72.5% Of A Nap

winks

There has been mild consternation at the fact that Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Winks doesn’t wear number 40.

The young midfielder wore 29 last season as well as this, but in both campaigns 40 has been occupied by suitably-named goalkeeper Tom Glover. In 2014-15, 40 was empty but Winks was, even more frustratingly, 44.

There is another player who has worn 40 for pun-based reasons, though. When squad numbers were introduced in 1993-94, Julian Watts wore 24 for Sheffield Wednesday and he kept that until he left in 95-96. Then, at Leicester City in 96-97 and 97-98, he had number 4.

He was with Luton Town when squad numbers were made mandatory for Football League clubs in 1999 and it seems it was at this point that a lightbulb went off over his head (not even sorry) and he became 40 Watts (best available picture, sadly).

watts

This was only for 1999-2000, though, as he switched to 5 for the next two seasons with Luton and then wore 2 when he moved to Australian side Northern Spirit.

While his surname means that any number technically works, it’s a disappointment that Robert Page wore 2, 4, 5, 6, 28, 29 and 32 but never – it would appear – 3.

page4

Away from football, baseball does provide a couple of nice examples.  In 1951, Johnny Neves of minor league side the Fargo-Moorhead Twins wore 7 but had it stitched on backwards to reflect his surname:

neves

Carlos May of the Chicago White Sox was born on May 17 and so, having initially worn 29, transferred to 17, making him the only major-league player to have his birthday on his back.

may17

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Rebran9ing exercise for Antony Martia11?

mufcnos

When the Manchester United numbers for the coming season were announced, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s inheritance of number 9 seemed to tick a couple of logical boxes.

The Swedish striker had been 10 at previous club Paris St-Germain but United captain Wayne Rooney was never likely to surrender that. While the expected departure of Juan Mata would free up 8, we have a feeling that if that does happen then Morgan Schneiderlin is waiting to nip in. Had 7 – that most storied of United numbers – been taken away from Memphis Depay after just one season, it would have felt like a demotion but there was wiggle-room with the other number normally associated with wingers.

When Ryan Giggs retired, his famous number 11 (he didn’t always wear it, though) was passed on to Adnan Januzaj, whose move from 44 seemed to signal that he was about to take the stage in a big way. It hasn’t worked out like that for him, though, and his long-term future at the club is up in the air.

As a result, his move to 15 was, dare we say it, meritorious and the moving of Antony Martial to 11, freeing up 9 for Ibrahimovic, as he had worn with Ajax and in his under-performing stay Barcelona, had a tidy overall look. After all, the Frenchman wears 11 for his country and it appears to be a better fit with the position which suits him best.

Except, Martial himself is not a happy bunny, especially given that he had gone to the trouble of trademarking ‘AM9’. Of course, he could just follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo and have a contingency plan. We’d imagine that things will get sorted and calm down once everyone’s back playing football.

Elsewhere, there wasn’t too much of note with the MUFC numbers. Apparently, 6 is being kept for Paul Pogba while centre-back Eric Bailly took 3 – blame him if you will but he wouldn’t have been able to do so if Luke Shaw hadn’t been allowed away with moving from 3 to 23. While 2 is free, Matteo Darmian is resolutely sticking with 36.

The Martial incident was discussed on BBC Radio 5’s Monday Night Club (go to 52:45), and on a tangential subject, John Motson made the point that there should be a Premier League rule as there is in Spain, that squads should be numbered 1-25. We live in vain hope.

Arsenal simultaneously please and frustrate

There have been plenty of changes afoot at Arsenal of late. They have almost done things really well, only to be tripped up at the last.

The departures of Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta at the end of the 2015/16 season freed up 7 and 8 respectively. Alexis Sanchez has an affinity with 7 – so much so that he took 17 when he joined, necessitating Nacho Monreal’s move to 18 – and so it was logical that he switched. The other move caught us by surprise, but was no less pleasing.

Not all of Aaron Ramsey’s decisions lately have been good ones, but the Welsh midfielder changing from 16 to 8 is a good fit. It’s also nice to see a player in the modern game who wishes to trade up (technically ‘down’, we know) to a 1-11 number, even if he wasn’t that far outside them to start with.

Those switches freed up 16 and 17, and it appeared that the club had been on the ball with filling them too. Alex Iwobi had established himself as part of the first-team squad in the second half of the season, putting the likes of Theo Walcott to shame, and it was a further indication that he will be more involved next season as he was given 17 instead of 45.

And then, Granit Xhaka came into play. Before it was officially announced that the Swiss midfielder would join from Borussia Moenchengladbach, he was in London to complete a medical and have publicity pictures taken. Those images – featuring him in the then-unreleased new home kit – were leaked, and the leaker also conveyed information on numbering changes.

