Baba Rahman installs himself on our list of enemies

Long-time fans of this blog – those who preferred the earlier stuff, as opposed to all the rest of you Johnny Come Latelies – will recall that the first entry regarded a numerical switcheroo at Chelsea to allow Didier Drogba to take his favoured number 11 upon his return to the club.

Drogba has of course since departed and number 11 is now occupied by Juan Cuadrado, which would suit his position if he ever made it on to the pitch. That wasn’t the only example of musical chairs at the Blues last summer – when the signings of Filipe Luis and Kurt Zouma were announced, it was initially stated that left-back Luis would wear 5 and Zouma, a centre-back, would be 3.

Thankfully, sense prevailed but, a year on, it looks like sanity is losing the battle. With Luis departed after struggling to make an impact ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta – our favourite player from another club, so forgiven for wearing 28 – he left and Baba Rahman was signed as his replacement.

Obviously, the number 3 was free and seemingly the logical choice for left-back Rahman, but he was announced as being given 17 (with ‘Baba’ on the back rather than ‘Rahman’, in honour of his father, also Baba, but presumably also Rahman too). At Augsburg, from whom he joined Chelsea, the Ghanaian international wore 18 while at his previous club before that, Greuther Fürth, he was 12, so a deep desire for 17 doesn’t seem apparent.

If it were present, it’s clearly not strong enough to refuse to allow Pedro to wear it, as is now the case. Having worn 17 and then 7 at Barcelona, the Spanish attacker has some attachment to numbers featuring 7 and his installation there has meant Rahman having to switch. To 3? No, to 6, even though it had belonged to young centre-back Nathan Aké, who is on loan to Watford.

Why Rahman’s aversion to 3? We don’t know, but, if their pursuit of Everton’s John Stones finally bears fruit and he is given 3, it won’t sit well with us at all. But then, we’re probably naive to expect more from a club where the captain wears 26.

Premier League goalkeeper numbers 2015-16

We’ve only briefly looked at goalkeeper numbers in the past on the blog. To our minds, it’s simple – the first-choice netminder should wear 1 and his deputy should be 12, 13, 16 or 22 (depending on what country it is). Beyond that, we like 24, 25 or 26 for the third choice and other back-ups should be 30, 35 and 40.

We accept that there is a chance that others may disagree, of course so, with the Premier League having re-started, we felt that it might be worth looking at what digits appear on the backs of those between the posts.

Of the 20 clubs, 19 of them have a number 1 and, thankfully, all of them are goalkeepers (Liverpool are the exception). In addition, nobody has yet tried to do an Emiliano Viviano or Jens Lehmann by wearing another 1-11 number. Of the 10 games played on the opening weekend, though, only two had both teams with number 1 in goal (Kasper Schmeichel and Costel Pantilimon in the Leicester City-Sunderland game and Artur Boruc and Brad Guzan in Bournemouth-Aston Villa).

The Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal v West Ham games didn’t have anyone wearing 1 on the pitch, though Hugo Lloris was on the bench for Spurs and would have started if he had been fully fit. John Ruddy, Heurelho Gomes, Lukasz Fabianski, Tim Krul, Jack Butland and Joe Hart were the other number 1s to play for their clubs.

That 1 is the most popular number for keepers in the Premier League is hardly a surprise; beyond that is there much of a pattern? To aid you, we’ve done up a nice bar-chart, but we’ve inserted some criteria. Strictly speaking, the third-most popular GK number in the league is 45, chosen by four, but beyond the mid-30s is really either for young players or those frozen out. In addition, some clubs, like Arsenal or Southampton, announce the numbers given to the Captial One Cup fodder while others only publicise first-team numbers. To that end, beyond 34 (worn by three), we’ve lumped them together in groups.

PL GKs

The most surprising thing (for us, anyway) is that no goalkeeper wears a number between 14 and 19. For whatever reason, 31 and 34 are slightly popular, with all three wearings of 31 coming at clubs where the other two keepers are 1 and 13 – perhaps it’s seen as a good fit for being the reverse of 13?

Dani Alves’ rollercoaster

Barcelona announced their 2015-16 numbers yesterday, with the most notable change being that Dani Alves has taken the number 6 shirt which Xavi recently vacated.

By and large, we’re all for first-team players wearing low numbers but a right-back wearing number 6 – even allowing for Alves’ predilection towards attacking – just seems wrong. When he arrived at Barca first, he wore 20 but then took 2 when that became available in 2009 after the ill-fated Martin Caceres didn’t really work out.

Logically, he should have kept 2 for the remainder of his Barça career but when Eric Adibal retired, Alves decided to switch to 22 as a tribute to the French international. To be fair, 22 isn’t the worst choice in the world for a right-back but players moving from 1-11 numbers to higher ones is a pet hate here.

For the past couple of years, number 2 has been worn by another Martin – Montoya – but that name just doesn’t seem to gel with the Barça defence as he has gone on loan to Inter. It should have paved the way for Alves to move back down but instead new signing Douglas has taken it and maybe that’s for the best as one would imagine that he will be the medium-term right-back for the club.

The Spanish league rules that squads must be numbered from 1-25 meets our approval in general, though policing within those numbers would be even more welcome (we know it’ll never happen, alas). Barcelona’s low numbers are now arranged in the following way:

  1. Goalkeeper (Marc André Ter Stegen – GKs have to be 1, 13 or 25)
  2. Right-back (Douglas – fine)
  3. Centre-back (Gerard Piqué – he has worn it for ages but it’s still not ideal)
  4. Attacking midfielder (Ivan Rakitić – not unacceptable, but could be better)
  5. Defensive midfielder (Sergio Busquets – okay in isolated incidents, but the numbers around him make it look worse)
  6. Right-back (Dani Alves – hard to justify, if we’re honest)
  7. Winger/striker (Pedro – for how much longer? Aleix Vidal’s in January?)

We can’t really quibble with 8-11 (Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar). They’re far from the worst numbers among a major club – we’re looking at you, Bayern Munich – but we’re fighting the urge to boot up Football Manager and tidy them up.