Dani Alves’ tribute to Carlos Alberto

While he has had an up-and-down relationship with squad numbersquite literally – there’s no denying that Dani Alves knows how to pay tribute with what he wears on his back.

Switching from 2 to 22 at Barcelona was in honour of recently retired team-mate Eric Abidal while, apparently, the 23 he has at Juventus now is reflecting the choice of LeBron James.

He continued that pattern on Thursday night as Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 in their World Cup qualifier, the first game the country had played since the death of Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of the 1970 World Cup-winning side.

While the rest of the Brazil players wore black armbands commemorating Carlos Alberto, as captain of the side Alves wore an inverse edition:

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In addition, the right-back also switched from his usual number 2 to 4, which Carlos Alberto had worn in 1970. A look at the development of the Brazilian numbering system, written by Alexander Howells, can be read here.

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Alves swapped with Gil, who had worn 4 in the previous qualifier against Venezuela, but the centre-back was an unused substitute for both games as Brazil (and Argentina) now availing of the option to use squad numbering for qualification games.

It’s also worth noting that Argentina now have a deviation from their traditional style too, as Lucas Biglia, who would be regarded as a classic ‘5’ in his native country, prefers to wear 6, the number his position would correspond to in mainland Europe.

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72.5% Of A Nap

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There has been mild consternation at the fact that Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Winks doesn’t wear number 40.

The young midfielder wore 29 last season as well as this, but in both campaigns 40 has been occupied by suitably-named goalkeeper Tom Glover. In 2014-15, 40 was empty but Winks was, even more frustratingly, 44.

There is another player who has worn 40 for pun-based reasons, though. When squad numbers were introduced in 1993-94, Julian Watts wore 24 for Sheffield Wednesday and he kept that until he left in 95-96. Then, at Leicester City in 96-97 and 97-98, he had number 4.

He was with Luton Town when squad numbers were made mandatory for Football League clubs in 1999 and it seems it was at this point that a lightbulb went off over his head (not even sorry) and he became 40 Watts (best available picture, sadly).

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This was only for 1999-2000, though, as he switched to 5 for the next two seasons with Luton and then wore 2 when he moved to Australian side Northern Spirit.

While his surname means that any number technically works, it’s a disappointment that Robert Page wore 2, 4, 5, 6, 28, 29 and 32 but never – it would appear – 3.

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Away from football, baseball does provide a couple of nice examples.  In 1951, Johnny Neves of minor league side the Fargo-Moorhead Twins wore 7 but had it stitched on backwards to reflect his surname:

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Carlos May of the Chicago White Sox was born on May 17 and so, having initially worn 29, transferred to 17, making him the only major-league player to have his birthday on his back.

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Our new favourite Dutch team

As regular readers of the blog will know, the Netherlands have featured heavily here. The country was at the vanguard of the alphabetical numbering movement, it fielded 1-11 in two consecutive World Cup games four years apart and of course it is the home of Johan Cruyff, the first player to regular wear a number above 11 in domestic league games. Four decades later, another club from that country has provided the counter-balancing to Cruyff’s rebelliousness.

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At the start of the 2016-17 season, we noticed that Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam were lining out in 1-11 in Eredivisie games (as you’ll see below, we were only six years slow).

This was huge and brilliant news, a wonderful riposte to the kind of bollocksology that goes on in Italy and other countries, where ‘characters’ wear high numbers for no good reason (don’t even try to justify it, there is no good reason).

As luck would have it, the November issue of our favourite football magazine, When Saturday Comes, features a piece on Sparta and fellow Rotterdam club Excelsior by Ernest Bouwes. Describing Sparta as having “something of an intellectual following”, it quoted the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, who had said that Sparta was “the sweetest club of the country”.

We read those words on Friday morning and were inspired to contact Sparta directly to enquire more about the move to 1-11. By that afternoon, we were fully informed, thanks to Paolo van Hartog, who works in the club’s communications department. The bottom line is that we have a new favourite Dutch club and our dialogue is reproduced below.

Who had the idea to make this change, and what were the primary reasons?

The decision not to play with permanent numbers was made by the club’s management in 2010. The reason for this was that Sparta is a really traditional club, that likes to keep in touch with their and football’s history in some ways.

Though we are the only club in the Eredivisie not to play with permanent numbers, it’s not mandatory, so there was no permission required.

Were the players in favour, for example was there anybody who liked to wear, say, 19 and didn’t want to change?

The players were not asked when the change was made, but we had no complaints. When the change was made in 2010, it was shortly after Sparta got relegated and almost the entire squad was renewed.

