The History of Numbers: Brazil

A break from Premier League 1-11s as we return to another series, charting the way numbering systems came to be common in various parts of the world.

Having already looked at the British, Argentinean and Eastern European styles, we now return to South America and Brazil.

Similar to their albiceleste neighbours, Brazil generally have 2, 3, 4 and 6 in defence, but in a different format. Basically, they did the opposite to Argentina when dropping a player back as the 2-3-5 formation evolved into the W-M, withdrawing 6 rather than 4:


Then, as they invented what would become known as the 4-2-4, number 4 became a centre-back alongside 3 with 5 remaining in midfield, as would become the practice all over the continent.


Then, again mirroring what Argentina did, 11 remained as the second striker with 9 while 7 dropped back, giving us what is today known as the 4-2-2-2. Incidentally, over time 3 and 4 have become interchangeable – for example at the World Cup in 2014 Lucio was the right-sided centre-back wearing 3 with David Luiz carrying 4 on the left.


2 thoughts on “The History of Numbers: Brazil

  1. The last image shows the formation as being lopsided, with something resembling a right-winger, a central number 10, and the number 11 (centre-)forward apparently – and fittingly – drifting to the left. Is that a deliberate representation? Is there potential for further reading on this in Inverting the Pyramid?

    Also, was Bebeto’s choice of shirt number simply an anomaly?


  2. Hi Jay,

    The system appears as we represented it, it’s not fully scientific but rather showing how the formation ‘slid’ rather than there being a rigid re-tooling. If we were being really strict about it, the number 6 in the present-day line-up should probably be slightly further forward.

    Re Bebeto, we *think* this may have had something to do with Careca losing his place in 1993. He generally, if not always, wore 9 but Zinho, a midfielder, had it in the 1994 World Cup. Our theory is that Bebeto was part of the middle ‘2’ and then advanced to partner Romario but kept 7.


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