Last year, we looked at how Italy’s block numbering system at major tournaments meant that the famous Milan defence of Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini looked different in blue compared to red and black.
Of that quartet, Costacurta – who turns 57 today – would experience something of a meandering route after the introduction of squad numbers in Serie A in 1995.
In the 1994-95 season, ‘Billy’ generally wore his favoured number 5 but also appeared in 2, 3 and 6 (one game each) – on those occasions, the 5 was worn by Filippo Galli, presumably due to his seniority, even though he was no longer a first-choice player.
When Milan published their new squad numbers for 1995-96, there were a few surprises as Marco Simone – almost always number 11 – opted for 23, while Zvonimir Boban, another first-choice in 1994-95 – wearing 4, 7, 10 and most often 9 – was number 20. That the number 9 was now on the back of new signing George Weah made that understandable but, with Galli wearing 5, Costacurta had number 29.
Things got stranger the following season. Galli moved on to Reggiana and 5 was free but when Costacurta switched numbers it was to 11, which had been worn by Roberto Donadoni. Costacurta did finally move to 5 for 97-98.
We asked our Italian friend Matteo of Jersey Vice if he knew the rationale for the odd number choices of the defender:
I distinctly remember an interview where they asked Costacurta the reason for his unusual choice for the jersey number, just like you ask me. He simply replied that he wanted to try ‘different’ numbers. Once he took off the whim, he went back to classic 5. But I don’t know where to go to look for the interview, I don’t even remember if I read it in a newspaper or seen it on TV. You have to trust my memory.
Another theory comes from a reader of the site known as Jimakos – he points out that Costacurta was 29 at the beginning of the 1995-96 season, while 1996-97 was his 11th with Milan.
Incidentally, in 1997-98, Donadoni returned to Milan following a stint with New York-New Jersey Metrostars. He initially took number 32 but Marcel Desailly’s departure in 1998 allowed the winger to move to number 8. New signing Maurizio Ganz inherited number 11, meaning that three of the Milan 1-11 had worn number 11 in the squad numbers era, which was barely three years old at that stage.
Costacurta kept the number 5 until the end of 2001-02, when he announced he would leave the club, but only for a short time as defensive shortage prompted Milan to re-hire him. In the interim, though, Fernando Redondo had taken advantage of 5 lying vacant. When the Argentinian midfielder signed from Real Madrid in 2000, he wore 16 and then, having missed most of his first season, he moved to 30.
While he wore 6 for Real Madrid, he always carried 5 for Argentina and took it for Milan too for 2002-03, leaving Costacurta to have to be content with 19 when he returned. Often operating at right-back, he played a key role as the club won the Champions League for a sixth time.
Injury dogged Redondo’s time with the club (he refused to accept a salary while out and tried to return the house and car which the club have given him) and he left at the end of 2003-04, allowing Costacurta to don 5 once more.
He would keep it until his retirement, as a European champion once more, at the end of 2006-07, scoring in his final game against Udinese aged 41 years and 25 days to become the oldest goalscorer in Serie A history. It was only his third goal in the domestic top flight.