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:

wednesday.jpg

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.

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Unlucky for some sub goalkeepers

(Thanks to Mark Schueler for asking us the question and prompting this post; Bjorn and Andrew Rockall).

The number of substitutes allowed in top-level English football has grown exponentially in recent times.

They were first permitted in 1965 (Keith Peacock of Charlton Athletic was the first, stats fans) but, while clubs in Europe had the luxury of naming five, it took until 1987 for the Football League to ratify a Tottenham Hotspur suggestion that two subs be permitted in domestic games.

With the advent of the Premier League in 1992, a third sub was allowed but it had to be a goalkeeper and only two could be used. For 95-96, the necessity of including a goalkeeper was removed and all three could come on. A season later, three of five could be used and then, in 2008, Spurs were again the drivers in pushing for an increase to seven being named (three still allowed to play).

Back to 1987. While logic dictated that 12 was given to the substitute when there was just one, superstition reigned with the increase to two and almost every club allocated 14 for usage rather than the ‘unlucky’ 13.

At every World Cup from 1970 onwards (with the exception of 2010, when Fabio Capello stayed true to his Italian roots and handed Robert Green 12), England had given 13 to a back-up goalkeeper and it was also became the number of choice for the country’s reserve netminders in ‘normal’ internationals. Therefore, it made sense that the clubs in the new Premier League would follow suit and the first goalkeeper to wear something other than 1 in a domestic league game was Erik Thorstvedt in Tottenham Hotspur’s second game, at home to Coventry City in August.

Thorstvedt.jpg

Spurs trailed 2-0 when Thorstvedt appeared as a half-time replacement for the injured Ian Walker. While the Norwegian international gave away a penalty soon after his introduction, he saved the spot-kick from Mickey Gynn and would also keep a spot-kick out in the next game as he retained his place, a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.

Thorstvedt would also be sprung from the bench for Walker against Wimbledon in October, while a month later Spurs’ rivals Arsenal would use a sub goalkeeper for the first time in a competitive game. The Gunners would be the cup kings in 92-93 as squad numbers manifested themselves but in the league there was little joy as they finished 10th. However, they showed some form in the late autumn, beating Coventry 3-0 to go top before a trip to face champions Leeds United at Elland Road.

Unfortunately for them, goalkeeper David Seaman would pick up an injury in that game, hampering his ability to reach Chris Fairclough’s header for the opening goal. He departed the field before play restarted, with Alan Miller replacing him (fun fact about Miller – we once vandalised his Wikipedia page and it wasn’t changed for ages. Even the official Arsenal site was fooled).

Initially though, Arsenal had followed on from giving 14 to the second sub and so put 15 on the second goalkeeper shirt:

Miller.jpg

All well and good you’d say, except that day at Leeds, which ended in a 3-0 defeat – the first of four consecutive losses which ended title hopes – one of the outfield subs wore 13. It’s not easy to make out but Ray Parlour is in the bottom left of this shot. We can’t prove it but it may well have been a top-flight first.

Parlour.jpg

Not called ‘Mad Jens’ for nothing

lehmann

Let’s be honest, few goalkeepers could pull it off, or would even attempt it, but for some reason it doesn’t look horrific.

It certainly sits better with us than Emiliano Viviano wearing 2 for Sampdoria. That just seems like a reserve keeper’s number – in a ‘block’ numbering style, for instance – whereas 9 feels like a part of an alphabetical system, where anything can go.

As it happens, if Germany had gone alphabetical at the 2006 World Cup, Jens Lehmann would have worn 15 (with Gerald Asamoah number 1 and Oliver Kahn 11), but by that stage he had taken number 1 as he had usurped Kahn as the first-choice goalkeeper. How did he end wearing the most centre-forwardiest of numbers in goal? Well, the explanation is (unfortunately?) fairly straightforward.

Lehmann wore 12 when backing up Kahn in the 2005 Confederations Cup, but he missed the first friendly of the 2005-06 season, a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands. Klinsmann decided to assign permanent numbers for the season in that game and, as Kahn started, it was no surprised that he wore 1. Another Arsenal German, Per Mertesacker, wore 29, the number he had for both Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen before taking 4 at Arsenal.

For Germany’s next game, away to Slovakia, Lehman was back in the squad but, as Kahn was obviously 1, it meant that he had to pick a different number. Perhaps wanting to avoid being seen as the second-choice goalkeeper by wearing 12, he took the lowest available option, which was 9, though he joked that he’d have preferred 10 (see comments section for clarification on this, we initially thought that Timo Hildebrand had taken 12). In 05-06, he enjoyed the best season of his life, playing so well that Klinsmann installed him as first choice for the World Cup.

He could have kept 9 – FIFA’s rules stipulate that squads must be numbered 1-23 and 1 has to be worn by a goalkeeper at the World Cup, but beyond that there are no other regulations – but he wanted to conform. “I must speak to Klinsmann again,” he said. “I’d prefer to play in 1 rather than 9.” The manager acquiesced, with Kahn having to make do with 12.

Lehman shone wearing 1, performing heroics in the penalty shootout quarter-final win over Argentina, and he was named in the 23-man all-star team.

