Johan Cruyff and the number 14


We’re snobs, we’ll admit that. In creating this blog, we wanted to provide something fresh and avoid looking at what every other article on the subject does, the obvious things. There are times, though, when the ‘classics’, which in our view includes Johan Cruyff’s association with 14, require examination too.

Pretty much everyone knows about his affinity for the number – he managed to avoid being included in Holland’s alphabetical system at the 1974 World Cup, for example, and Ajax have since retired it. His son Jordi wore it at Manchester United too, though with mixed results. How he came to have it is something which doesn’t appear to be that widely known, so we felt it was worthy of exploration.

We haven’t been forensic – this article, with a rudimentary translation from Dutch to English, is our primary source – but we seem to have the jist of it. In the early part of 1970-71, Cruyff was out injured with a groin problem but returned for the game against PSV in October.

Midfielder Gerrie Muhren went to the kit hamper to get his regular number 7 only to find that the kitman, known as ‘Uncle Jan’ (whose wife laundered the strip) had mislaid it. Cruyff told him to take his usual 9 and instead plucked 14 from the basket. Ajax won and the following week Cruyff suggested to Muhren that they retain their ‘lucky’ numbers.

Seemingly, Cruyff was able to wear 14 in European competitions for Ajax too – in the 1971 European Cup final, they started without a 5 – though in non-World Cup games for Holland, he would have to continue to wear 9. To take another rough translation, from his own website:

Over time, he also carry other numbers but in imaging every game he wore his uniform number: Number 14.

Changing numbers mid-season

Note: We revisited this topic in 2016.

In Spain, as far as we can see, players are allowed to change numbers during the mid-season break. In 2004-05, Henrik Larsson switched from 17 to 7 when the previous incumbent, Javier Saviola, joined Monaco. A year later, Lionel Messi would swap his number 30 for 19, though of course his destiny as number 10 wasn’t too far away.

Messi had to continue to wear 30 in Europe that season, however, as UEFA’s rules are far stricter. So strict are they, in fact, that no number can be used more than once in the same season. This meant that when Andy Carroll joined Liverpool in 2011, he had to wear number 29 in the Europa League, despite the fact that he had inherited the number 9 from Fernando Torres domestically.

Back to mid-season changes, though – in the the Premier League handbook, section M4 states that:

While he remains with the Club a Player will retain his shirt number throughout the Season
for which it was allocated.

By and large, this has unsurprisingly been the case (we do have a fuzzy memory at the back of our heads though that Chris Sutton began 1996-97 wearing 16 for Blackburn before realising Alan Shearer had left and then changing to 9), but Aston Villa in 2010-11 are a massive exception.

No fewer than four players finished the season wearing different numbers than those with which they began it:

Player                                   Old Number       New Number

Moustapha Salifou               17                       37

Andreas Weimann                42                       26

Barry Bannan                        46                       25

Ciarán Clark                          47                       21

Why were they allowed to do so, and in such relatively high numbers, when the practice would seem to be outlawed, and why are there seemingly no other examples? Please get in touch if you know.