Dani Alves’ tribute to Carlos Alberto

While he has had an up-and-down relationship with squad numbersquite literally – there’s no denying that Dani Alves knows how to pay tribute with what he wears on his back.

Switching from 2 to 22 at Barcelona was in honour of recently retired team-mate Eric Abidal while, apparently, the 23 he has at Juventus now is reflecting the choice of LeBron James.

He continued that pattern on Thursday night as Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 in their World Cup qualifier, the first game the country had played since the death of Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of the 1970 World Cup-winning side.

While the rest of the Brazil players wore black armbands commemorating Carlos Alberto, as captain of the side Alves wore an inverse edition:


In addition, the right-back also switched from his usual number 2 to 4, which Carlos Alberto had worn in 1970. A look at the development of the Brazilian numbering system, written by Alexander Howells, can be read here.


Alves swapped with Gil, who had worn 4 in the previous qualifier against Venezuela, but the centre-back was an unused substitute for both games as Brazil (and Argentina) now availing of the option to use squad numbering for qualification games.

It’s also worth noting that Argentina now have a deviation from their traditional style too, as Lucas Biglia, who would be regarded as a classic ‘5’ in his native country, prefers to wear 6, the number his position would correspond to in mainland Europe.


Kevin Keegan’s disingenuous reasoning

Martin Hardy has a new book, Tunnel of Love, about the goings-on at Newcastle United over the past 20 years or so.

Today’s edition of The Sunday Times featured a number of extracts, all eye-opening to varying degrees about the treatment of Bobby Robson, the Dyer-Bowyer fight and Craig Bellamy’s all-round difficulty. And there was a little snippet which naturally caught our eye – Alan Shearer taking the number 9 off Les Ferdinan when he signed in 1996.


Alan Shearer’s £15m record move from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle in 1996 was agreed at the home of England teammate David Platt’s parents.

“I’m not going to say this and that,” said Shearer by way of introduction. “The only thing I want to know is, can I have the number 9 shirt? That all I want to know, the rest I’ll leave to Tony [agent Tony Stephens].”

Kevin Keegan stood up. “You’ve got it,” he said.

Manager Keegan then had to tell Les Ferdinand he would not be wearing the shirt. “It’s not about the shirt for you, Les, it’s not that important.

“It’s a number and it was part of the deal to get Alan here. You’ll be a great partnership. It [the shirt] is not that significant.”

Ferdinand looked at Keegan and pointed at the gold pendant that hung from his chain. “How come you still wear the number 7 then, boss?” he asked.

Incidentally, David Ginola later reckoned that the re-assignment of the shirt had affected team morale.

Munster’s tribute to dearly departed coach Foley


It promises to be an emotional day at Thomond Park in Limerick as Munster take on Glasgow Warriors in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Last Sunday, as Munster were in Paris for a game against Racing 92, their head coach and former captain Anthony Foley sadly died. The former Ireland international was buried on Friday and the game against Glasgow is to be a tribute to him.

As part of the commemorations, Munster will stand down the number 8 shirt Foley wore for the majority of his career.

In addition, the players of Welsh club Scarlets will carry small ‘8’ insignias on the front of their shirts when they play Saracens. In this day and age, the phrase ‘classy gesture’ is overused, but it’s certainly applicable here.

Wearing 10 for his coin-try means a lot to Robbie Brady



We’ve already mentioned that Robbie Brady has inherited the Republic of Ireland number 10 shirt in the wake of Robbie Keane’s retirement, fearing that he might wear it at left-back.

An upcoming international week – Ireland host Georgia and then travel to Moldova – brings about that possibility again, but Brady’s presence at a press conference on Monday allowed him to reveal how he actually ended up moving from 19 to 10, as reported in The Irish Examiner.

There was a few of us wanting it. Me and Jonny Walters were the last two and he sort of said, ‘You have it’. I said, ‘No, it wouldn’t be fair’. So we flipped a coin for it and I ended up getting it. I texted Rob to say, ‘I’m taking it over and I’ll try not to dirty it too much’.

He said, ‘All you have to do is score 69 goals!’. Nah, he’s a top man. I just thought it was an opportunity not to be missed and I want to do as much as I can for this country. It’s near enough impossible to do what Robbie has done but I’ll do as best as I can.

Throughout the ages of my Ireland career I’ve scored goals, I like scoring goals. I want to score as many goals as I can for Ireland but I don’t think a number on a jersey will make a difference.

Having worn 14 for much of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and the finals tournament, Walters then took advantage of Brady’s switch to move to the vacant 19 – which he used briefly in 2014 for his country and which he also wears for Stoke. So everybody’s happy.