According to him, Xhaka would take 34 (he wore it in Germany and has it tattooed on his neck), with Francis Coquelin moving from that to 8. Incidentally, had that happened, it would have been a fifth different number for him at Arsenal, having had 35, 39 and 22, in that order, before 34.*

Obviously, that didn’t happen and then it appeared that Xhaka would assume Ramsey’s old 16. For us, it’s a number which really suits a central midfielder, so this was quite pleasing, until Xhaka had a change of heart. Jay from Design Football was probably delighted as 29 is ‘his’ football number, but it doesn’t sit well with us when first-team squad members are given numbers higher than 22, 25 at a push.

Arseblog has his theories on the rationale behind Xhaka’s switch. If he’s a success at the club, it’ll hardly matter what’s on his back, but, rest assured, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be at the forefront of the campaign to tell you why it hasn’t.

Incidentally, the same rumour which suggested that Coquelin would move to 8 with Xhaka taking 34 said that goalkeeper Petr Cech would move from 33 to 1 and right-back Hector Bellerin would take 2 when Mathieu Debuchy departs, having had 39 in 2014-15 and 24 last season. Both changes would appeal. A top-quality centre-forward wearing 9, and the Gunners’ first-choice XI wouldn’t be bad at all.

* The change from 35 to 39 was down to Arsenal’s way of numbering younger players alphabetically by surname, explained here. Being given 22 was a sign that he was part of the first-team squad but then he went out on loan and Yaya Sanogo inherited that shirt, so 34 was something of a stop-gap measure when he came back in 2014.

Cork City’s defensive combinations

There are six defenders in the Cork City squad with numbers between 2 and 11.

John Kavanagh wears 2 and is a solid and dependable right-back.

Number 3 is former Irish international Alan Bennett, who has previously played for Reading, Wycombe Wanderers, Brentford and AFC Wimbledon among others. He wore 3 in his previous spell with City too – unusually as he is a centre-back – and it happened to be free on his return before the start of the 2015 season.

Captain John Dunleavy is the number 4 and he can play across the back four.

At number 5 is Darren Dennehy, primarily a centre-back but capable of playing at left-back.

Dan Murray wears number 6 and is an archetypal centre-back. His deployment as a defensive midfielder for one game this season stands out for its weirdness.

And finally, the number 11, Ross Gaynor, is a left-back. Despite us engaging in a running battle with him on Twitter, he continues to retain the shirt he began wearing when operating as a winger earlier in his career.

By our reckoning – and counting centre-back partnerships once, ignoring who’s on the right and who’s on the left – that makes 17 different four-man defensive combinations involving these six players. Or have our maths failed us again?

Ronnie Whelan’s slightly-faulty memory

For much of his Liverpool career, Ronnie Whelan wore the number 5 shirt, first on the left side of midfield and then in the middle after the arrival of John Barnes in 1987.

As we well discuss in our upcoming mammoth Liverpool numbering article, the wearing of 5 by a non-defender for Liverpool was a common occurrence, though in Whelan’s case it was a personal preference, as he related in his 2011 autobiography, Walk On: My Life in Red.

In discussing how the club fared under the management of former team-mate Graeme Souness, Whelan laments how he lost his favoured shirt, though he has his dates a little bit wrong:

…Then the Premier League kicked in at the start of 1992/92 and everybody was issued with squad numbers.

Players have a thing about the number on their shirt. Ray Kennedy had worn the No. 5 so I got it when I took over from him. I didn’t own the number, I also wore 8 and 10 over the years. But early in 1982/83 I was out injured and not playing great when I got back into the team.

Then in September 1982 we played Dundalk in the first round of the European Cup at Oriel Park. Before the game I asked Ronnie Moran, ‘Can I wear number five today?’ Bugsy grunted back at me, ‘Wear whatever you want.’ So I wore the No. 5, I scored two goals that day, and it was always my lucky number after that. I tried to get it as often as I could and eventually I wore it more or less constantly for seven years.

Then I found out in the 1992/93 that Wrighty {Mark Wright] would be the permanent captain now and that he’d be wearing the No. 5 shirt. I’d be wearing No. 12. A manager with half-decent man-management skills would’ve gone to a player who’d been there all his career, whether it was me or anybody else, and explained the situation. No big deal: just show a bit of respect and courtesy to a long-serving player, that’s all.

Whelan is correct with the broad strokes of the story – he did revert to 5 for that Dundalk game (interestingly, he had been wearing 6 in the few games before it, more of that anon) and kept it for almost all of the 1980s and early 90s. His 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons were hampered by injury, and he missed the ’92 FA Cup final. Wright captained the side to victory, though he wore 6 that day with Jan Molby wearing 5 in midfield.

It wasn’t until 1993-94 that squad numbers would come in, and Whelan began 92-93 wearing 5 with Wright at 6. It wasn’t until January 1992 that Wright switched from 6 to 5 (after a loss to Wimbledon, Torben Piechnik, who had been wearing 5, was dropped). When Whelan returned to the side in March, he wore 6 – which had always been his number for the Republic of Ireland – from then until he was injured again after a win over Leeds in April.

