Stupid numbers at centre-back – not only Shane Duffy’s circus

When the Republic of Ireland hosted Georgia on Thursday tonight, Shane Duffy was named named in the team and we were a bit uneasy.

Now, it’s nothing to do with the patchy start he had to the season – that was a blip, he’s a solid defender; no, as ever, it’s to do with what he had on his back:

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Yes that’s right kids, Ireland had number 7 playing centre-back, partnering number 3. To be fair to Duffy, he wasn’t at fault:

While Paul McGrath often wore 7 for his country, it was always as a central midfielder. This was uncharted territory for Ireland – somehow, a 1-0 victory was achieved – though sadly there are plenty of examples of other offenders.

David O’Leary

He always wore normal 4 or 5 when playing for Ireland – well, except for his most famous moment – but, as George Graham’s go-to guy when playing a three-man central defence, he toured the high numbers, taking over from whichever attacking player missed out.

He wore 7 a lot in the 1990-91 title-winning season – and kept that while Tony Adams was in jail, meaning that 6 was often worn in midfield. Here he is scoring a rare goal against Crystal Palace in that campaign:

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A year previously, he had worn 8 against Liverpool (with Irish international team-mate Steve Staunton doing likewise):

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Then, in 1991-92, Alan Smith was dropped for the visit of a Leeds team who would go on to inherit the title from Arsenal, with O’Leary slotting in at 9:

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Steve Bould

O’Leary was still a first-choice in 1988-89 and was number 5 in nearly every game, including the dramatic title decider away to Liverpool. While another Arsenal central defender would later wear 10, we prefer to reminisce about Bould doing so at Anfield:

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It would be unfair to paint Graham as the only bad guy though, especially as Everton’s John Hurst won a league medal in 1970 wearing 10 at centre-back, having originally been a striker.

In the early 2000s, there appeared to be an infestation of defensive number 7s in the Premier League:

 

And of course Winston Bogarde and Bernard Lambourde aren’t even the worst Chelsea offenders, not when compared with Khalid Boulahrouz:

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Up until his retirement last summer, Jonathan Woodgate had worn 39 in his last four seasons at Middlesbrough. That was his second spell with his hometown club, of course, and we hate to say it but 39 was arguably a more logical choice than what he wore in 2007-08:

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And finally, a man who wore the same ill-suited number while playing in defence for Sampdoria, Lazio, Internazionale and Yugoslavia – well, would you tell Sinisa Miahjlovic that he looked stupid?

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He had been a midfielder at Samp, to be fair, but then relocation is the only way a centre-back is going to end up wearing 11, unless either he or his manager is mental. At least he was moving backwards rather than sideways:

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The guillotine for de Guzman; bravo Balotelli

It was a day of contrasts for those of us cursed with the affliction of thinking too much about shirt numbers. We’ll start with the bad news.

By and large, loan signings being given 1-11 numbers doesn’t sit hugely well with us, given the by-definition transient nature of it. When it’s a midfielder wearing 1, though, the levels of seething are quite high:

Jonathan de Guzman wears 15 for his parent club, Napoli. That’s free at Chievo Verona, along with 6, 7, 10 and 11, but he has decided that he should wear the number 1 – in a horrific font, we must add.

Oddly, it’s the opposite of a ruse pulled by the Italian club 14 years ago.

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De Guzman is not the first to commit the most egregious of crimes. Argentina’s Norberto Alonso and Osvaldo Ardiles, as well as the Netherlands’ Ruud Geels, have done it at World Cups in alphabetical numbering systems. We don’t have as big a problem with that, as it’s part of a holistic approach.

In British domestic football, the only club that we’re aware of to go full alphabetical  was Charlton Athletic in 1993-94, when Stuart Balmer wore 1 outfield (incidentally, a goalkeeper – Bob Bolder – was number 2, similar to Sheffield Wednesday’s batshit mental numbering this season):

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When Brian Clough was manager of Nottingham Forest, he began to wear an emerald green jumper on the sideline. The origins of this were as a result of him ensuring that his authority wasn’t usurped.

Having signed Peter Shilton for a record fee, he felt that the goalkeeper (and everyone else) needed reminding of who the boss was. At training one day, he donned a top in the colour traditionally worn by the keepers and said to Shilton:

There’s only one number 1 round here, and it’s not you.

