8 of the Worst Crimes Against Traditional Squad Numbers in Football History

Long gone are the days when football clubs numbered their starting lineup from one to eleven. Now, players have the power to select their own squad numbers when they join a club.

Most are sensible and are given numbers appropriate to that player’s position. Number one is still given to goalkeepers, and forwards still often desire numbers like nine or ten. 

But sometimes those numbers are not available for selection and some bizarre decisions are made. Some players get creative with their selections, others get ludicrous. Some of these kit numbers are frankly criminal to those who prefer a more traditional numbering system. 

Here are eight of the biggest crimes against kit numbers in football… 

8. Ronaldinho, AC Milan: Number 80

When Brazilian midfield maestro Ronaldinho signed for Milan in 2008, he had an issue. His preferred number of choice, the number 10, was already worn by Clarence Seedorf. 

Instead of insisting on taking Seedorf’s number, Ronaldinho chose number 80 – the year of his birth. 

In doing so, Ronaldinho started a trend in Milan of players wearing their birth year as a kit number. Mathieu Flamini chose 84, and Andriy Shevchenko was 76. 

7. William Gallas, Arsenal: Number 10

There is something about a defender wearing a traditionally attacking player’s kit number which just feels wrong. It felt especially wrong for centre-back William Gallas to take the number at Arsenal, considering who wore it before him.

Dennis Bergkamp, one of the greatest players to ever play for Arsenal, was the number 10 before he retired in 2006. His iconic shirt number was given to a defender. 

Manager Arsene Wenger defended the decision by saying he did not want to give an attacking player the pressure of Bergkamp’s number. But still, William Gallas?

6. Nicklas Bendtner, Wolfsburg: Number 3

Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner is guilty of two crimes against kit numbers in his career.

The first came at Arsenal when just before the 2009/2010 season, he quickly changed his number from 26 to 52 because it was a lucky number for him. He apologised to fans who had bought his jersey with the number 26 and said he would personally reimburse them.

But the second came in 2014 when he moved to Wolfsburg. Despite being a forward, he picked the number three shirt which is traditionally worn by defenders. However he didn’t do because number three was a significant number for him, apparently he let his mum pick it for him! 

5. Clint Dempsey, Tottenham: Number 2

During his time at Fulham, American Clint Dempsey was number 23. But when he got his big move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2012, he opted for a change. This time he chose the number two shirt for Spurs.

Typically a defender’s number, it was unusual to see it on the back of a forward’s shirt. Outside of football, Dempsey’s other passion hip hop music, where his rapper nickname is ‘Deuce’. At Spurs he was finally ‘Deuce’ both off and on the pitch.

4. Bixente Lizarazu, Bayern Munich: Number 69

When French left-back Bixente Lizarazu returned to Bayern Munich in 2005 he had a choice. Does he pick a shirt number traditionally fitting of a left-back? Or something completely absurd? 

He opted for the latter and selected number, ahem, 69. 

His reasoning? It was because he was born in 1969, his height was 1.69m and he weighed 69kg. It was definitely not for the other reason you are thinking of.

3. Hicham Zerouali, Aberdeen: Number 0

Hicham Zerouali is guilty of a kit crime so bizarre that the Scottish and English Premier Leagues passed a law to stop from happening ever again. 

The Moroccan striker had the nickname Zero, which comes from his surname. Naturally, he picked his shirt number as zero when he joined Aberdeen in 1999. 

The number was outlawed the following season.

2. Edgar Davids, Barnet: Number 1

In 2012, ageing Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids joined League Two side Barnet. He was placed in a player-manager role alongside Mark Robson. 

When Robson left the club in December 2012, Davids was placed solely in charge of the team and seemingly left to do what he wanted. The following season he announced he would wear the number one shirt.

He said he wanted to start a trend of midfielders wearing the number traditionally worn by goalkeepers. It did not catch on.

1. Ivan Zamorano, Inter Milan: Number 1+8

Ivan Zamorano represents a player truly dedicated to his kit number. The Chilean was Inter Milan’s number nine, until the arrival of Roberto Baggio from Bologna in 1998. 

Baggio insisted on wearing the number 10 shirt, but the Brazilian Ronaldo already wore that number. Chaos ensued. Baggio was granted number 10, and Ronaldo was given Zamorano’s number 9.

But Zamorano had a clever solution. In order to remain Inter’s number nine, he chose number 18 but put a ‘plus’ sign between the two numbers. Genius, but also utterly ridiculous. 

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