By Tom Dean
Paul Gascoigne in the number 8, Marco van Basten in the number 12, Fernando Torres in the number 9 – there are some players that just magically appear at the forefront of your mind when you think about the European Championships.
It’s the big moments which help to build the picture of the player in your imagination. Gazza’s celebration against Scotland, van Basten’s perfect volley, Torres and his golden locks dinking past an onrushing Jens Lehmann to win Spain their first major trophy since 1964.
Back at Euro 2016, it was Portugal’s Eder who stole the show by firing home the winner against France in extra-time before wheeling away in celebration with the iconic number 9 emblazoned on his chest. A moment to remember.
But before memories are created, the wheels are set in motion by team selections, squad announcements and the numbers allocated to their players by each nation.
With most nations there’s a natural order of selection when it comes to numbers. Cristiano Ronaldo will always get his number 7, Luka Modrić will get his number 10, Sergio Ramos will get…oh wait, and so on. But each tournament brings a few surprises with it too – so here’s a look at some of the most interesting squad number selections ahead of Euro 2020.
Thomas Müller (Germany)
A return to the international fold is richly deserved after a sublime season with Bayern Munich in which he collected his tenth Bundesliga title.
The 31-year-old had not featured for Joachim Löw’s Germany since 2018 and when he did, he naturally wore the number 13 shirt he’d previously donned for 99 of his 100 caps – he wore 25 on his debut, a friendly against Argentina in 2010.
So it came as quite a shock to see him revealed as wearing the number 25 – the number he’s worn for his entire club career – with Jonas Hofmann collecting the pre-loved number 13.
Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the increased squad sizes at the tournament this year taking the highest available number from 23 to 26. I had always assumed that his selection had been an ode to his namesake, the great Gerd Müller, but it would appear that the modern iteration has his eyes firmly set on his own legacy rather than paying homage to those who’ve come before him.
Jack Grealish (England)
The England midfielder has been relentlessly talked about in the build up to the tournament and there won’t be a single fan in the country that would argue he shouldn’t have been included in Gareth Southgate’s final squad.
But the decision to give him the number 7 is one that simply doesn’t make sense. From a positional point of view, he’s made his home on the left side of the pitch so it wasn’t something that was decided based on where he plays.
If it’s a statement of intent, as the number 10 is often used, to say, “This is our main main – our best player,” then why not give him the number 10 shirt he wears for Aston Villa? Instead, Raheem Sterling will be wearing the number 10 as opposed to the number 7 he wears for Manchester City. Would it not have made more sense to simply swap the two around?
Aligning club and international numbers is clearly something that has been taken into consideration with all three Chelsea players assigned their club numbers (Mason Mount – 19, Ben Chilwell – 21, Reece James – 24) – so why overlook that in this case? Weird.
Perhaps the most telling aspect is that when asked about it Grealish said: “It’s one of my favourite numbers”. No prizes for guessing which other number falls into that category…
Karim Benzema (France)
Another superstar returning from international exile is France’s Karim Benzema, who has been recalled by Dider Deschamps after more than six years out in the cold.
Les Bleus might be world champions but an out-and-out striker that can be relied on for goals could help them solidify their position and the best team in Europe, and indeed the world.
Some might argue that they already have that in Olivier Giroud, who is now just seven goals behind Thierry Henry as the record goalscorer, but limited football at Chelsea and a fruitless 2018 World Cup, despite playing every game, hasn’t helped his case.
Giroud will retain his number 9 shirt however and with a certain Kylian Mbappé having claimed Benzema’s old favourite number 10, there weren’t a great deal of options for the Real Madrid man.
So he’s plumped for number 19, one his previous numbers at former club Olympique Lyon. Number 11 might have been a good option instead, having worn that in his first season with Los Blancos but Ousmane Dembélé has got his hands on that – so 19 will have to do.
Alessandro Florenzi (Italy)
Another player to benefit from the additional numbers on offer at Euro 2020, the right-back will get to wear the number 24 which he occupied at AS Roma for seven seasons before adopting it again last season while on loan at Paris Saint-Germain.
Sebastian Larsson (Sweden)
It will come as no surprise at all to see the veteran strutting his stuff wearing the number 7 but he gets a mention for the sheer dominance of the shirt. The 36-year-old is well past his best, but where other national teams might look to incentivise the next generation, Sweden have stood by their man as he enters his fourth major tournament in the shirt.
Kai Havertz (Germany)
Unlike Sweden, Germany have opted for a new number 7 in the form of Champions League hero Kai Havertz. The £80million Chelsea man has stayed true to the number 29 on the club front but has bounced around the numbers for Germany – perhaps this could be his chance to cement himself as the next Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Ferran Torres (Spain)
Another impressive talent to land on British shores last summer and another player yet to fully embed himself within the number system of his national team. After an impressive debut season with Manchester City, the 21-year-old has done enough to earn himself a starting number and could take a claim for the number 11 long-term if things go well.
Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Spain’s captain and most-capped player of all time, Sergio Ramos will not be wearing his customary number 15 this summer after being snubbed by La Roja boss Luis Enrqiue.
Having dedicated himself to the number in memory of his former teammate Antonio Puerta, it will be the first major tournament without the defender since Euro 2004. Although it would appear the shirt remains too big to fill as it remains vacant for the tournament.