Have sales of personalised shirts to supporters suffered?

It did in no way hurt the kit sales, because we already didn’t have names on the back as we had two back sponsors.

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Paolo also answered a query as to why, going right to left, the traditional Dutch back four reads 2-3-4-5 and we’ll expand on that in a proper article soon, joining the other origins articles.

Sparta don’t employ that system though, as Paolo outlines:

Our current manager, Alex Pastoor, likes the idea of tradition, but he is also a great admirer of English football. So he wanted to use the traditional English numbering, which means we always play with:

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The players are certainly invested in the importance of the numbers on the back. Recently, Paolo interviewed Mathias Pogba for the official club site (brother of Paul and former owner of the Partick Thistle number 99 shirt).

When asked to speak Dutch, Pogba counts from one to ten with no problem…when he arrives at 9, the striker starts to smile. It’s the number that’s traditionally assigned to the centre-forward – with clubs that don’t have permanent numbers, like Sparta, that relationship is even clearer.

In the short-term, Pogba wants to recover from his injury and be back at the match-squad, looking further playing with that number is what he desires.

When he does return, we’ll be cheering him, and the rest of De Kasteelheren on.

The players to wear the most numbers for England

Every Wednesday, we like to read The Knowledge in The Guardian. The questions are often fascinating, the answers often moreso, and every once in a while there is a query which is right up our alley:

Unfortunately, our reply to The Knowledge wasn’t in time for their deadline, but you can still enjoy/endure the long answer.

Further direct contact with Alex revealed him to have been wondering who wore the most different numbers in any senior internationals, but we took it to mean major finals, i.e. competitions where set squad numbers were assigned (and ignoring the 1993 US Cup, 1995 Umbro Cup and 1997 Tournoi de France).

We will time try to come up with a definitive answer but for now the major finals provide enough material anyway. The 1954 World Cup was the first to utilise squad numbers and, since then, there have been 465 places up for grabs. A total of 87 players have worn two numbers, 16 have worn three and just two have been allocated four different numbers. There is one man, though, who has had five.

We won’t go through all of the three-number players, but there are some notable instances. Bobby Charlton was given 20 for his World Cup in 1958, four years later he wore 11 and by 1966 of course he had 9, which he retained for 1970.

Peter Shilton’s wearing of 1 at the 1986 World Cup was the first time he had been given it for a finals, having worn 13 at Euro 80 and then 22 for Spain 82. He played once in 1980 and in all of the games in ’82, but England’s numbering was alphabetical, of a kind. Captain Kevin Keegan was allowed to retain 7 with all of the other outfielders arranged by surname. Though the goalkeepers were the usual 1, 13 and 22, Ray Clemence, Joe Corrigan and Shilton were sorted alphabetically too.

The ’86 World Cup also saw Ray Wilkins in a third consecutive different number, wearing 4 after the ’82 system had him 19. What’s most noteworthy is that he wore 6 at Euro 80 – most un-English for a midfielder – presumably Phil Thompson was keen to keep 4, which he had at Liverpool.

Chris Waddles wore 11 in Mexico, 12 at Euro 88 and 8 at Italia 90. David James is the other goalkeeper to have had three numbers, going 22-1-13 from 2002-06 while James Milner has gone 16-17-4 across the last three tournaments.

Onto the four-timers, though, with Glenn Hoddle the first to achieve it. In 1980, he was handed ‘Gazza’s number 19‘ ten years before Gazza (no picture unfortunately as he only played against Spain and the shorts didn’t have numbers), and then in 1982 the alphabetical system meant he wore 9.

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It could nearly be argued, though, that 9 was a more suitable fit for an attacking midfielder than the 4 he wore in ’86.

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The very short shorts of the 1980s, coupled with Hoddle’s preference for wearing his shirt untucked, mean that there is no good pictorial evidence from Euro 88, but he was 17 this time around.

The next time England rocked up at the Euros, Martin Keown was wearing the number 4 shirt.

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While he wasn’t part of the squad for Euro 96, he was included for World Cup 98 after helping Arsenal to the double but his number 18 didn’t see any game-time. He was first choice for Euro 2000, this time wearing 6 (in a switcheroo with Tony Adams, who wore it for Arsenal while Keown had 5).

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By the time of 2002 World Cup, he was just a squad member again and once more was left on the sidelines, but this time wearing 15. He is one of only three Englishmmen to go to two World Cups and not play at all, and coincidentally the other two – George Eastham (1962 and ’66) and Viv Anderson (1982 and ’86) – were Arsenal players as well.