Dele Alli’s possibilities

Bambidele ‘Dele’ Alli’s first three England caps were as a substitute and on each occasion he wore 20, which is his number for Tottenham Hotspur.

His first start came against France in November, when he wore 7, and last Friday against Germany he shone in the number 10 shirt as England came from 2-0 down to win 3-2. With the days of your Gerrards and Lampards gone and Jack Wilshere sadly looking like becoming the player who is a bonus when fit and little else, there are spots up for grabs and the former Milton Keynes Dons player is intent on taking one.

All season, he has been instrumental in Tottenham’s title challenge, displaying considerable maturity in midfield, and England manager Roy Hodgson believes that his all-round skill levels are such that he can play in a variety of midfield roles.

Dele Alli could do anything in those midfield positions. He could be box-to-box. He could be a number 10, or a number 6. He could be any of them. He has genuine all-round ability.

He can challenge, run, fight for the ball, see a pass, score a goal. You mention Bryan Robson — that’s the player I’d like to think he could become.

Robson of course wore 7, for West Brom, Manchester United and England, but it’s the other part of Hodgson’s quote which is interesting, when looking at it through an English prism.

While Alli was 10 against Germany, it’s normally a striker’s number for the England team. Geoff Hurst wore it when scoring a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and it was also favoured by Gary Lineker while it’s almost a certainty that Wayne Rooney will wear it at Euro 2016.

We would imagine that Hodgson referring to “a number 6” comes from his time coaching on the continent, where it is used as a shorthand for a half-back-type midfielder. In England, of course, it means only one position, and, while he may carry the national team on his back, we would be very surprised if Alli ever carried the number 6 too.

Players of this type, including one former Tottenham and England hero, often end up as number 8s in England, so this may well be the case.

Marko Grujic, conservative or coward?

The Serbian midfielder, who will join Liverpool in the summer, has expressed reservations about taking the number 8 shirt, last worn by Steven Gerrard. Of his other suggestions, we’d certainly consider 35 a lesser evil than 88.

Last summer, Danny Ings also decided he’d prefer a higher number so as not to invite pressure from the off. Is it indulging players to allow them do this, or are they being given a free pass to shirk responsibility?

Liverpool’s beautiful imperfections

Regular readers of the blog will know that we have a fondness for the numbering system used by Liverpool in their glory days of the 1970s and 80s.

It’s something we felt warranted investigating and it’s important at the outset to credit the LFC History site and the excellent book written by its creators Arnie Baldursson and Gundmundur Magnusson, Liverpool: The Complete Record.

Why was their system fascinating? For one, if everybody had so many ‘wrong’ numbers, it would be tiresome, so the Reds’ distinctiveness definitely helped. Take a look at the formation below, which was how Liverpool lined out against Manchester United on September 16, 1990. We were actually going to use the team from the 4-4 FA Cup draw with Everton – Kenny Dalglish’s last game before resigning – but, as we will explain below, that was actually too off the wall.

The layout was what had by then become accepted as the default mode. A 4-0 win against United, with Peter Beardsley scoring a hat-trick, convinced pundits that the Pool were well on the way to a 19th title, with The Guardian gushing:

This time it seems Liverpool are determined not to let potential rivals for their League title even dream a little.

You certainly wouldn’t number your side like this if you were starting from scratch, though (by the way, if you haven’t read it already, now might be a good time to learn how the ‘traditional’ English system came into being):


Therein lies the other genius (in our view, anyway) element – the team evolved over two decades or so, with the changing of players’ positions affecting the numerical layout. Going through the team from that game in 1990 (apart from goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar – they always kept number 1 in goal), we’ll examine how each number came to be sited where it was.

2. Glenn Hysen

The Swedish centre-back joined Liverpool in the summer of 1989 and was seen as an eventual successor to Alan Hansen, who had begun to struggle with injury. Hansen was able to play much of 89-90, though, so Hysen slotted in alongside him as Gary Gillespie missed much of the campaign.

Number 2 had been the right-back’s number until 1985-86, a season when Phil Neal, Steve Nicol and Sammy Lee all wore it. Gillespie established himself at 2 towards the end of the season, but at centre-back, with Mark Lawrenson, who had worn 4, slotting over to the right to accommodate him.

3. David Burrows

In the graphic above, 3 – along with 6 and 9 – is in what would be considered its ‘right’ position and, by and large, it was always that way at Liverpool. However, when Hansen emerged in the late 70s, occasionally he – or Phil Thompson – would wear 3 at centre-back with Emlyn Hughes (6) moving to left-back, giving them a Brazilian look in defence.

