The curious case of Alessandro Costacurta

When discussing our article on World Cup block-numbering with our friend Jay from Design Football, he mentioned that Paolo Maldini was listed as number 5 for AC Milan in the FIFA 96 simulation, as he had worn for Italy at the 1994 World Cup.

It required further examination. The game used 1994-95 squads and, as squad numbers wouldn’t come into force in Italy until 95-96, Milan’s numbers took their cues from Italy’s USA ’94 ones. Franco Baresi was in his usual 6 – he was allowed to buck the alphabetical trend in ’94 – with Alessandro Costacurta 4, Maldini 5 and Demetrio Albertini 11 when their normal club numbers were 5, 3 and 4 respectively.

Costacurta was Baresi’s long-time central defensive partner and wore 5 for the club in European Cup/Champions League finals in 1989, ’90, ’93, and ’95 (he was suspended for the ’94 final along with Baresi and Maldini actually wore 6). However, when Milan issued their numbers at the start of 95-96, he was allocated 29 with Filippo Galli, a career reserve, wearing 5. He wasn’t the only first-teamer with a high number – Zvonimir Boban was 20, Mauro Tassotti 21 and Marco Simone 23 – but, to our minds anyway, 29 seemed incongrouous. After all, it’s in the ‘third’ 11.

Things got stranger the following season. Galli moved on to Reggiana and 5 was free but when Costacurta switched numbers it was to 11, which had been worn by Roberto Donadoni for a part of 95-96. Costacurta did finally move to 5 for 97-98 and kept it until the end of 2001-02, when he announced he would leave the club.

He did – but only for a short time as defensive shortage prompted the club to re-hire him. In the interim, though, Fernando Redondo had taken advantage of 5 lying vacant. When he signed from Real Madrid in 2000, he wore 16 and then, having missed most of his first season, he moved to 30. While he wore 6 for Real Madrid, he always carried 5 for Argentina and took it for Milan too for 2002-03, leaving Costacurta to have to be content with 19 when he returned.

Injury dogged Redondo’s time with the club (he refused to accept a salary while out and tried to return the house and car which the club have given him) and he left at the end of 2003-04, allowing Costacurta to don 5 once more. He would keep it until his retirement, as a European champion once more, at the end of 2006-07.

Why did he choose, or why was he given 29 and then 11 before returning to 5? Sadly, we haven’t been able to find out, maybe you can help us?

World Cup block party

Following on from alphabetical numbering and Scotland’s idiosyncratic 1990 style, we take another look at different World Cup numbering systems, with France and Italy in the spotlight for their ‘block’ styles.

The first time that countries were mandated to give players set numbers at a World Cup was in 1954 and various approaches were used. Most teams tried to stay true to what they normally did with 1-11, though unsurprisingly there was no pattern followed with the higher numbers.

France and hosts Switzerland did something novel, though. Both selected three goalkeepers and numbered them 1-3, with defenders next, then half-backs and the forwards taking the higher numbers. If you look at the Wikipedia page with the squads from ’54, the blocks look to be a little bit out of kilter, with a midfielder among the forwards or vice-versa. However, it can be assumed that these positions relate to those that we perceive today, as each ‘block’ in the squad is arranged alphabetically.

Switzerland weren’t at the 1958 World Cup, leaving France as the only side with that block method. In ’62, the USSR and Colombia did something similar, albeit without the players sorted alphabetically within their position. Spain’s goalkeepers were 1, 2 and 3 but the rest of players were done alphabetically. For the 1966 World Cup, France were properly alphabetical and it was Argentina – who would later popularise the alphabetical style – who had something resembling the block format. Italy made the first steps towards the block as their goalkeepers were 1 and 2 and the outfielders alphabetical while Portugal had 1-3 as goalkeepers but no logic beyond that.

Italy returned to a straightforward system in Mexico in 1970 and only the Soviets had a goalkeeper wearing number 2 (though, oddly, Lev Yashin was 13). In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1978 that the Italians would first utilise the blocks as France had, though this numbering excluded goalkeepers. They were 1, 12 and 22. Defenders were 2-8, midfielders 9-11 and 13-17 and forwards 18-21, with each position sorted alphabetically – for example, Paolo Rossi would become associated with 20 after his Golden Boot in 1982 but he was 21 in ’78.

They would continue with the block-numbering until the 1998 World Cup. One point of interest with the ’82 squad was that wingers were separately grouped, with Franco Causio, Bruno Conti and Daniele Massaro wearing 15, 16 and 17 respectively. France also adopted the system in 1982 (goalkeepers 1, 21 and 22) though, as we have seen with Argentina and the Netherlands and alphabetical numbering, egos could get in the way – Michel Platini was allowed to wear 10 when he should have been 13.

In 1986, Alain Giresse followed Platini’s lead and sought a change too, coincidentally also avoiding 13, which was worn by Bernard Genghini while Giresse got 12. Individual demands would also eventually affect Italy’s numbering too. Franco Baresi had worn 2 in 1982 and ’90 (he didn’t play in ’86 though his brother Giuseppe wore 11 as the first-named midfielder) but for the 1994 World Cup he was allowed to wear his favoured 6 instead of 3 (Luigi Apolloni was 2). Roberto Baggio also bucked the trend as he wore 10.

At France ’98, Baggio had fallen into line as he was 18 (he also wore that number at AC Milan) but he should actually have been 17 as Alessandro Del Piero had now taken 10. Captain Paolo Maldini followed Baresi’s example from ’94 as he wore 3 when he should have been 5, as he had worn in America. France had missed the 1990 and ’94 World Cups and when when they returned, as hosts, their numbering was logical-ish (if we overlook Marcel Desailly wearing 8 at centre-back, Didier Deschamps’ 7 as anchorman and Youri Djorkaeff as an attacking midfielder with 6).

Looking at their games, Italy didn’t appear out of place, however, as their first-choice back three of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Costacurta and Alessando Nesta wore the ‘correct’ 4, 5 and 6, with Maldini wearing 3 on the left. Maybe it was this which persuaded the Italian federation to relax things for the 2002 World Cup (also the first time a manufacturer’s logo was seen on an Italy shirt at the World Cup) and subsequent editions. Maybe it wasn’t. Whatever the reasoning, World Cup numbering is certainly a lot more boring since then.

False alarm

Juan Cuadrado’s transfer from Fiorentina to Chelsea had been flagged in advance, and last weekend rumours began to circulate regarding which number he would wear.

For those of us who like our numbers traditional, those rumours were chilling, with reports that he had decided to don the number 74.

The winger’s favoured number is 11 – though he is more right- than left-sided – and with Didier Drogba wearing that, a choice had to be made. The reasoning for 74 was that the two digits added up to 11 (though 29 and 38 were also free), but now it seems that he will have 23 instead.

Presumably his sights are set on 11 when Drogba leaves again, which will surely be sooner rather than later.

Update, January 2015: Cuadrado did indeed take 11 when Drogba left, but, like Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne before him, the winger found that Jose Mourinho had decided at an early stage that he didn’t fancy him. He has spent the current season on with Juventus, for whom he wears 16.