When Keown won his second double with Arsenal in ’02, Sol Campbell was his most regular partner and the former Tottenham man holds the distinction of wearing five different numbers across six tournaments. Coincidentally, he was the answer on one of our previous Knowledge appearances too.

As a greenhorn at Euro 96, his only action was as a late sub against Scotland, wearing 16.

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A first-choice for France 98, Glenn Hoddle’s 3-5-2 system meant that the numbering had to be tweaked slightly. Graeme Le Saux retained 3 as the left wing-back, so that meant that Campbell had 2 as he joined the 5 and 6, Adams and Gareth Southgate, in central defence. Here he is not scoring a legitimate goal against Argentina.

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With Adams and Keown 5 and 6 at Euro 2000, Campbell was perhaps surprisingly given 4, Paul Ince shunted to 14. He and Adams started together in the game against Portugal, with Ince the only player over 11 in the line-up and 6 absent.

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For the 2002 World Cup, Campbell would finally receive one of the ‘proper’ centre-back numbers, given 6 as Rio Ferdinand wore 5, and he retained it for Euro 2004 too.

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By 2006, though, John Terry had usurped him and, by and large, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad numbering was reflective of the first 11 (at Euro 2004, England began three of the four games wearing 1-11). As a result, Campbell was given 12.

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Will such an achievement be matched? Of the Euro 2016 squad, only the aforementioned Milner has had three numbers and he’s 30 now so it’s unlikely (Edit: As pointed out in the comments, he has retired too, which is another impediment). Jack Wilshere (7 in 2012, 17 in 2016) or Ross Barkley (21 in 2014, 19 in 2016) perhaps, but it’s almost certain that Campbell won’t be passed out.

At the other end of the spectrum, David Seaman (1), Ashley Cole (3) and David Beckham (7) wore the same number at five tournaments. This year’s European Championship was Wayne Rooney’s sixth finals, but he wore 9 in his first two, 2004 and 2006, before switching to 10.

One final thing of note – for the 2006 World Cup, Fabio Capello opted to go with the Italian tradition of giving a goalkeeper 12 rather than 13, meaning that Stephen Warnock was the first England outfielder to be allocated the number at a finals since Derek Kevan in 1962, but apparently the latter didn’t even travel.

Reserve goalkeepers Eddie Hopkinson and Alan Hodgkinson were 12 and 13 respectively for the 1958 World Cup (though, again, Hodgkinson was a stay-at-home reserve), so 1954 squad member Ken Green is the only outfielder apart from Warnock to actually wear 13 at a finals.

Kevin Keegan’s disingenuous reasoning

Martin Hardy has a new book, Tunnel of Love, about the goings-on at Newcastle United over the past 20 years or so.

Today’s edition of The Sunday Times featured a number of extracts, all eye-opening to varying degrees about the treatment of Bobby Robson, the Dyer-Bowyer fight and Craig Bellamy’s all-round difficulty. And there was a little snippet which naturally caught our eye – Alan Shearer taking the number 9 off Les Ferdinan when he signed in 1996.

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Alan Shearer’s £15m record move from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle in 1996 was agreed at the home of England teammate David Platt’s parents.

“I’m not going to say this and that,” said Shearer by way of introduction. “The only thing I want to know is, can I have the number 9 shirt? That all I want to know, the rest I’ll leave to Tony [agent Tony Stephens].”

Kevin Keegan stood up. “You’ve got it,” he said.

Manager Keegan then had to tell Les Ferdinand he would not be wearing the shirt. “It’s not about the shirt for you, Les, it’s not that important.

“It’s a number and it was part of the deal to get Alan here. You’ll be a great partnership. It [the shirt] is not that significant.”

Ferdinand looked at Keegan and pointed at the gold pendant that hung from his chain. “How come you still wear the number 7 then, boss?” he asked.

Incidentally, David Ginola later reckoned that the re-assignment of the shirt had affected team morale.

Munster’s tribute to dearly departed coach Foley

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It promises to be an emotional day at Thomond Park in Limerick as Munster take on Glasgow Warriors in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Last Sunday, as Munster were in Paris for a game against Racing 92, their head coach and former captain Anthony Foley sadly died. The former Ireland international was buried on Friday and the game against Glasgow is to be a tribute to him.

As part of the commemorations, Munster will stand down the number 8 shirt Foley wore for the majority of his career.

In addition, the players of Welsh club Scarlets will carry small ‘8’ insignias on the front of their shirts when they play Saracens. In this day and age, the phrase ‘classy gesture’ is overused, but it’s certainly applicable here.