4. Steve Nicol

If you’ve read about how the 4-4-2 was generally numbered in England, you’ll know that 4 was usually alongside 8 in midfield, but some teams had it at centre-back alongside 5 with 6, the old left-half, pushing up when the W-M begat the newer system. This was the way it was at Liverpool, where Tommy Smith wore 4 and anchored the defence (incidentally, he would later switch to right-back though, in contrast to what would transpire later, he also swapped numbers and saw out his Pool days as number 2 as Phil Thompson inherited 4).

After his arrival in 1981, Nicol wore a variety of numbers as he filled in in different positions, though by ’87 he had settled on either 2 or 8, depending on whether he was playing right-back or right-midfield. For the opening game of 87-88, away to Arsenal, Gillespie and Hansen were the centre-backs and so Nicol took 4 at right-back. He marked that match with a 30-yard winning header and, while he settled at right-back, his versatility still came in handy. He never started a game wearing a different number thereafter, though.

5. Ronnie Whelan

We’ve already touched on the Dubliner’s liking for wearing 5, without really examining how the most centre-backish of numbers came to be almost exclusively used in midfield at Anfield.

As mentioned above, 4 and 5 were the accepted Liverpool central defenders in the early 70s, with Smith and Larry Lloyd the men in possession for the majority. In early 1974, Lloyd was sold to Nottingham Forest but, instead of purchasing a replacement, Bill Shankly reckoned that the man to fill the role was already in his ranks.

Emlyn Hughes had played a bit at left-back but was generally a marauding midfielder with 6 on his back. Where Lloyd’s uncompromising nature meant that he lacked a bit of finesse, Shankly felt that Hughes’ greater footballing ability could help Liverpool play it out from the back. He retained 6 as he dropped back to partner Smith – on the pitch they were excellent but they had no relationship off it and Smith was very sore at how the captaincy was taken off him and given to Hughes.

Midfielder Peter Cormack had generally worn 8 up until then but happened to miss a few games immediately before Lloyd’s removal. When he returned, he was given 5 and so a tradition was born. Ray Kennedy would inherit it from him and then be switched to the left wing, with Whelan taking over there before John Barnes’ arrival saw him move to the middle.

Interestingly, before Whelan nailed down full ownership of 5 in 1982, Lawrenson had worn it in a couple of games early that season with Whelan wearing 6. Clearly, the defender didn’t feel as strongly about it as his Republic of Ireland team-mate.

6. Gary Gillespie

After Hughes’s relocation, 6 was a centre-back’s number apart from the few times he slid across to left-back. Hansen displaced him early in 1978-79 and, when fit, he was the undisputed choice there, assuming the captaincy after Kenny Dalglish’s appointment as manager in 1985.

He missed a lot of 1988-89, with Gillespie and Jan Molby – despite being regarded more as a midfielder – wearing 6 at centre-back. In addition, Nigel Spackman and David Burrows wore it at full-back as Nicol filled in in the middle (the late Gary Ablett was pretty much ever-present wearing 2). Hansen returned for the final seven games of the season.

He played in the bulk of games in 89-90, but didn’t play at all in 90-91 as Gillespie and Ablett shared 6. New signing Mark Wright took over the number at the start of 91-92 but, as Whelan related, eventually managed to snare 5.

7. Peter Beardsley

THE Liverpool number, and definitely regarded as such before a similar mysticism was retroactively applied to the same digit at Manchester United.

Before Nigel Clough, Vladimir Smicer, Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane threatened to dilute the prestige of the number, Kevin Keegan and then Kenny Dalglish had built the legend and then Beardsley and, arguably to a lesser extent, Steve McManaman carried the mantle admirably before Luis Suarez restored the power.

How did a number normally seen as that of a right winger’s come to be mostly used by a second striker at Liverpool? The answer – or what we reckon to be the answer, anyway – is fairly boring, really: Keegan used to be a winger.

He was signed as such from Scunthorpe United by Shankly in 1971, seen as Ian Callaghan’s replacement. However, a full-scale intra-squad practice match before the 71-72 season opener against Nottingham Forest convinced the manager that Keegan could be a striker of renown and so it proved.

Liverpool had lost the Charity Shield to Leicester City the week before and the attack was almost totally re-nosed for the Forest game. Of the players who wore the numbers 7 through 11 against Leicester, only Steve Heighway (9) remained, and he switched from the left wing to the right.

