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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Chelsea’s false 9s

The number 9 is the goalscorer. If he can find the net every two games or better, then you can’t have too many complaints, really. Of course, nowadays ‘9’ generally refers to the player in the centre-forward position with the actual number on his back a fairly movable feast. Since the start of 2001-02, only once has the Premier League Golden Boot award been won by a number 9 (answer at the bottom).

It’s fitting that the last 9 to win it before that was Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000-01, for this article looks at the curse of that shirt since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003-04. The Chelsea 9s just don’t get enough goals.

Hasselbaink

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2003-04)

Abramovich’s first season would prove to be Hasselbanink’s last in blue before joining Middlesbrough. While not complete duff, he wasn’t the force that he once was and a haul of 17 goals in 44 matches in all competitions was a poor return, especially considering that Chelsea came second in the league and reached the Champions League semi-finals. Ratio: 0.39 goals per game

Kezman

Mateja Kezman (2004-05)

The Serbian arrived at Stamford Bridge having scored 105 goals in 122 games for PSV Eindhoven and the inheritance of Hasselbaink’s shirt seemed a perfect fit. Seven goals in 41 appearances for Chelsea suggested otherwise. Moved to Atletico Madrid, where he got eight in 30. Ratio: 0.17

Crespo

Hernan Crespo (2005-06)

Crespo spent 2004-05 on loan at Milan, almost winning a Champions League medal, but he was back at Bridge for 05-06 and his swapping of number 21 for 9 seemed to be a statement of intent. While he got the winner away to Wigan on the opening day of the league season, he didn’t effect a turnaround in his Chelsea career and finished the campaign with 13 goals in 42 games before joining Inter. Ratio: 0.31

Boulahrouz

Khalid Boulahrouz (2006-07)

Chelsea’s new number 9 was really a number 2, number 3 or number 5. Khalid Boulahrouz, signed from Hamburg, was a dirty bastard of a defender and, not surprisingly, didn’t score in his 20 games with the club before joining Seville. Still, not much worse than Kezman. Ratio: 0

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Steve Sidwell (2007-08)

Another non-striker in the shirt and again, worn for just one season. Sidwell arrived on a free from Reading and then joined Aston Villa, scoring once in 25 games. Ratio: 0.04

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Franco di Santo (2008-09)

A striker, but never a first-choice player. Still a teenager when he signed, he had scored 13 in 55 for Chilean side Audax Italiano. Originally given 36 in the 2008 pre-season, he was subsequently assigned 9. Mainly used as a sub in his 16 Chelsea appearances, failing to find the net. Joined Blackburn on loan for 2009-10 and then inked a permanent move to Wigan. Ratio: 0

Torres

Fernando Torres (2011-14)

Chelsea didn’t allocate a number 9 at the start of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 seasons, allowing Torres to take it when he joined for £50m in January 2011. While he brought Gary Neville much joy in the Camp Nou, he couldn’t rediscover the form which made him such a hot property at Wigan. Having joined Milan on loan for the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to add to his Chelsea tally of 45 goals in 172 matches. Ratio: 0.26

So, in the 11 years since Abramovich bought the club, Chelsea number 9’s have scored 83 goals in 352 matches, an average of 0.24 goals a game. They’ve still won a few trophies in that time, mind.

 

  • Dimitar Berbatov is the last 9 to win the Golden Boot, doing so in 2010-11.