9 iconic footballers who had shirt numbers retired in their honour

Many observers scoffed when Birmingham City retired their number 22 shirt in honour of Jude Bellingham in 2020 – but events have since proven their decision was a canny one and followed in some illustrious footsteps.

After just 44 appearances, the 17-year-old Bellingham was sold to Borussia Dortmund and the Championship club took the decision to mark his achievements.

“The 22 shirt has become synonymous with Jude, his rise to the first team aged just 16 years and 38 days and these qualities,” a club statement read.

“And as such the club have decided it would be fitting to retire this number, to remember one of our own and to inspire others.”

After his move to Real Madrid, Bellingham is firmly established as one of the best midfielders in world football before turning 20.

And we’ve taken a look at 9 more iconic figures who received the honour of having their shirt number retired in their honour.


Widely regarded as the greatest ever footballer, at least until Lionel Messi came along, Pele was shown a significant amount of respect by New York Cosmos where he spent the last two years of his career.

‘The Black Pearl’ plied his trade for his boyhood club Santos for almost two decades, and his move to America only increased his popularity and reputation.

Pele made 107 appearances scoring 64 goals for the Cosmos. After his retirement, the club retired his number 10 shirt in an entirely fitting tribute to one of the most famous sportsmen ever.

New York Cosmos team with Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. October 1977.

READ: ‘Pele changed everything’: Werner Roth tells the story of the NY Cosmos

Diego Maradona

Considered one of the best players ever to grace a football pitch, Maradona was a superstar at Napoli for seven long years.

He donned the number 10 jersey of the Italian giants from 1984 to 1991 and won two Serie A titles and the UEFA Cup. It’s impossible to walk around Naples and not see buildings adorned with Maradona’s image to this day.

Napoli’s stadium is named after the Argentina World Cup winner and it’ll shock nobody to learn that the club retired the number 10 shirt in his honour.

Johan Cruyff

Cruyff joined Ajax when he was just a 10-year-old boy and went on to become indelible with the club, first as a player and then as a manager.

During his playing career won the Eredivisie title 8 times and the European Cup 3 times. Even after his playing career, Cruyff’s love affair with Ajax continued, returning to manage the team for three years during the 1980s.

His iconic number 14 jersey was retired by the Dutch side in 2007.

Bobby Moore

Arguably the greatest English player of them all, Moore was known for his excellent ability to read the game and was touted as the best defender of all time by none other than Pele.

His success with England and West Ham made him a legend and the Hammers withdrew his famous number six jersey in tribute to their greatest-ever captain.

But West Ham only did so in 2008, 15 years after Moore’s death, meaning it looked somewhat like the east Londoners retired their number six because of the stellar performances of Matthew Upson.

Paolo Maldini

Another defensive colossus, and a shoo-in for an all-time XI, Maldini played for AC Milan for a jaw-dropping 25 years. Twenty-five. That’s insane.

It goes without saying the defender won every available honour with the club, including five European Cups, and Milan retired their number three shirt when Maldini quit the game in 2009.

Interestingly, Milan have stated they’d reinstate the jersey if one of Maldini’s sons made the grade at the San Siro. One of them, Daniel, is currently on loan at Spezia from Milan. Watch this space…

Roberto Baggio

The ‘Divine Ponytail’ had a long and glittering career, and earned legendary status at various clubs including Fiorentina, Juventus, Milan, Bologna and Brescia.

But it was at his final club that Baggio was honoured with the retirement of his iconic number 10 shirt; the maestro scored 45 goals in just 95 appearances for Brescia between 2000 and 2004.

Italy international Roberto Baggio playing for Brescia

READ: Roberto Baggio ruined Van der Sar with the best first touch of all time

Javier Zanetti

Zanetti’s 19 years at Internazionale saw him become one of the most decorated players of his generation.

The Argentina defender made a staggering 858 club appearances and captained the Nerazzurri from 1999 to 2014 and was famously called ‘Il Capitano’ by the adoring San Siro crowd.

Upon his retirement in 2014, Inter withdrew his number four shirt and made him vice president. Good.

George Weah

The only national team entry in the list, numbers always change at the international level, so to have one retired is seriously unique.

But Weah is certainly worthy of that honour; after 75 caps and 18 goals for Libeira, his iconic number 14 shirt was officially shelved following one final friendly he played in 2018.

He’s currently the Liberian President. Of course he is.

Franco Baresi

Baresi represented Milan throughout his entire club career, playing over 700 games and winning a plethora of trophies for the Italian juggernauts.

He is also thought to have mentored Maldini when the young pup was coming through the ranks. No wonder Milan retired their number six jersey in his honour.

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