Football Shirt Numbers Explained: How positions are traditionally numbered, significance and player roles in a team
All what you need to know about the significance of squad or shirt numbers, from numbers given to defenders to the more attention-grabbing number seven, nine and ten.
In football, just like in many other sports, squad numbers are very essential mainly because it helps classify each player’s role from another. Most knowledgeable fans of the game would know a players responsibility just by looking at the player’s squad number.
Looking back, it could be noticed that lower numbers are usually slated for defenders while higher numbers starting from seven are usually for the midfielders to attackers.
However, modern football has revolutionized the traditional numbering norm. One can now see some of the game’s finest players choosing to wear unorthodox and unconventional numbering customs. For example Mario Balotelli and his self-crush number 45 custom where ever he goes, Ronaldinho and his 99 shirt while at AC Milan etc.
Nevertheless, in a standard 1 to 11 system, here is what you need to know about each player’s number as well as the significance of his role with regards to the shirt number.
The Number 1 shirt
The number 1 shirt is traditionally reserved for the first choice goalkeeper. The number 1 shirt is almost or better still is never (as we have never experience a case like that before) given to any outfield player. The likes of football greats such as Cameroon’s Carlos Kameni and Thomas N’kono, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, Spain’s Iker Casillas, France’s Hugo Lloris, Germany’s Manuel Neuer etc have all worn it on both club and international stages.
The Number 2 shirt
This shirt number is traditionally slated to defenders playing at right back, though it can be seen with any other defender. Iconic players to have worn this shirt number include AC Milan’s legend-Cafu, Manchester United’s legend Gary Neville, Dani Alves during his time at Barca before switching to a 6 when Xavi left Barca, Cameroon’s Bill Tchato, Inter Milan’s Maicon.
The number 3 shirt
The number 3 shirt is also traditionally reserved for defenders preferably the left full back. Notable names of the game to have worn this shirt number while playing that that role are Bayern Munich’s Bixente Jean-Michel Lizarazu, Real Madrid’s Roberto Carlos, Chelsea’s Ashley Cole, Cameroon’s Pierre Nlend Womé and Milan’s Paulo Maldini.
The Number 4 shirt
Traditionally reserved for central defenders or defensive-minded midfielders in some cases. Legends to have worn the iconic number 4 shirt include, Nigeria Legend Nwankwo Kanu, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and Arsenal legend Patrick Viera, Former Cameroon Captain Rigobert Song, Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk.
The Number 5 shirt
Centre-backs typically wear the No.5 shirt, with some notable examples including ex-Barcelona captain and one-club man Carles Puyol, Balon D’or winning defender Fabio Cannavaro and Franz Beckenbauer. Zinedine Zidane, a playmaking central midfielder, famously wore the No. 5 shirt at Real Madrid. Currently another play making midfielder Georgino Wijnaldum wears the famous 5 shirt for Liverpool.
The Number 6 shirt
This number is traditionally reserved for midfielders, preferably defensive midfielders. It is also commonly worn by a centre-back, such as England legend Bobby Moore, full backs such as Dani Alves at Barcelona when Xavi left the club. Celebrated Barcelona midfielder Xavi, however, is a notable exception, as he wore the No.6 during his time at Camp Nou. In recent times, the number has come to recognize defensive midfielders as well as seen in Michael Essien in his days at Chelsea and Ghana.
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Number 7 shirt
The No.7 shirt is reserved for wingers and second strikers. However, there are some examples of legendary central strikers who have worn the shirt, thus giving the number classic status.
Cristiano Ronaldo was given the No.7 shirt at Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson, following in the footsteps of former greats who wore the number such as Eric Cantona and David Beckham – with the Scottish manager believing that giving him such a shirt would give him a boost of confidence.
The No.7 shirt has been synonymous with Ronaldo since then, he wore it at Real Madrid and now ears it for Juventus as well as Portugal.
Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish sported the number during his many years at Anfield in which he established himself as a Kop great, along with Luis Figo and George Best and then Luis Suarez too during his Anfield days.
Number 8 shirt
The jersey tends to be worn mostly by goalscoring midfielders who balance the ability to regularly hit the back of the net while also providing assists and chances for their team-mates. The 8 shirt is not as popular as the seven, nine, ten and eleven shirts, but there is a weight to it all the same.
The No.8 is also meant for box-to-box midfielders, those who are capable of linking up play and shifting the tone of the game from defence to attack.
Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is a classic example of the No.8 player. Frank Lampard, who had a similar role at Chelsea, is another famous one, along with the likes of ex-Barcelona and Spain talisman Andres Iniesta and Kaka during his time at Real Madrid and ex Cameroonian, Real Madrid and Chelsea ball control maestro Geremi Njitap who famously wore the 8 shirt for Cameroon.
Number 9 shirt
The No.9 in football is usually given to a team’s centre forward or main striker, a prolific goalscorer in any given formation.
Retired striker Fernando Torres embodied this shirt and role best when he earned a reputation as one of the Premier League’s most lethal forwards during his years at Liverpool. Ex Barcelona and Cameroon talisman Samuel Eto’o Fils also wore the iconic 9 shirt. Currently superstars such as Karim Benzema, Lewandowski, Luiz Suarez wear the 9 shirt.
Number 10 shirt
Traditionally, the No.10 shirt is given to the team’s playmaker or star attacking midfielder. It is a number not to be worn lightly, and one of the shirt numbers that a player must earn.
A playmaker is typically the player who, with their acute vision, awareness of the game, passing skills, technique and ability to read the game sets the tone of the attacking play. Keen passing skills in order to orchestrate the flow of play are crucial playmakers are often seen as the ‘puppeteers’ of the team.
Notable No.10s include Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Pele.
Number 11 shirt
The number 11 shirt is mostly dedicated to a team’s left winger, with Manchester United’s hero Ryan Giggs one of the famous wearers of the shirt. Didier Drogba, however, bore the shirt as a striker during his Chelsea and Ivory Coast days, while Neymar wore the shirt playing for Santos and Barcelona, PSG’s Angel Di Maria, Mezut Ozil, Gareth Bale also wore it.