By Jim Hearson
Being an international manager is a thankless task. You’re inundated with criticism from the press and fans, you have to deal with inter-club rivalries and, most importantly as far as I’m concerned, you need to decide who wears what number when you qualify for a tournament.
Now, 1-11 is the dream for many of us, but I think we all have to accept that it’s a squad game these days and just using the lowest numbers does somewhat telegraph your line-up to your opponents. With that in mind, the gaffers would be wise to embrace players using number 12 and above to mix things up a bit – and for Euro 2020/2021, they’re going to have 24, 25 and 26 to play with, after Uefa announced that squads would be expanded to better cope with player workloads.
For those international teams that generally keep the same numbers in all their matches, it may not make too much of a difference, but for the diminishing number of sides that generally start with a blank sheet of paper before each match or international break, it gives gaffers more options – and potentially more problems.
There are some household names that could end up with their club numbers this summer – Reece James (England) and Thomas Meunier (Belgium) could sport their usual 24, Mathias Jørgensen (Denmark), Adrien Rabiot (France) or the newly recalled Thomas Müller* (Germany) may seek the familiarity of 25, while there are a wealth of players who could retain their usual 26, including Dennis Praet (Belgium), Andy Robertson (Scotland), Dean Henderson (England) and Robert Sanchez (Spain).
(* Yes, he’s synonymous with 13 for Germany, but possession is nine-tenths of the law, and Lukas Klostermann may not want to give it up.)
It’ll be more suitable for some than others – Henderson and Sanchez are likely to be backup keepers, so 26 would be fine for them, but would Scotland’s captain want to wear a number outside the 1-11? I’d suggest not.
Similar is true for another couple of high-profile players – Simon Kjaer and Christian Eriksen of Denmark. They are the number 24s for their respective Milanese sides, but are captain and playmaker for their country, so you can’t see them stepping away from their usual 4 and 10.
While those players may not be clamouring to take advantage of the new options, they do highlight another potential issue – what would you do if you have more than one player who wears 24, 25 or 26? Sure, it’s a rehash of ‘which goalie wears 1?’ or ‘which striker wears 9?’, but it’s a bit different – until now, having the higher numbers hasn’t been an option for these players, yet now they are, and they STILL might not be able to wear them, should the manager go with the other guy.
It could be something that Roberto Mancini has to deal with for Italy – both Lorenzo Insigne and Alessandro Florenzi have worn 24 for much of their careers, so it must mean something to them. If they both come to him asking to wear it at the Euros, what’s his decision going to be? There are positives to be had, though. Should Sánchez not end up on the plane, Spain could have their keepers wearing 1, 13 and 25, as per La Liga rules. Sadly, we’re still a few short of allowing France to use their domestic 1, 16 and 30.
The new numbers also allow for some Zamarano-ing – that is, using basic maths to make a number fit. Got two number 10s? Tell one of them they’re wearing 2×5 (also, maybe mention Zola). A backup keeper should be happy enough with 2×12 or 2×13, while a reserve centre half (or midfielder) could make their peace with 2+4, just like a box-to-box midfielder could with 2×4.
In all, there are about 50 players who have featured in recent squads that wear 24, 25 or 26 domestically, so it’s possible to put together a decent starting XI. The only rule is, you can’t pick two players from the same country that would wear the same number, i.e. it’s Kjaer OR Eriksen, Insigne OR Florenzi. Here’s my attempt – the full list (as per Wiki) is below, if you want to give it a go yourself.
24: Reece James (ENG, Chelsea), Šime Vrsaljko (CRO, Atlético Madrid), Domagoj Vida (CRO, Beşiktaş), Lorenzo Insigne (ITA, Napoli), Alessandro Florenzi (ITA, Paris Saint-Germain, on loan from Roma), Simon Kjaer (DEN, Milan), Christian Eriksen (DEN, Internazionale), Onni Valakari (FIN, Pafos), Fredrik Jensen (FIN, Augsburg), Thomas Meunier (BEL, Borussia Dortmund), Quincy Promes (NED, Spartak Moscow), Oleksandr Tymchyk (UKR, Dynamo Kyiv), Xaver Schlager (AUT, Wolfsburg), Dushko Trajchevski (MAC, Doxa Katokopias), Lawrence Shankland (SCO, Dundee United), Aleš Mandous (CZE, Sigma Olomouc), Jan Juroška (CZE, Banik Ostrava), Pedro Porro (ESP, Sporting CP, on loan from Manchester City), José Campaña (ESP, Levante), Bartosz Bereszyński (POL, Sampdoria), Martin Valjent (SVK, Mallorca), Tamás Cseri (HUN, Mezőkövesdi), Ádám Gyurcsó (HUN, OsijekCorentin Tolisso (FRA, Bayern Munich)
25: Denis Vavro (SVK, Huesca, on loan from Lazio), Ahmed Kutucu (TUR, Heracles, on loan from Schalke), Domenico Berardi (ITA, Sassuolo), Mathias Jørgensen (DEN, Copenhagen, on loan from Fenerbahçe), Illya Zabarnyi (UKR, Dynamo Kyiv), Yevhenii Makarenko (UKR, Kortrijk on loan from Anderlecht), Bryan Gil (ESP, Eibar, on loan from Sevilla), Paweł Bochniewicz (POL, Heerenveen), Lukáš Pauschek (SVK, Slovan Bratislava), Jakub Hromada (SVK, Slavia Prague), Adrien Rabiot (FRA, Paris Saint-Germain), Thomas Müller (GER, Bayern Munich)
26: Robert Sánchez (ESP, Brighton & Hove Albion), Dennis Praet (BEL, Leicester City), Andy Robertson (SCO, Liverpool), Scott McKenna (SCO, Nottingham Forest), Dean Henderson (ENG, Manchester United), Dorukham Tokoz (TUR, Beşiktaş), Yukhym Konoplya (UKR, Desna Chernihiv, on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk), Daniel Bachmann (AUT, Watford), Reinhold Ranftl (AUT, LASK), Vlatko Stojanovski (MAC, Chambly, on loan from Nîmes), Toma Bašić (CRO, Bordeaux), Tomáš Malínský (CZE, Slavia Prague), Ivan Schranz (SVK, Jablonec), Ruben Aguilar (FRA, Monaco)