Callaghan had worn 7 but, rather than new left winger Peter Thompson taking that, he was 8 with Keegan 7 – we can only presume at his own request. Midfielder John McLaughlin wore 11 before Callaghan came back into the team in the middle, now with the double digits on his back. Up front, John Toshack took the number 10 from Bobby Graham and a devastating partnership with Keegan was born.

Keegan played 230 games for Liverpool before he joined Hamburg in 1977 and he wore 7 in every single one, with Dalglish inheriting the number and remaining similarly faithful before Beardsley followed suit. As of the time of writing, it remains unoccupied since Suarez’s departure to Barcelona last summer.

8. Ray Houghton

We’ve already dedicated a post to Houghton and his number-hopping, but John Aldridge’s departure meant that he effectively settled on 8, which had been worn by Craig Johnston and Sammy Lee before him on the right of midfield. Prior to that, Alun Evans had worn it when playing as a striker after Steve Heighway retained 9 when he moved to the wing.

Brian Hall had set the ball rolling in terms of right-midfielders wearing 8 as it was he who had been given the shirt when Peter Cormack missed a couple of games before returning in the number 5.

9. Ian Rush

One of only three ‘correct’ numbers in the 1990 iteration, but even this most sacred of institutions – 9 at centre-forward – had been dabbled with. As you read above, Steve Heighway had taken the number on a tour of the wings but when John Toshack left, midfielder Terry McDermott became the new number 10 while Irish international Heighway moved back up front – he wasn’t an automatic first choice though, with David Fairclough and David Johnson also wearing 9.

Johnson was the man in possession until Rush’s arrival in 1981 and it was the only shirt the Welsh international wore until he joined Juventus in 1987. Rush’s last game before the transfer was against Chelsea and he was partnered by mid-season signing John Aldridge, who wore 7 in only his second start (he had worn 11 in the other).

As 1987-88 dawned, manager Dalglish felt that Aldridge already had enough to live up to given that he was Rush’s doppelganger and so decided that he would wear the number 8 rather than 9, which now became the main number used by the right-winger.

Rush returned in 1988. Though squad numbers were five years into the future, it was effectively the case that 9 was his and 8 was Aldridge’s, with Houghton taking whichever one of those was available until Aldridge left for Real Sociedad in 1989.

10. John Barnes

The reasons for McDermott taking 10 and bringing it to midfield after Toshack left are unclear, but there’s no doubting that it firmly became a midfielder’s number thereafter. Craig Johnston, John Wark, Kevin MacDonald, Michael Robinson and Jan Molby all wore it with varying degrees of success but when Barnes arrived from Watford in the summer of 1987 as part of the three-pronged approach to replace Rush (Beardsley was also signed then while Aldridge had been a few months earlier), he assumed tenure of 10 and, from then on, if he was in the team that was what he wore.

11. Steve McMahon

Barnes’ signing, and placement on the left of midfield, led to Ronnie Whelan reverting to the centre and retaining the number 5. It was Ray Kennedy’s move in the opposite direction in the mid-70s which had led to 11 being worn by central players, first the re-tooled Ian Callaghan and then his replacement, Graeme Souness.

The Scot left for Italy in 1984 and Wark for 11 for a lot of the following season but McMahon, a signing from Aston Villa in 1985 – Dalglish’s first – began to be seen regularly in it then. McMahon did wear 7 for the first two games of 86-87 as MacDonald played in 11 but Dalglish’s return to the side saw the England international return to 11 and there he stayed.

As can be seen, from ’87 on, Dalglish tended to play favourites as certain players – Nicol, Whelan, Hansen, himself and then Beardsley, Aldridge, Rush, Barnes and McMahon – were always allowed to wear their preferred numbers.

That meant that others, like Houghton, had to switch around, but he wasn’t even the worst ‘sufferer’. We mentioned above that we didn’t base this piece on the 4-4 Everton game and a reason for that was that McMahon missed it so Nicol played in midfield and Barry Venison appeared at right-back wearing 11.

That was the only time he wore it and it completed his outfield ‘set’, wearing every single shirt. To what extent Dalglish was aware of this is unknown (he probably wasn’t), but Venison wore 9 – the only other shirt he hadn’t played in – two weeks previous in a league game, also against Everton.

Aside from Venison, the other players to come closest to wearing all the shirts were Steve Staunton – who never wore 2 – and Gary Ablett, who saw action in all except 9. A factor in this was the versatility of Nicol, who could play anywhere, so he kept 4 and Vension/Staunton/Ablett and others took the number of the player who missed out.