Which was fine – Clough was unique, and generally backed up his bluster with results. As player-manager of Barnet in 2013, Edgar Davids wanted to make a similar statement, and felt that that was best achieved by actually wearing number 1 on the field.

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In the interests of fairness, we should point out that the inhabitant of 1 in 2013, Liam O’Brien, had left the club and so nobody was displaced by this decision. Unfortunately for Davids, it didn’t really have any inspirational effect as Davids was sent off three times before the end of December and resigned on January 18, 2014.

Scottish striker Derek Riordan left Hibernian to join Celtic in 2006, but returned to Edinburgh in 2008. In his first spell with Hibs, he had been number 10, but that was occupied by Colin Nish on his return, and so he went for a solution of sorts.

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For 2009-10, he was back in 10 and number 1 was taken by the new goalkeeper – Graham Stack, who would go on to be Davids’ first-choice at Barnet, albeit wearing 29.

A more interesting example – to our biased eyes – comes from the 2010 Gaelic football season. For Monaghan’s first game in the Ulster championship, goalkeeper Shane Duffy failed to heal from injury in time and, in a brave/unusual move, manager Séamus McEnaney decided to play full-back (the defender directly in front of goal – similar to how the term was used in football in the 2-3-5 days) Darren Hughes in goal. He wore the number 1 jersey left vacant by Duffy crying off, with a substitute wearing the full-back’s number 3.

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Monaghan won, and Hughes was retained in goal for the next game against Fermanagh, which they won as well. Meanwhile, Seán Gorman, who had been regarded as Duffy’s deputy, decided to withdraw from the panel. For the Ulster final against Tyrone, when the team was named three days beforehand, Hughes was listed at number 1 but, come game-day, he lined up outfield.

You might be confused as to why Hughes is still wearing blue, as in the first picture. Monaghan are normally white shirts and blue shorts, but Tyrone are white shirts and red shorts, so that 2010 Ulster final saw both teams change jerseys. Monaghan’s regular goalkeeper outfit is the same as the change kit. In this game, Duffy was able to wear the white in goal, number 16 on his back:

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Thankfully, the bullshit of de Guzman wearing 1 was slightly counter-balanced by The Universe.

Mario Balotelli enjoys wearing number 45. However, stricter rules at international level have seen him look conventional and his latest transfer, to OGC Nice, has meant a similar limitation applied.

As with La Liga in Spain, the French Ligue 1 employs some control on numbering. Goalkeepers must wear 1, 16 or 30 and higher numbers are only allowed if absolutely necessary.

The league’s rules state that ‘novelty’ numbers are not allowed (forgive Google Translate’s own rigidity):

Every Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 club must establish the number assignment list on Isyfoot 72 hours before the start of the competition. This list can not exceed 30 names, the number 30 is the last in the list may be supplemented and updated with every movement in the club. If a club justifies employ over 30 professional players under contract, the board may grant an exception to the preceding paragraph. Whimsical dials are prohibited (example: 45 – 82).

The numbers 1, 16 and 30 are exclusively and necessarily reserved for goalkeepers. Ultimately, the number 40 can be assigned. All teams must have a jersey with number 33 that is not assigned to a player and reserved for breaking replacements. A directory is established early in the season and available to referees and delegates by the LFP.

As a result, Balotelli has had to conform and, luckily, the number 9 is free. Hopefully, success in this digit will signal a turnaround in his career.

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Any Owl number will do

In the same way that St Andrews holds a special place in the hearts of those who love golf, the announcement of the Sheffield Wednesday squad numbers should be a reverential annual occasion.

On August 25, 1928, the Owls were one of four teams to wear numbers, the first time they were seen in English football, while they also hold the honour of being there at the birth of domestic squad numbers in 1993. Imagine, then, the horror of seeing the list released by Wednesday for the 2016-17 season:

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Without any details other than numbers and names attached, the initial horror may not be apparent, apart from only six numbers less than or equal to 11 being occupied. Here, then, are the main takeaways:

  • Number 2, Joe Wildsmith, is a goalkeeper. He was 28 last season and Liam Palmer – who has played at right-back – has moved from 2 to 16 to accommodate this. We’ve mentioned before that we don’t like the practice.
  • Sam Hutchinson has moved from 4 to 23.
  • Attacking midfielder Kieran Lee will wear 5, having previously been 20. Centre-back Glenn Loovens has swapped 5 for 12.
  • New signing Steven Fletcher – a centre-forward – will wear 6. He has form for disrespecting numbers, having switched from 9 to 26 at the start of last season when he was at Sunderland.
  • Another new signing, attacking midfielder Almen Abdi, has been given 8. We’re not sure how such an example of normality crept in there.
  • The former owner of 8, Filipe Melo, has gone to 22, while Marco Matias is trying to become three times the player he was, transferring from 7 to 21.
  • Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu was 9 last season, but will now don number 44.
  • Lucas Joao has moved from 18….to 19.

