Humble beginn-Ings

Danny Ings has recently joined Liverpool on a free transfer from Burnley. The Reds have a number of low numbers free – so many, in fact, that we feel they should try to emulate their classic 1970s and 80s system – but, instead of taking 7, 8 or 9, he has opted for the number 28 shirt.

It’s not that he’s one of those who wants a high number for the sake of it, though. One day, he would like to wear a single digit, but he wants to feel he deserves it:

I stayed away from the low numbers. You have got to take that pressure off yourself as a young lad coming through. That is what I personally think.

I would make sure I am established before taking any of those numbers. It is such a huge club. That was the thinking behind it. I wouldn’t want to go to Liverpool and chuck a shirt on my back like that … it is pressure you don’t need. The expectation at clubs like that is huge. Obviously I am going to work my socks off to earn that number one day. For now I will take a high number and work hard.

It’s interesting to contrast this with, say, Cristiano Ronaldo when he arrived at Manchester United in 2003. He wanted (coincidentally) 28, having worn it at Sporting Lisbon but Sir Alex Ferguson decreed that he should take 7, which was regarded as THE number at United (how accurate that status is discussed here).

When Joe Allen came to Liverpool in 2012, he and Brendan Rodgers discussed what number he might wear, a conversation shown in the Being: Liverpool documentary. Having been compared to Xavi, he had notions on wearing 6 but wasn’t overly forceful in demanding it and when Rodgers dismissed it as “a big centre-half’s number“, Allen had to make do with 24.

The first player to wear 6 at Arsenal after Tony Adams was Philippe Senderos, four years after the legendary captain had retired. In his early displays wearing 20, the Swiss defender had done a lot to suggest that he might become a fitting heir, but he suffered at the hands of Didier Drogba in 2005-06 and then, after getting 6 in the summer of ’06, the arrival of William Gallas – wearing 10 – meant that Senderos was relegated to back-up and he never really rediscovered his form.

Still, though, we’d far prefer to see heroes’ numbers being recycled than retired.

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Love me Ten-der

It’s 20 years to the day since Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal for what was then a British record of £7.5m – though, as it was widely accepted that Stan Collymore would soon be joining Liverpool for a million more, Bergkamp was never really hailed as the record-holder.

He would, of course, go on to become one of the most successful foreign imports into the Premier League and is regarded as an Arsenal legend. At the time, though, we recall feeling a little miffed that the new signing had been allocated the number 10 shirt, meaning that Paul Merson had to switch to 9, recently vacated by the retired Alan Smith. Edit – Bjorn Barang (aka @squadnumberfan) informs us that Smith had initially been relegated to 19 before he was forced to retire due to injury. His departure meant that John Jensen moved from 30 to 19, having been switched from 17 when it looked like he was leaving.

It’s the first high-profile example that we can recall of a new signing requesting the number of an incumbent and getting his way. Perhaps not coincidentally, the others which stand out from the 1990s involve the number 10 shirt too: at Middlesbrough, Juninho took 25 when he came in 1995-96 but took 10 from John Hendrie at the start of the following campaign, while Teddy Sheringham’s arrival at Manchester United in 1997 meant David Beckham inheriting a legend.

In the summer of 1996, West Ham United pulled off a coup in signing Portuguese forward Paulo Futre, but committed an oversight with regard to his shirt number. In his autobiography, Harry Redknapp recounted the scene in the away dressing room at Highbury before the opening game of the season away to Arsenal.

Eddie Gillam, our trainer, had given him the No 16 shirt and got it thrown back in his face. Next thing, Paulo was in my face, too. ‘Futre 10, not 16,’ he said. ‘Eusebio 10, Maradona 10, Pele 10; Futre 10, not f***ing 16.’

By this point, there were 45 minutes to kick-off. ‘It’s changed now, Paulo,’ I explained, as gently as I could. ‘We’ve got squad numbers and your number is 16. We didn’t choose that number. When you came, all the numbers were gone, so the kit man gave you No 16.’ ‘No 10,’ he insisted. ‘Futre 10. No 10. Milan, Atletico Madrid, Porto, Benfica, Sporting — Futre 10.’

Now it was getting desperate. I tried to be firm. ‘Paulo, put your shirt on, get changed, please, we have a big game. If you don’t want to wear it, Paulo, off you go,’ I said. And he did…

A solution was eventually found, according to Harry’s recollections.

At first we tried to tell him that we had sold so many replicas with ‘Futre 16’ on the back that it would be impossible to change, but he called our bluff.

‘How many?’ he asked. ‘I will pay £100,000.’ And that was when I knew this was an argument we could not win. Futre was willing to spend £100,000 just to be No 10.

In the end, he got it a lot cheaper. John Moncur, the No 10, agreed to swap, and Paulo let him have two weeks in his villa in the Algarve, which is about the best one there, on the cliffs overlooking the best golf course.