Perhaps strangely, given that he was a striker, Ronny Rosenthal also played musical shirts, missing out only on 2 and 5. He wore 3 twice and 4 once, with 9 being worn by midfielders Steve McManaman and Mike Marsh in those games.

When Liverpool beat Sunderland to win the 1992 FA Cup final, the numbering system was almost identical to the way it was when Dalglish left, with the only switch being between 2 and 4, Nicol playing centre-back as new signing Rob Jones tended to wear 2 whenever he played (he was selected at number 5 on his debut against Manchester United, though).

By the time squad numbers came in 1993-94, it was as if Liverpool had never tinkered – Wright was 5, midfielder Don Hutchison 6, new signing Clough wore 7 but was generally used in midfield and 11 was now on the back of left winger Mark Walters.

Perhaps Liverpool need to return to the idiosyncratic numbering to usher in a return to the glory days? Numbers 5, 7 and 11 are all free now, so if they could be filled by a central midfielder, striker and another midfielder, they’d be well on the road to recovery. Get rid of Glen Johnson and Kolo Toure and ensure that the new right-back is 4 and centre-back 2, and title number 19 would surely be an inevitability.

West Brom’s venture into the past


For Saturday’s Premier League game against Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion honoured the late Jeff Astle by wearing a replica of the kit worn in the 1968 FA Cup final win over Everton, in which Astle scored the vital goal. Gloriously, they also lined out in 1-11 (goalkeeper Boaz Myhill wore a blank green jersey – albeit with a historically-inaccurate baselayer).

Coincidentally, the matchday 18 featured all of the outfield players with squad numbers in the ‘first’ 11, though four were subs and three in the starting line-up wore different numbers to normal:

  1. Boaz Myhill (squad number 13)
  2. Craig Dawson (25)
  3. Chris Brunt (11)
  4. Claudio Yacob (5)
  5. Gareth McAuley (23)
  6. Joelon Lescott (6)
  7. James Morrison (7)
  8. Craig Gardner (8)
  9. Saido Berahino (18)
  10. Brown Ideye (9)
  11. Darren Fletcher (24)


  1. Andre Wisdom (2)
  2. Jack Rose (38)
  3. Jonas Olsson (3)
  4. Chris Baird (4)
  5. Callum McManaman (19)
  6. Victor Anichebe (10)
  7. Stephane Sessegnon (29)

Chris Brunt wearing 3 instead of 11 is to be applauded, while Claudio Yacob switching from 5 to 4 was welcome as he lined out in central midfield (though, being Argentinean, 5 is ‘right’ for him too). With wide midfielder Craig Gardner retaining his 8, it meant that Darren Fletcher wore 11 in the centre, but we could get over that.

Saido Berahino had 9, which Astle used to wear in his time at the Hawthorns, with Brown Ideye moving from 9 to 10. Albion’s top scorer couldn’t mark the day with a goal – they lost 3-2 – but manager Tony Pulis was pleased that he did the famous shirt justice. Clearly, he felt it was good.

“Saido is a good player, that is why I gave him that No.9 jersey, because he has been so good for us,” he said.

“He has been very good for us. The significance was not lost on him – we had a chat before and I thought Saido did well.”

Johan Cruyff and the number 14


We’re snobs, we’ll admit that. In creating this blog, we wanted to provide something fresh and avoid looking at what every other article on the subject does, the obvious things. There are times, though, when the ‘classics’, which in our view includes Johan Cruyff’s association with 14, require examination too.

Pretty much everyone knows about his affinity for the number – he managed to avoid being included in Holland’s alphabetical system at the 1974 World Cup, for example, and Ajax have since retired it. His son Jordi wore it at Manchester United too, though with mixed results. How he came to have it is something which doesn’t appear to be that widely known, so we felt it was worthy of exploration.

We haven’t been forensic – this article, with a rudimentary translation from Dutch to English, is our primary source – but we seem to have the jist of it. In the early part of 1970-71, Cruyff was out injured with a groin problem but returned for the game against PSV in October.

Midfielder Gerrie Muhren went to the kit hamper to get his regular number 7 only to find that the kitman, known as ‘Uncle Jan’ (whose wife laundered the strip) had mislaid it. Cruyff told him to take his usual 9 and instead plucked 14 from the basket. Ajax won and the following week Cruyff suggested to Muhren that they retain their ‘lucky’ numbers.

Seemingly, Cruyff was able to wear 14 in European competitions for Ajax too – in the 1971 European Cup final, they started without a 5 – though in non-World Cup games for Holland, he would have to continue to wear 9. To take another rough translation, from his own website:

Over time, he also carry other numbers but in imaging every game he wore his uniform number: Number 14.