An outrageously stacked XI of ballers who made shirt numbers 1-11 iconic

Football’s greatest players are those who leave us stunned by their legacy for years to come, and that legacy is often fondly remembered by a shirt number they’ve managed to make iconic.

To many, shirt numbers don’t mean a thing. But we’re proudly an exclusive club of us weirdos who take way too much notice of them – good numbers, terrible numbers and outright bizarre ones.

Today, though, it’s all about icons and players who have made a shirt number their own. We’ve used numbers 1 to 11, championing the most iconic player for each number in football’s modern era, to create a pretty spellbinding XI. Just ignore the slightly whacky formation.

1 – Manuel Neuer

A spot that’s still quite tough to turn into a brand, goalkeepers actually stand out more when they don’t wear number one – but Neuer doesn’t need to choose a poxy number to get his head above the rest.

The mammoth German made the art of the sweeper-keeper role the meta at a time when it had become unheard of once again, combining ridiculous positioning and in-possession work with an aura and technical ability between the sticks that made him nigh-on impossible to beat.

When you think of the blueprint for modern goalkeeping, you think of Neuer. The ultimate number one.

2 – Cafu

No matter how sexy the full-back role might’ve become, we’re pretty certain Cafu and his number two shirt will never be eclipsed. He’s in at right-back.

The Brazilian was way ahead of his time, burning up the right flank with pace and flair before whipping in lethal crosses that a striker would beg for these days.

His exceptional CV and sickening list of honours doesn’t even do justice to exactly how good he was – the bar for players wearing number two globally is very high.

3 – Paolo Maldini

Come on, who else?

From looks to legacy, Maldini has it all. A one-club man with none other than Milan, he followed in his legendary father’s footsteps and actually eclipsed him in the end, putting together the career that we literally all dream of as children supporting our team.

Better yet, he did it while looking ravishingly handsome. No number three will ever be as cool as Paolo. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

4 – Sergio Ramos

Football’s ultimate serial winner, Ramos is straight in at centre-back to provide crunching tackles, look gorgeous alongside Maldini and smash in a few game-winning headers – just because he can.

A bronzed adonis with Champions Leagues coming out of his ears, the Spanish defender has made a career of being the most clutch player alive.

He’s not even retired yet, but it’s hard to think of another number four like him.

5 – Zinedine Zidane

A midfielder like Zizou had absolutely no right to make a number as mundane as five so iconic. That’s a defender’s number Zinedine, you monster.

He was so unbelievably silky in it for Real Madrid to the point where Jude Bellingham joined and wanted to take the number. Love Island winners could onl dream of such influence.

F*ck number 10 – Zizou’s number five is where it’s at. Only his, though. For now. Sorry, Jude.

6 – Roberto Carlos

We could’ve gone for Franco Baresi, but in terms of being purely iconic, Carlos wore the sh*t out of that number six shirt, akin to how Cafu did the number two.

Slotting in at left-back in our outrageous defence, a Joga Bonito full-back pairing is about as iconic as it gets. Your dad hates it; your son loves it.

7 – Cristiano Ronaldo

CR7, for crying out loud. Do you realise how annoyingly cool that is as a brand?

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to all-time greats to wear the number seven shirt, thus it’s testament to Ronaldo that he was able to create an entire brand out of the shirt himself and make this pick feel like a formality.

We didn’t even give David Beckham a thought – that’s how influential Ronaldo and the CR7 brand has proven. A genuine freak of an athlete and a footballer. The top six players for Champions League knockout goals

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8 – Andres Iniesta

Lining up alongside Zidane, Iniesta completes a midfield duo that is spoilt for talent, iconic by number and football’s greatest bald tag team since Gravesen and Carsley.

When you think of the number eight, you think of the iconic Spaniard who spent so many years producing total football for Barcelona, and when you think of him, it’s impossible not to smile. The nostalgia cuts deep.

Quite possibly one of the most joyous players to ever watch – once you accept that he might well be superhuman.

9 – Ronaldo

Before CR7, there was R9. And in terms of iconic brands – to quote Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart – he’s the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.

Il Fenomeno continues to be held up as an immortal within the game and rightly so. Watching him is mesmerising even today, and it’s even more mind-boggling to think that a series of knee injuries stopped us from seeing him at his very best. 103 goals in 177 games for Real Madrid is genuinely outrageous.

Ronaldo is timeless. Put him in any era and he’d become the best in the world. They don’t come like him anymore.

10 – Lionel Messi

We might upset some people with this one – which is mental considering we’ve gone with an eight-time Ballon d’Or winner – but to choose just one number 10 in a game where we’ve been blessed by so many icons is a thankless task.

Messi, though, is otherworldly. Is he a branding behemoth with hotels and fragrances galore like his arch-rival? No. But he’s simply the greatest of all time. We went there, alright.

From Rosario to Barcelona, eight Ballons d’Or on his way to finishing the story by captaining Argentina to glory in his final World Cup. That’s the definition of iconic.

11 – Neymar

One that might upset a few, Neymar splits opinions like no other, but it feels like he’s the last footballer to hold such unfathomable superstardom and aura.

Football’s most polarising player over the last decade, love him or loathe him, nobody can deny Neymar’s natural ability, unrelenting flair and exceptional look – especially in those early years.

In an era of wingers passing sideways and full-backs playing midfielders, the Brazilian is a dying breed, but a rare breath of fresh air. The stats match his freakish, joga bonito abilities too.

You’re lying to yourself if you say you’re not entertained watching this man in full stride.

Not a bad side, that.

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