Another Manchester United inconsistency

Following on from our look at the numerical inaccuracies of Actua Soccer Club Edition, here’s a real-life deviation from the norm, one we can’t explain.

In the summer of 1996, Manchester United underwent a numbers ‘clean-up’, as vacant 1-11 digits were filled. You can read about that, and a similar operation by Liverpool, in a comprehensive analysis here.

Other players moving were Philip Neville (23 to 12) and Paul Scholes, continuing his series of gradual reductions, moving to 18 from 22, having previously been 24. New signing Ronny Johnsen took Butt’s former 19, but all three players – Neville, Scholes and Johnsen – would have alternative numbers in the Champions League.

As a centre-back, Johnsen’s move to 5 makes sense, the number freed up by Lee Sharpe’s transfer to Leeds United before the deadline for the naming of the CL squad. As a result, Chris Casper – 26 domestically – had 19 in Europe.

The switches of Phil Neville and Scholes leave us bemused, however – Neville had 28 for continental games and Scholes wore 12 (the lowest number he wore for United in games where 1-11 wasn’t used). Just a clerical error, or something else? We don’t know, so if you do, please let us know.

The makers of Actua Soccer Club Edition may have been high

Or else they just had no respect for squad numbers. Take a look at the Manchester United team here – if you were picking the numbers out of a hat you’d expect to get more right than the three that they managed (Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin and Paul Scholes).

It could be said that it’s kind of like the old Italian and French ‘block’ numbering by position but, even then, Roy Keane wearing 2 makes no sense. Even if it were done right, we’re genuinely stumped as to why this would be the case when the correct info was so readily to hand.


Update: It would appear, from looking at the Arsenal team, that the block system was what was used generally, but clearly the number 2 held some mystical powers which allowed it to buck the trend – Paul Merson was the player to have it for the Gunners. David Seaman has the right number and that’s because they did at least make sure to give the goalkeeper 1, with Remi Garde the only other correct one.


And, while we’re at it – given the subject matter of our other sites – the game’s dealing with kit-clashes wasn’t up to much either:


The most numbers worn by one player at the World Cup?

Three players have played in five different World Cup finals competitions.

While Gianluigi Buffon was Italy’s number 22 at France 98, he wore 1 in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Like Buffon, Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal was a goalkeeper who appeared at five finals but didn’t have any other squad number than 1 from 1954-66 inclusive while teams played 1-11 in 1950, when he was first selected.

Lothar Matthäus holds the record for an outfielder, chosen in the squads for 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998. Given 18 in his first outing, he had 8 in 1986 and then 10 as he captained West Germany in 1990. He retained that in 1994, despite now playing as a sweeper, but his inclusion in 1998 came after an international hiatus and he wore 8 with Thomas Häßler having taken 10 in his absence.

Clearly, nobody has worn five different numbers at the mundial, and there are plenty of others who can match Matthäus’s three digits – Paolo Maldini has worn 7, 5 and 3, for example, the first two as part of Italy’s ‘block’ system before he pulled rank as captain in 1998, the last before they reverted to a conventional method. Steve Staunton is the only Republic of Ireland international to play in three finals and did so wearing 3 in 1990, 11 in 1994 and 5 in 2002.

They are but two examples of a large constituency of three-number-wearers, so it got us wondering if there were many – or any – who have had four. There are 48 players who have been picked in four World Cup squads (though not necessarily having played in all of them) and of those, just two have been assigned a different number each time.

We’ll be honest, we weren’t too familiar with the work of Bulgaria’s Dobromir Zhechev before researching this, but the former Spartak Sofia and Levski Sofia defender is now immortalised in the squad-number pantheon. Given the number 12 when first picked in 1962, four years later he had 10 – strangely for a defender, given that Bulgaria didn’t follow any discernible pattern – in 1970 he was 14 and, finally, 1974 saw him wearing 3.

He shares the top spot with someone whose name draws more recognition (from this quarter anyway, given a precocious proclivity to read World Soccer as a pre-teen in the 1990s) – Franky van der Elst. Two years after the midfielder joined Club Brugge from Molenbeek, he appeared at his first World Cup, wearing 3. In 1990, he was given 8 and then dropped by one at each of the next two competitions, wearing 7 at USA 94 and then 6 in his swansong in France.

A number 1 record for Liverpool?

Following on from our recent Christian Abbiati post, another missive on goalkeepers preferring not to wear 1.

Since the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool have played a total of 46 competitive senior games in which their goalkeeper has worn number 1.


While Jerzy Dudek was the hero that night in Istanbul, he was displaced that summer by new signing José Manuel ‘Pepe’ Reina, limiting the Pole to 12 appearances in his final two years at Anfield.


Dudek had worn number 12 in his first season with Liverpool but took the number 1 when his predecessor Sander Westerveld was moved on. On Dudek’s departure, though, Reina showed no signs of inheriting the traditional netminder’s number and retained 25 for the entirety of his Liverpool career.

With 1 having been vacant for 2007-08, Diego Cavalieri wore it for the next two seasons and the very start of 2010-11 but never suggested that he would usurp Reina as the first-choice, playing only nine times.


Likewise, his replacement as number 1, Brad Jones, was seen as a reserve – in fact, he was third choice behind Reina and Doni (who wore number 32) in 2011-12.


In 2012-13, he did play 15 times, but, despite Reina joining Napoli on loan in the summer of 2013, it was new signing Simon Mignolet (number 22) who Brendan Rodgers favoured in goal.


Reina left for good in 2014, joining Bayern Munich, while Jones remained until the end of 2014-15 before departing for Bradford City. After just a few months there – wearing 22 – he left by mutual consent and is now with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, with 30 on his back.

The vacating of number 1 didn’t affect Mignolet, however, as he revealed back in August. Neither did new signing Adam Bogdan follow the recent tradition of the back-up keeper wearing 1, as he opted for 34. That was the number he had had in his first season with Bolton Wanderers, 2007-08, but since then he had worn 1. At his first professional club, Vasas in Hungary, he had been number 12 in 2005-06 and 2006-07.