There are few things more satisfying than a player wearing the number most traditionally associated with the position they are occupying – and thankfully the memo seems to have got around.
We’ve all spent a silly amount of time trying to achieve squad number utopia on Football Manager, even leaving key numbers free for future signings, and we’re not the only ones who think this kind of meaningless sh*t is anything but.
None more so than the heroes at Squad Numbers Blog, who’ve dedicated an entire website to it all. So we asked them to pick out the most satisfying number changes ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Ordinarily, we don’t really like it when players with numbers in the first 11 move to higher digits, but Kelechi Iheanacho’s switch from 8 to 14 works because (a) it reflects his status as being behind Jamie Vardy, (b) he has worn it for Nigeria and (c) the idea of 8 as a centre-forward died out with Andy Johnson.
That vacancy at 8 is taken by Youri Tielemans and it’s a perfect fit. While on loan last season, the Belgian wore 21, and that is now taken by Ricardo Pereira, who wore 14 in 2018-19.
You could be picky and say that the Portuguese right-back should have taken 2 as Danny Simpson has left, but Pereira had worn 21 at both Porto and Nice and must feel some attachment. James Justin will wear 2.
Some goalkeepers – like Christian Abbiati, for example – go through their whole careers without wearing 1 as a squad number, but for Alisson 1 has always seemed keen for his number to reflect his status.
At Internacional, he went from 30 to 22 to 1 and then, having worn 19 in his first season at Roma, similarly traded down when Wojciech Szczęsny joined Juventus.
Having worn 13 at Liverpool last season, Alisson’s impending move to 1 was flagged as far back as April, with previous incumbent Loris Karius unlikely to play for the club again. Pleasingly, Alisson’s new deputy Adrián has taken 13.
Willian’s move from 22 to 10 irked some sections of the Chelsea support who felt that Eden Hazard’s number should have gone to new signing Christian Pulisic. It didn’t offend us as the Brazilian is a first-choice player, but it isn’t an absolutely perfect fit. However, the other switch into the Blues’ first 11 worked very well.
In recent times, the Chelsea defence has been the preserve of men in their 20s, albeit squad numbers rather than age – John Terry (26), Gary Cahill (24) and Dave ‘César’ Azpilicueta (28) have all been mainstays at the back without feeling the need to have numbers reflecting that.
For the past two seasons after his return from a loan spell at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Christensen wore 27, but the departure of Cesc Fàbregas meant that 4 had become free. While there might have been an expectation that David Luiz would want to move back to the number he wore in his first spell, he was Gunning for other things and so Christensen snapped it up instead.
The returning Tammy Abraham is the latest man charged with unlocking the hex associated with the Chelsea No.9 shirt.
For a time in the 1980s and 1990s, the No.5 at Manchester United was decidedly not a centre-back’s number – this had its roots in superstition on the part of Steve Bruce.
Since Lee Sharpe’s departure, it was worn by Ronny Johnsen, Laurent Blanc, Rio Ferdinand (both Blanc and Ferdinand switched from 6 to 5) and Marcos Rojo, but the Argentine moved to No.16 at the start of last season. Roy Keane was unavailable for comment regarding this defacing of sacred property.
Rojo became the third United player of recent times to move upwards from 1-11, following Antonio Valencia (7 to 25) and Luke Shaw (3 to 23), but the switch meant that when Maguire arrived, the ideal number was waiting for him. While he had been No.15 for Leicester City, at both Sheffield United and Hull City he had moved to 5 from higher numbers.
The Brazilian striker had worn 33 for Manchester City since he signed in 2016-17, having also had it at Palmeiras – with the inference being that it was due to the age his namesake was when he died.
City’s No.9 shirt was vacant since Nolito left and seemingly the club persuaded Jesus to switch to the same digit he wears for Brazil.
Noble stuff from the club, though you’d like to see similar proactivity with first-choice goalkeeper Ederson (31) or new signing João Cancelo (27).
Another move into the City first 11 this season is left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has switched from 35 to 11. Even allowed for the Kolarov parallels, we’re not as keen on that one.
Two years ago, Yannick Bolasie switched from 14 to 7 at Everton but failed to live up to that change and spent 2018-19 on loan at Aston Villa and Anderlecht.
This time around, the Democratic Republic of Congo international has been given No.31, a near straight swap with Richarlison. The Brazilian, who had had No.11 at Watford in 2017-18, opted for 30 last year but now has a digit more befitting his status as one of the Toffees’ key players.