Thankfully, Wednesday fans didn’t take too kindly to this whole farrago.

Nicklas Bendtner, we hardly knew ye

Nicklas Bendtner is looking for a new club after Wolfsburg decided to terminate his contract more than a year early.

Whether we like it or not (we don’t), the Danish striker is inextricably linked with the primary subject matter of this site, so it’s about time we gave him a post of his own.

The Dane made his Arsenal debut in the 2005-06 season, wearing 33 – not that out of the ordinary. For 06-07, he was on loan at Birmingham City, for whom he had number 27 and then, on his return to the Emirates for 07-08, he was given number 26, an indication of his rise up the pecking order.

He kept 26 for 2008-09 but, on the eve of the following season, it was announced that he would change – to 52. The badly-written press release didn’t give much real info:

Before [the season] starts I wanted to change my squad number from 26 which I’ve obviously had for a number of seasons now. I chose to move to 52 because it’s a special number to me personally, and I hope that it brings me good luck for the new season.

I appreciate that a good number of fans have bought their kits for 2009/10 already with names and numbers printed up so I’d like to personally cover the cost of replacing anyone’s shirt that has my previous number. It means a lot to see supporters wearing your name and number, and I want to ensure people aren’t inconvenienced by the change.

It was never revealed how much he had to pay to reimburse fans who had bought ‘Bendtner 26’ shirts, but there was certainly never any fear of him going bankrupt. Later that season, though, his own official website offered a different reason for the change:

Nicklas Bendtner plays with the number 52 on his back, but actually his favourite number is 7. But when he joined the Arsenal team, the number 7 was already taken by the Czech Tomas Rosicky. So when Nicklas Bendtner was presented with the opportunity to change his old number 26 before the season 2009/10, he chose the number 52 because 5 and 2 equals 7. He also thinks that 52 sound good.

At the time when Nicklas Bendtner changed his number, some fans had already purchased the new Arsenal shirt with his old number. And Nicklas Bendtner was not going to disappoint these fans. So, he invited them to return the shirts, and he would pay for a new one. That story travelled the world.

The last sentence perhaps gives some insight into how Bendtner was once off the charts in a self-confidence test. Why he preferred 7 to the traditional centre-forward’s number of 9, we don’t know, but it was perhaps the reason why he wore 17 when he joined Juventus on loan in 2012-13 (after continuing to wear 52 when with Sunderland in 11-12).

He was back at Arsenal for 2013-14 and, as Arsène Wenger engaged in his usual transfer-market dithering – pulling out of an almost-confirmed move for Gonzalo Higuaín – Bendtner was the back-up to Olivier Giroud, but now wore 23. He even scored two goals in his limited game-time, but eventually tried Wenger’s patience too much, enjoying the night-life at home in Denmark when he should have been recuperating from injury.

Wolfsburg provided him with another chance, and also another opportunity for numerical trickery. The reason for him taking number 3 in Germany was put down to his mother’s influence. Unfortunately, Mama Bendtner’s choice ended up signifying the total league goals he would score across 2014-15 and 15-16.

Where to, and which number, next?

Manchester City – a new low

Well, technically a new high.

A picture paints a thousand words, or 447 numbers, anyway. We don’t have any great affinity for Chelsea but a 5-1 win was the least they deserved after Manchester City committed this offence.

A mean average number of just over 40.5, and a median of 51. Adding insult to injury is the fact two of three 1-11 numbers are grossly out of place – the right- and left-backs wearing 5 and 11 respectively. Of the numbers from 31-47, City have only allocated 42 (Yaya Toure), so this could have been made slightly less worse.

Not much else to say, other than to hope that the FA might insist that teams go back to 1-11 rather than us having to put up with this shit.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.