A graph charting Dani Alves’ number changes

We’ve covered Daniel Alves in the past, when he decided that it was appropriate for a right-back to wear 6.

That was his fourth number for Barcelona, with the progression most unusual. He left the club in the summer of 2016 and joined Juventus, where he decided to take number 23 in honour of LeBron James (who in turn wears it in honour of Michael Jordan, despite once feeling that nobody should be allowed to wear it in the NBA).

Four numbers at Barcelona, along with the new one at Juve, means a total of seven changes since he joined Sevilla in 2002 and took the number 8 – seven different numbers in total, having worn 6 with Los Rojiblancos and then Barcelona.

We felt that a line-graph was called for (thanks to Barry Higgins for helping us with the formatting when Excel wouldn’t play ball).

graph

Advertisements

Dani Alves’ rollercoaster

Barcelona announced their 2015-16 numbers yesterday, with the most notable change being that Dani Alves has taken the number 6 shirt which Xavi recently vacated.

By and large, we’re all for first-team players wearing low numbers but a right-back wearing number 6 – even allowing for Alves’ predilection towards attacking – just seems wrong. When he arrived at Barca first, he wore 20 but then took 2 when that became available in 2009 after the ill-fated Martin Caceres didn’t really work out.

Logically, he should have kept 2 for the remainder of his Barça career but when Eric Adibal retired, Alves decided to switch to 22 as a tribute to the French international. To be fair, 22 isn’t the worst choice in the world for a right-back but players moving from 1-11 numbers to higher ones is a pet hate here.

For the past couple of years, number 2 has been worn by another Martin – Montoya – but that name just doesn’t seem to gel with the Barça defence as he has gone on loan to Inter. It should have paved the way for Alves to move back down but instead new signing Douglas has taken it and maybe that’s for the best as one would imagine that he will be the medium-term right-back for the club.

The Spanish league rules that squads must be numbered from 1-25 meets our approval in general, though policing within those numbers would be even more welcome (we know it’ll never happen, alas). Barcelona’s low numbers are now arranged in the following way:

  1. Goalkeeper (Marc André Ter Stegen – GKs have to be 1, 13 or 25)
  2. Right-back (Douglas – fine)
  3. Centre-back (Gerard Piqué – he has worn it for ages but it’s still not ideal)
  4. Attacking midfielder (Ivan Rakitić – not unacceptable, but could be better)
  5. Defensive midfielder (Sergio Busquets – okay in isolated incidents, but the numbers around him make it look worse)
  6. Right-back (Dani Alves – hard to justify, if we’re honest)
  7. Winger/striker (Pedro – for how much longer? Aleix Vidal’s in January?)

We can’t really quibble with 8-11 (Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar). They’re far from the worst numbers among a major club – we’re looking at you, Bayern Munich – but we’re fighting the urge to boot up Football Manager and tidy them up.

Changing numbers mid-season

Note: We revisited this topic in 2016.

In Spain, as far as we can see, players are allowed to change numbers during the mid-season break. In 2004-05, Henrik Larsson switched from 17 to 7 when the previous incumbent, Javier Saviola, joined Monaco. A year later, Lionel Messi would swap his number 30 for 19, though of course his destiny as number 10 wasn’t too far away.

Messi had to continue to wear 30 in Europe that season, however, as UEFA’s rules are far stricter. So strict are they, in fact, that no number can be used more than once in the same season. This meant that when Andy Carroll joined Liverpool in 2011, he had to wear number 29 in the Europa League, despite the fact that he had inherited the number 9 from Fernando Torres domestically.

Back to mid-season changes, though – in the the Premier League handbook, section M4 states that:

While he remains with the Club a Player will retain his shirt number throughout the Season
for which it was allocated.

By and large, this has unsurprisingly been the case (we do have a fuzzy memory at the back of our heads though that Chris Sutton began 1996-97 wearing 16 for Blackburn before realising Alan Shearer had left and then changing to 9), but Aston Villa in 2010-11 are a massive exception.