Also dropping down is Dominic Calvert-Lewin, from 29 to 9, while Michael Keane has taken advantage of Kurt Zouma’s departure to move from 4 to 5.
Given that the New Zealander had 11 on his back as he impressed in the previous two seasons at Burnley, there might have been a sense that he would be inclined to keep that.
However, he has shown respect for heritage and tradition by dropping to 9, which was freed up by Sam Vokes’ departure last season. A pleasing knock-on effect is that Dwight McNeil can move from 31 to 11.
With goalkeeper Tom Heaton having departed, Nick Pope (previously 29) has beaten Joe Hart (20) to the No.1 shirt.
The Arsenal No.3 shirt has appeared all across the club’s defence – as well as left-backs Nigel Winterburn, Ashley Cole and Kieran Gibbs, Latvian centre-back Igors Stepanovs and right-back Bacary Sagna also carried it.
Gibbs left in 2017, but neither of the Gunners’ two recognised left-backs, Nacho Monreal or Sead Kolasinac, wanted it last season.
That left it free for Scotland international Tierney to take when he signed, but he had had No.63 for the entirety of his Celtic career, opting against moving even when 3 became free at Parkhead. Thankfully, sense won out, though Laurent Koscielny’s departure means that Arsenal can’t line up with a 2-5-6-3 back four just yet.
According to our unscientific memory, Palace were closest to fielding 1-11 in the Premier League last season, but No.9 Alexander Sørloth featured little and then joined Trabzonspor for the second half of the season.
Jordan Ayew joined on loan from Swansea City and wore No.14. Having made his move permanent, he has taken 9 and, while his goalscoring record to date may not merit it, he deserves inclusion here simply because he’s not wearing 3, as he did when he joined the Swans.
The Ukrainian suffered a frustrating 2018-19 season after joining West Ham from Borussia Dortmund, with a torn Achilles ruling him out for much of the campaign.
In a bid to get his fortunes to turn, he has swapped No.20 for 7, which was freed up when Marko Arnautović left.
“I’m changing because it is my number in the national team and also because it is a lucky number for me and I hope it makes me play well for West Ham,” Yarmolenko said. “Maybe a little bit I am like a new signing!”
Another Hammers player switching is Javier Hernández, from 17 to 9 – perhaps the pair could have a word with Declan Rice about ditching 41.
When the young Frenchman arrived in Manchester back in 2015, then-manager Louis van Gaal handed the forward the No.9 shirt, indicating he would be the main man at the top of the pitch. That assumption would turn out to be true; Martial finished the season as United’s top scorer.
The following season would see Martial’s squad number changed to 11 following the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović, who took 9.
Not only did the Swede’s arrival change Martial’s squad number but also his role at the club: Martial ended up getting pushed out wide by new manager José Mourinho, and did so with No.11 on his back. Eleven was a fitting number for his new role. however, it could be seen as disrespectful by both the club and Ibrahimović.
Ibra came and went, as has the next player to take No.9 – Romelu Lukaku. Many speculated Martial could get No.9 back if United didn’t bring in a big name striker, and that’s exactly what has happened.
With United’s lack of attacking options this term, we fully expect Martial to play a large portion of his games as a striker, making 9 a fitting shirt number.
Squad number-wise, Morata started off well in London after taking No.9 for the Blues. He then inexplicably changed his shirt number a year later to 29, stated it was to commemorate the birth of his new twins.
He said at the time: “It is a day I will never forget, to welcome my twin sons into the world. My family is so important to me and I want to honour them and my wife, Alice, when I am on the pitch which is why I have decided to take a different number for the new season and remember this special day by adding the number 2 to my shirt.
“I am sorry to the fans who may have bought a No.9 with my name already, but I hope you understand my tribute and that it will not be a problem and we can make you a new one with the 29. Thank you for your support and I hope this year there will be lots more to celebrate.”
After moving to Atlético Madrid, he wasn’t able to pick No.29 due to La Liga’s rules on squad numbers. He was handed the No.22 for the remainder of the season, and following his permanent signing for the club this summer, he took No.9 once again after it was given up by Nikola Kalinić.
Following on in the theme of strikers, Polish forward Krzysztof Piątek joined AC Milan in January 2019 and took the No.19 shirt. He’d previously worn 9 at Genoa (and 99 at Cracovia Kraków, but let’s not dwell on past mistakes), though that had been occupied by Gonzalo Higuaín upon his arrival.
Now that Higuaín has returned to Juventus, Piątek has snapped up No.9 in a bid to cement himself as the club’s main man.