The History Of Squad Numbers In Soccer, and How They’ve Evolved

Shirt retirements are scattered across the footballing world. Clubs ranging from Bayern Munich to Portsmoth even retire the No. 12 in recognition of their supporters as the “12th man”. But with shirt numbers going out of action seemingly year-by-year, players are having getting a little more creative with their choices.

When told he would have to vacate his No. 9 shirt at Internazionale for the incoming signing of Brazilian superstar Ronaldo, Ivan Zamorano opted for the No. 18, but decided to print a little plus sign in between them so he was still No. 9. Sort of, anyway.


There’s also been some unpopular choices. Juventus supporters protested vehemently when Carlos Tevez inherited  Alessandro Del Piero’s No. 10 jersey, although the striker’s stellar performances in the Bianconeri strip put pay to those worries.

Even more controversially, Gianluigi Buffon received enormous criticism when he asked to wear the No. 88 during his time at Parma.  The letter H is the eighth letter in the alphabet, and subsequently there were members of Italy’s Jewish community who felt the number represented “HH”, often shorthand for “Heil Hitler”!

Buffon offered an alternative explanation, though, per The Guardian:

“I have chosen 88 because it reminds me of four balls and in Italy we all know what it means to have balls: strength and determination.

“And this season I will have to have balls to get back my place in the Italy team.”

Now it’s commonplace to see unorthodox numbers in every squad in the Premier League. Indeed, Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic have chosen to wear No. 45 and No. 50 respectively at Liverpool, despite the traditional  No.7 and No. 11 jerseys being available.

And as commercialization has crept into the game, the decisions these players make are becoming an increasingly big deal for the marketability of them and their clubs; to be a bespoke commodity in a game saturated with personalities is becoming increasingly difficult, after all.

So players hold few concerns for the traditional associations with various numbers. Now players will pick lucky numbers, year of birth or numbers that their boyhood idols wore and even numbers to symbolize their rapper alter-egos! And that’s to name but a few.

But there are still some nods to tradition and heritage. When England play their friendly games they’ll wear the classic number arrangement based on their positions on the pitch, as will a host of various national teams, something that’ll still make purists purr with nostalgia.


As for our aformentioned duo, Eto’o apparently decided to wear the No. 5 for Everton because it was the shirt he was allocated by Cameroon on his first ever appearance for the country. And Gallas was given the No. 10 at Arsenal because Arsene Wenger insisted that no striker could come close to replicating the impact made by its former occupany Dennis Bergkamp during his glittering spell in Arsenal red, so he gave it to a defender instead.

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  1. LaticsFan September 18, 2014
  2. brn442 September 18, 2014
  3. Rob September 26, 2014
  4. Aram January 15, 2018

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