Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Before the Advent of Squad Numbers

Many of you know that in the old days, football teams didn't use the squad numbering system that is in use now. For those of us that did know, bear with me on this.

In the old days (probably around pre-1993), football clubs would name a starting eleven, then assign the numbers 1-11 to those eleven players. Then the substitutes would get assigned the numbers 12-16. As an example, this was Milan's staring eleven on Wednesday, March 7 2007 against Glasgow Celtic in the Champions League:

1 Dida

25 Daniele Bonera

3 Paolo Maldini

44 Massimo Oddo

23 Massimo Ambrosini

8 Gennaro Gattuso

22 Kaka

18 Marek Jankulovski

21 Andrea Pirlo

10 Clarence Seedorf

9 Filippo Inzaghi

Milan's lineup would have looked something like this in the old days:

1 Dida

2 Daniele Bonera

3 Paolo Maldini

4 Massimo Oddo

5 Massimo Ambrosini

8 Gennaro Gattuso

10 Kaka

6 Marek Jankulovski

7 Andrea Pirlo

11 Clarence Seedorf

9 Filippo Inzaghi

Certain star players would always remain the same number, but other less established players would get assigned different numbers throughout the season. Generally, the goalkeeper would be number 1, the defenders would get 2 through 5, midfielders 6, 8, & 10, and attackers 7, 9, & 11.

The beginning of the end of the "1 through 11" system was the World Cup and other international competitions, where players were assigned a number for the whole "finals" tournament. Finally sometime in the 90's all the leagues switched to the fixed squad number system. While I have no major problem with the current system, I kind of miss the old days of looking in the match summary and seeing which players got what numbers. For Milan I remember seeing Van Basten mostly wear 9 but he also came off the bench wearing 16. I also don't like how some players are choosing to stand out by wearing high numbers. Case in point Ronaldo with Milan, and Francesco Coco(No pictures available, but he wears #77 or 76). Those numbers just don't look right on a soccer jersey. Keep the shirt numbers low, fellas. Also, clubs are starting to retire numbers, leaving less and less single digits and low numbers available. I think that is ridiculous. We never used to retire numbers in football, why are we starting now? What, are going to start going back and retiring numbers retroactively? Should Santos now retire Pele's 10, or Real Di Stefano's 9? No disrespect to Gianluca Pessotto, whose number 7 was retired by Juventus. But if he deserves that, then there is a list a mile long of players that deserve the same honor. If we don't get this situation under control, we will no longer have any good numbers left. Even stranger is this development of defenders getting numbers usually reserved for attacking players. Like Gallas wearing number 10 at Arsenal and Boulahrouz wearing 9 at Chelsea.

I like seeing who will be Brazil or Argentina's new number 10. So let's keep the squad numbering system because it is pretty useful, but let's do away with this number retiring business. If only it where that easy.

For more information on this topic, check out this page.

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