Incidentally, wearing 9 was one of only a few deviations away from 1 for Lehmann. When squad numbers were introduced in the Bundesliga in 1995, he was Schalke’s first choice and so was allocated 1. In 1998, he joined Milan and was given the number 16 but it was a short-lived spell, as he returned to Germany after a half a season, joining Borussia Dortmund.

Their goalkeeper, Stefan Klos, had joined Rangers on Christmas Eve, so 1 was for Lehmann and, when he signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2003, it was to replace David Season, who had just vacated 1 as well. After five years there, it was back to Germany again, this time to VfB Stuttgart and again number 1, with Rafael Schäfer having left after just a season.

Two seasons there looked to have wound down his career, but there was to be one last outing in an Arsenal shirt. While undertaking his coaching badges there, he was re-signed as emergency cover by Arsène Wenger due to injuries to Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. It was still only intended that he would sit on the bench, but an injury to Manuel Almunia in the warm-up before Arsenal’s away game at Blackpool – a game featuring a far-from-ideal colour-clash – meant that Lehmann was called into action, wearing number 13.

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.

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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.

reina

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.

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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.

Jones.jpg

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.

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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.

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Christian Abbiati wishes you a happy new year

New Year’s Day is 01/01, so perhaps it should be made a special day for goalkeepers.

One netminder who never seemed to carry 1 on his back, however, was the Italian Christian Abbiati, who could lodge a justifiable claim to be the patron saint of squad numbers.

Having been with Milan since 1998, he has donned six different numbers. When he made his name in 1998-99, he wore 12 as he came into the side when Sebastiano Rossi got injured, helping the Rossoneri to win the title.

12

He kept 12 until the end of the 2000-01 season. For 2001-02, however, the number was given to Valerio Fiori – who had had 40 for the previous two seasons – with Abbiati moving to 18.

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After another two seasons, he changed once more in the summer of 2003, to 77, representing the year of his birth, 1977.

77

That experiment lasted just a year, however, and he was registered as 17 for the 2004-05 season. With the Brazilian Dida now the first-choice keeper, Abbiati’s game-time was limited, meaning that a good picture of him in 17 was hard to source.

17

Oddly, it wasn’t the only number he wore that season, either. For the Champions League, he was assigned number 46 (we haven’t been able to find out if someone else had 17 – if they did, they didn’t play in the CL). When Dida was struck by a flare in the quarter-final clash ‘away to’ Inter at the San Siro, he had to leave the field, with Abbiati replacing him.

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Having played in the final Serie A game of the 2004-05 season against Palermo, when the first-choice players were rested ahead of the Champions League final against Liverpool, Abbiati wouldn’t appear for Milan for three years.

A loan spell at Genoa was aborted almost as soon as it had begun when they were relegated to Serie C1 due to match-fixing, but soon found himself joining Juventus on loan when Gianluigi Buffon suffered an injury which kept him out for the first half of the 2005-06 season. Abbiati spent 06-07 with Juve’s rivals Torino – he wore 32 with both Turin clubs – and then joined Atletico Madrid for 2007-08, wearing 13 there due to the Spanish league’s strict rules on goalkeeper numbers.

On his return to Milan in 2008, he was back in the original number 12:

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In both 2008-09 and 2009-10, David Beckham wore 32 for Milan, but Abbiati inherited it for 2010-11 and still has it as 2016 dawns. As he’ll be 39 in July, it’s probably the number he’ll finish with – though we have to admit we’d love to see one last change.

32

 

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?

What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?

Well, we say ‘back-up goalkeeper’ because we still cling to the vain, naive hope that every club gives number 1 to its number 1, but sadly that’s not the case. Assuming that that is still worn by a netminder though (and Edgar Davids and Derek Riordan have done their bit to erode its sanctity in recent times), what are people’s preferences for the others in the squad?

Obviously, this wasn’t really an issue before squad numbers came in at club level. For international tournaments, countries tended to assign 12 or 22 if carrying two and both of those if taking three, though in some instances it was 12 and 13 or 21 and 22. Another oft-used GK shirt was 16, presumably because this was a popular choice for ‘normal’ internationals, where five subs were allowed.

Premier League clubs were allowed a substitute goalkeeper in 1992-93, the season before squad numbers. Many used 16 along with the 12 and 14 which had been in use since a second sub was allowed in the late 1980s. However, at the start of 1993-94, the hitherto-unused 13 was the second goalkeeper shirt of choice, with no club assigning it to an outfielder (off the top of our heads, Brian McClair in 1996-97 was the first to break this trend). It’s still popular for goalkeepers, with 12 rarely used by them in England. Most other numbers up as far as 30 have been seen at one stage or another.

In a lot of Europe and the rest of the world, 12 remains the top choice, though in Spain, league rules mandate that 13 and 25 must be used, while in France it’s 16 and 30. Both of those countries, incidentally, have fairly strict rules on numbering, unlike Italy, where anything goes.

What are your preferences? If playing Football Manager with an English club, we’d tend to go with 1, 13 and 22. In Ireland, 16 is seen as the traditional number and so, in our current game with Cork City, which has reached the early 2040s, it’s 1, 16 and 25, with 30 and 35 reserved for goalkeepers if needed. In our view, something just doesn’t sit right unless exactly one of the numbers between 12 and 21 is used by a goalkeeper.