Jamie Redknapp then came into the team wearing 6, though when squad numbers were introduced that summer, he was given 15 with Whelan in the aforementioned 12, while Don Hutchison was the new owner of the number 6 shirt.

  • In our research, the LFC History website was a great resource as they have recorded every single Liverpool line-up

A look into the future?

@Jay29ers from Design Football got in touch again with another article suggestion. We’re not sure we fully agree with the execution of an interesting concept but we’ll put it to the floor. Take it away, Jay:

Monday, April 27, 2015:

Arsène Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager was hanging by a thread last night after Jose Mourinho seemingly coerced him into tactical suicide.

Chelsea’s 3-0 victory at the Emirates came at the end of a week of verbal jousting that the Frenchman had both initiated and spurned an opportunity to distance himself from.  The result leaves the Gunners four points outside of the Champions League qualification places, after a weekend that saw Manchester United and Liverpool take the opportunity to leapfrog Southampton into third and fourth places respectively.

Seven days ago, a routine press briefing was enlivened by Wenger’s questionable assertion that Arsenal’s “first eleven” was technically superior to that of their West London rivals.  A point intended to highlight his side’s injury woes throughout the season – bizarrely vocalised in a week when Wenger’s squad could boast an entirely clean bill of health – was jumped on, and ostensibly taken entirely literally, by Mourinho (“Arsenal’s one to eleven better than Chelsea’s?”), who scoffed at the idea when probed for a response by the media.

Obviously riled, Wenger held firm on Friday’s appearance in front of microphones and cameras.  Accordingly, Mourinho grunting “He still thinks that?  Ok, Chelsea’s second eleven can beat Arsenal’s first.  You know 1933 FA Cup Final?” acted as a final red rag to a bull that no one could have previously predicted Wenger would play so ably in this pantomime.  Heads were scratched amongst the proverbial Fleet Street cognoscenti, but eventually the proposition that Arsenal should select their players in possession of squad numbers one to eleven, and Chelsea theirs from twelve to 22, was understood and relayed.

Instead of rising above the Portuguese’s gamesmanship, Wenger released his inner-Marty McFly and – we presume stopping short of writing “Nobody calls me chicken” on his submitted teamsheet – duly dispensed with the resurgent Theo Walcott (#14) and the recently dependable Aaron Ramsey (#16).  With no number 5 on the squad list since Thomas Vermaelen’s departure, artistic licence allowed the retention of Alexis Sanchez (#17), in this case as an entirely ineffectual centre-forward.

One impending crisis was averted through Mourinho being as good as his word, in a manner of speaking.  The inclusion of numbers 24 and 26 in the form of Cahill and Terry, and certainly number 2, Branislav Ivanovic, made a mockery of the “second eleven” notion, but as simply to fill the gaps in the requisite squad section it broke no unspoken “rules”.  Conversely, with an ultra-attacking 3-4-3 formation, and Willian and Mohamed Salah having defensive duties from midfield, the Emirates faithful would ordinarily be licking their lips.  Unfortunately, with Lukas Podolski recalled to a starting lineup he surely would have assumed was now in his footballing past, and the other flank occupied by the flagging Tomáš Rosický, the industrious Chelsea wide men looked confident from the outset.

The only success for the home side was limiting the enduringly magificent Diego Costa to no goals and just the two first half assists – the first a pullback from the byline for an onrushing Andre Schürrle to tap home, the second a teasing dink forward straight into the path of the Brazilian right-midfielder.  The look the adopted Spaniard gave as his teammate offered thanks truly said “Willian, it was really nothing.”

Shortly after the break, Salah justified his place with a neat run and low drive into Szczęsny bottom right-hand corner, immediately alerting all around that the game, and the challenge, was up.  Enter number 4, Cesc Fàbregas, to half-hearted boos from the rapidly dispersing crowd.

In his post-match interview, Mourinho heaped praise on his troops – now champions elect – and kept his gloating to one barbed prediction: “Mr Wenger will never beat me.”  In the Arsenal hot-seat at least, he may just have blown his final chance.

Arsenal (0) 0 Chelsea (2) 3

Goals: Schürrle (9), Willian (28), Salah (53)

Yellow cards – Arsenal: Debuchy (33), Podolski (61), Özil (70), Wilshere (74)

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): 1 Szczęsny; 2 Debuchy, 4 Mertesacker, 6 Koscielny, 3 Gibbs; 10 Wilshere (16 Ramsey, 77), 8 Arteta; 7 Rosický, 11 Özil, 9 Podolski; 17 Alexis Sánchez (12 Giroud, 45).

Chelsea (3-4-3): 13 Courtois; 2 Ivanovic, 24 Cahill, 26 Terry; 22 Willian, 12 Mikel, 21 Matić, 17 Salah; 18 Rémy, 19 Diego Costa (4 Fàbregas, 60), 14 Schürrle.