No fewer than four players finished the season wearing different numbers than those with which they began it:

Player                                   Old Number       New Number

Moustapha Salifou               17                       37

Andreas Weimann                42                       26

Barry Bannan                        46                       25

Ciarán Clark                          47                       21

Why were they allowed to do so, and in such relatively high numbers, when the practice would seem to be outlawed, and why are there seemingly no other examples? Please get in touch if you know.

Guilty pleasures at Christmas

Early in the life of this blog, we elaborated – or tried to, at any rate – on the things about squad numbers which got our goat. It’s not to suggest, by the way, that we’re perfect ourselves, as proven by the fact we once signed attacking midfielder Stefano Fiore for Roma in CM99-00 and gave him the vacant number 6 rather than 28.

It seems only fair, therefore, that we should welcome the upcoming festive season with a balancing article which looks at the things which don’t follow the ‘classic’ numbering pattern but for which we have a ‘grá’ [it’s an Irish word similar to ‘affection’, pronounced ‘graw’]. The fact that each example has a caveat helps to ease our conscience.

We’ll limit our own to three, but we’ll open the floor to suggestions:

1. Number 2 at centre-back (but only if 4 is right-back)

Ryan McGarrity entered my office. The Northern Irish youngster had performed well since breaking into the Cork City team, forming a strong partnership at centre-back with German international Jurgen Becker. I should point out at this stage in the story that it technically occurred in the setting of a game of Football Manager 2012.

Captain Nathan Todd was retiring. He only had the armband for a year and was only ever intended to be stopgap after the retirement of club stalwart Aiden Kelly, who had come up through the ranks and gone on to become the Republic of Ireland left-back as well as winning everything domestically and leading the club to the Champions League group stages.

As Todd was getting on in years, I decided to leave him in the number 13 shirt he had made his own in proving a highly dependable back-up for Kelly or else playing in front of him at midfield. That was fine, but McGarrity was going to be the new captain, hopefully for more than a decade, so he couldn’t keep 17. Becker wore 5 and Lars Larsson, a D/DM C of high quality, was still an important squad member despite getting on and I couldn’t just take 4 off him. There was another vacant number, though.

“You’re the new captain,” I told McGarrity, “and you’re also the new number 2.”

“Am I moving to right-back?” he asked, incredulously.

“No, you’re staying where you are but I can’t have my long-term captain wearing a number higher than 11. You’d end up riding team-mates’ former girlfriends, parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers and getting up to no good in general.”

Kasado was the first-choice right-back and kept number 22 until Larsson left at the age of 35. The Brazilian was also capable of playing centre-back and so 4 was a good fit for him. Most of the rest of the first team wore the ‘right’ numbers though and so, in some European games, when Larsson would come on for Swiss playmaker Adolfo Cappelletti as we switched to 4-1-4-1, the right-back was nominally number 10. It was an occupational hazard.

Apart from fictional examples, Argentina haven’t done too badly with 4 at right-back and 2 in the middle, while it worked out okay too for Liverpool in the 1980s.

2. Number 9 in the hole behind a strikeforce of 8 and 10

The ‘three foreigners’ rule came against Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final as Johan Cruyff had to drop Michael Laudrup to accommodate Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and Romario. Without limitations, the Spanish side may have put up more of a fight against AC Milan, who beat them 4-0, but then maybe Milan might have had better foreigners too.

In La Liga, however, Barça played some lovely stuff. While they took the title based on their head-to-head record with Deportivo La Coruña, the sides were 10 clear of third-placed Real Zaragoza and this was with only two points for a win – had it been three then Cruyff’s side would have won the title.

