after joining United.

The one player who has never been righteously displaced as the greatest ever to have worn this shirt is the late and great Duncan Edwards. His skill with the number 6 shirt is still unparalleled. Though the more apt player of this squad number position presently is Nemanja Vidic, who currently wears the number 15 shirt. The young Serb was signed along with Evra and has worked very hard, not only to cement his place in the starting line-up, but enough to be handed over the captain’s armband on a permanent basis.

Sir Alex believes in the skill and leadership qualities of this player and has entrusted in him one of the biggest responsibilities a player rather dreams of taking on one day at this club. #7- Michael Owen- Having been handed the legendary number 7 shirt, Owen has yet not lived upto the hype that is accompanied by this squad number. Michael Owen, like Eric Cantona, is one of the only two United strikers to wear the magical number on his back. Previous players to have worn this in the near future, though had lived up to every little expectation that this number demands.

These include Cristiano Ronaldo, the young Portuguese who arrived at United as a ripe talent ready to bloom. And he did so, in his colourful five years at United, where he won 3 Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, among other honours. He left as the best player in the world after scoring 42 goals for the club in all competitions in a single season, his own record, which he recently broke with 53 goals, in the same squad number at Real Madrid. Before Ronaldo, David Beckham served the legendary kit number.

Beckham experienced maximum success while wearing the great number as he won the famous Treble with United in 1999 and 6 Premier League titles with United, three of them wearing the number 7 shirt. These three titles were also the first ever hat-trick of titles by any team in the Premier League era. Before that, Eric Cantona wore the magical number on his back as he led United’s dominance in the 90s. Bryan Robson, the longest serving captain of Manchester United, wore this shirt for the longest time during the 80s and early 90s. He was an example of dedication to football, which is spoken of, till date.

Steve Coppell took charge of this shirt in the 70s as he guided the team through the low days in the Second Division, back to the top, before Robson took over. The greatest ever to wear this number is George Best. He wore it during the glory days of 1966-68, when United won the European Cup for the first time. He was considered the best footballer in the world at the time. #8- Anderson- The young Brazilian has been struggling in his time here, but has always tried his utmost to honour the position that his squad number caters to.

His talent is unique, with his strength in his left foot, but his best ability is yet to be exposed to the world. Previously, Paul Ince and Nicky Butt had outshone Anderson’s current stint on the shirt. The three players who play more like the position attached to this squad number are Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Scholes, who transformed the number 18 shirt into one that could now be associated with the Inside Right or the Attacking Midfielder or the Central Midfielder, sprayed his talent across his long career at United which spanned from 1994 to 2011.

He played as a provider for all in the field as he spread the ball across the field to the wings and to the strikers in the box. His trademarks were his volleys and long distance crackers from outside the box that left many a goalkeepers shell-shocked. Darren Fletcher, currently donning the number 24 and Michael Carrick, with number 16 (of the great Roy Keane) have also followed on Scholes’ footsteps in providing the whole team and advancing with the team, lifting the team and scoring the odd goal every now and then.

Wayne Rooney wore this squad number for the first three seasons of his United career. This was until he was handed the number 10 shirt vacated by the departing Ruud van Nistelrooy. A couple of more additions to this list could be the great Roy Keane who’s style of playing was similar to the above mentioned here. The other would be the Asian playmaker Ji Sung Park, who has proved his worth again and again ever since he joined from PSV Eindhoven, with the unusual squad number 13. 9- Dimitar Berbatov- Considered as the squad number of the leading striker of the team, this number has been worn by the greatest of all, such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Brian McClair and Andrew Cole. The highest benchmark has been set by Sir Bobby, which many players have tried to live up to. Andrew Cole was one of the most successful of the lot. He spearheaded United’s attack in the 90s along with Eric Cantona in the early years and Dwight Yorke in the latter years. Yorke had to settle with the number 19 as the number 9 had already been occupied by Cole.

Though both were rated equal at their skill at the game. Recently, Louis Saha wore the legendary number, but failed to live up to the expectation as a result of a line of injuries leading to his exit from the club. The Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov currently acquires the shirt. He was signed for a club record fee of ? 30. 75 million and failed to live up to his price tag in the first two seasons. In his third season, he ended up sharing the Barclays Golden Boot with former teammate Carlos Tevez. Though his career at United still hangs in the balance as he is speculated to be sold in the summer.

The uprising Mexican striker Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) is a serious contender for this shirt in the future, but he seems to be settled in with his former squad number 14 at the moment. #10- Wayne Rooney- Popularly known as the White Pele, Rooney has successfully taken over from all the players who have formerly worn this squad number at some time or the other in their career. Though he plays more in a striking position, his usual option of dropping back to the midfield has earned him this number and earlier, the number 8 shirt, both of which are reserved for attacking midfielders.

The list of players who have worn this shirt at United is rather decorative. It starts from the great George Best who often wore this shirt during his United career. The usual player to wear the number in those days was Dennis Law. He is considered one of the three greatest ever United players along with Best and Sir Bobby. Next, Lou Macari wore it in the 70s, guiding United through thick and thin, even through their dark days in relegation in 1975. Mark Hughes reigned over this squad number for most of the 80s and till the mid-90s.

David Beckham took over the throne for a short while before he was given the legendary number 7 after a year. Teddy Sheringham held the honour of the shirt after that, until Ruud van Nistelrooy held the bait by the scruff, to glorify its honour with five successful seasons. #11- Ryan Giggs- After George Best’s stunted spell with this squad number in the 60s and 70s, Ryan Giggs is the only figure seen sitting on the top of this squad number from long distances.

Ever since he wore this number on his back, he has not let anything go, neither the name in front of his shirt, nor the one at the back, as he has sailed all the way with Manchester United all his career, lifting them from a low to a massive high. He has been the lone figure that this club looks up to, after their manager. He is the most successful player to have played here in terms of trophies. He is surely one of the greatest footballers of all time and one of the greatest ever to wear the red, white and black. The number 11 has been speculated to be retired at Manchester United after this legend decides to hang up his boots.


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