With no restrictions on foreigners, Laudrup provided the bullets for Stoichkov and Romario, who had arrived from PSV Eindhoven. The Dane retained the number 9 he had worn in a more advanced role with Romario taking 10 and it just looked right – we wouldn’t have been as keen on, say, 8 and 11 or 7 and 10. Honourable mention for Arsenal in 1996-97, with Paul Merson playing behind Ian Wright and Denis Bergkamp.

3. Number 7 in central midfield but only if 8 or 10 plays on the right

Bryan Robson is mentioned a fair bit in this piece about Manchester United number 7s and he’s the first example of this trope who springs to mind.

We can’t exactly say why, but we like the look of a 7 being an all-round, domineering midfield, possibly more so than one in the playmaking role, though that fits fine too.

If 4 or 6 were moved to the right to accommodate this, then the OCD alarm might begin to sound, likewise 11 as it would mean another central number moving across to the left. A small amount of ‘wrong’ numbers is bearable, but don’t go too far with it.

My squad-number beefs

As this blog will (hopefully) have a long lifespan, with admirers waiting eagerly for updates, it’s important at this early stage to lay out what we like and don’t like, starting with the latter but going beyond the blatant stuff like a striker wearing 5 or a first-team regular having number 44. It should be pointed out that this is almost certainly an inexhaustive list, and other irrational hatreds will make themselves known as time goes on.

1. Having two or more of the numbers 4, 5 and 6 worn by midfielders is wrong

When looking at a teamsheet, we like to work out who’d be wearing what if the team were wearing 1-11. A lot of the time, it’s easy to process this, but take Barcelona’s squad this season – new signing Ivan Rakitić is 4, Sergio Busquets has taken 5 and Xavi is still 6. If Barça were, for some reason, forced to forgo squad numbers and all three of those were in the team, then two of 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 would have to be in a four-man defence.

2. A two-man strikeforce should never be allowed to wear 10 and 11

Number 9 in midfield is actually a guilty pleasure of ours, once it’s not worn a defensive midfielder – Paul Ince at Middlesbrough, we haven’t forgotten you and your crimes. If 9 is a midfielder, though, then the two strikers must be 8 and 10 (for example, Michael Laudrup in the hole at Barcelona behind Hristo Stoichkov and Romario). What is a complete no-no is 10 and 11 playing up front together, with extra marks deducted if 9 is the left-midfielder (we did say these were irrational).

This affliction likely comes from a complete phobia of having a team numbered in order from left to right, defence 2-5, midfield 6-9 and strikers 10 and 11 – something our manager at U13 level persisted with. Dennis Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord’s rarely-effective partnership probably contributes too (mainly due to Wiltord, it must be said).

3. Captains wearing numbers higher than 11

This stems from a hope that clubs would still number players in a method some way related to having the best players in the lowest numbers, and the players keen to wear numbers in the first 11. We accept that it is a forlorn one by this stage, but nevertheless seeing a captain in a high number still jars. That the most visible exponent of this is John Terry is probably not a coincidence.

4. Players switching from a 1-11 number to a higher one

A young player being given a number in the teens having worn 34 in his debut season is a clear sign that he will feature more in the coming campaign. It’s a sign of progress, so therefore a player’s number going in the opposite direction – without being expressly put on the transfer list – can surely only be taken to be the opposite? He mightn’t be a first-teamer anymore, but at least afford him the dignity of allowing him to keep his number rather than making clear to everyone that you’re helping his career down the tubes. At Middlesbrough, Gary O’Neil went from 4 to 16 to 18 (the latter completely needless), while Oldham’s Genseric Kusunga can’t have been too happy to see his number 5 swapped for 21. Apparently, Alvaro Albeloa chose of his own accord to change from 2 to 17 while at Liverpool, while Joe Hart’s move from 1 to 25 at Man City (when Shay Given took 1) was eventually reversed.

One exception that we’ll allow is Abou Diaby changing from 2 to 24, as 2 was a mental number for a central midfielder. It says much about his injury record that a lot of people thought that his move took place this summer when he actually switched at the start of the 2013-14 season.