Frank Lampard has left Chelsea and the players wearing 1-11 for them next season are likely to be totally different to those who had them last season.
That statement is true at the time of writing – June 2023 – when it’s possible that Chelsea’s number 6 at the start of 2023-24, Thiago Silva, will be the only one still in situ from a year previously. It may not be that drastic, but the impending departure of Mateo Kovačić to Manchester City will add number 8 to 2, 3, 4, 5 and 11 in not having the same owner since the summer of 2022.
Curiously, the opening paragraph could also be applied to the summer of 2014, when Lampard’s time as a player at Stamford Bridge came to an end. Of the players wearing 1-11 numbers in 2013-14 compared with the following campaign, only four were the same and one of those was out on a loan deal that would end up being made permanent.
During 2013-14, Michael Essien had joined Milan with Juan Mata leaving for Manchester United, freeing up numbers 5 and 10 respectively. The summer switches of Ashley Cole to Roma and David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain meant that 3 and 4 were up for grabs, too. And, while Oriol Romeu was still technically a Chelsea player, he hadn’t featured since 2012-13, spending 2013-14 with Valencia while he was set for a loan move to Stuttgart for 2014-15, meaning that the number 6 was idle, to all intents and purposes.
Let’s take the various moves in terms of how straightforward they were. First off, number 1 Petr Čech (about to be deposed as first-choice by Thibaut Courtois), 2 Branislav Ivanović, 7 Ramires and 9 Fernando Torres remained unchanged – though Torres joined Milan on loan at the end of August and that move would become ‘permanent’ in January 2015 (essentially some financial footwork that saw the striker immediately join his boyhood club Atlético Madrid on loan for the duration of his Milan contract).
Young centre-back Nathan Aké had been number 27 in 2013-14 and he took the chance to claim 6.
While Chelsea manager José Mourinho would publicly question Eden Hazard’s ability to play the number 10 role for him to same degree that Deco or Wesley Sneijder did, he didn’t stop the Belgian from switching to the 10 shirt from 17. Not that he was bothered either way:
With Cesc Fábregas’s return to Barcelona from Arsenal in 2011 not having worked out as well as he would have liked, he was on the market and Mourinho moved to sign him.
Luiz’s exit meant the Spanish midfielder could wear his favoured number 4. After that, things begin to get a little bit more complicated.
On July 18, 2014, Chelsea signed Brazilian left-back Filipe Luis from Atlético. In Madrid, he had switched from number 6 (the traditional left-back’s number in Brazil) to 3, while he had also worn 3 for Deportivo La Coruña prior to that. With Cole gone, the new signing taking 3 might have seemed obvious but instead it was announced that he would wear 5.
Apparently, this was in honour of his hero, defensive midfielder Mauro Silva, who wore 5 as Brazil won the World Cup in 1994. A knock-on effect of this was teenage centre-back Kurt Zouma – signed from Saint-Étienne in January but allowed to stay on loan in his native France until the summer – was announced as 3. A week later, though, Chelsea announced that the players would swap and wear more position-appropriate (for England, anyway) numbers.
And yet that wasn’t the only bit of musical chairs. A week after that swap, a Chelsea hero returned as Didier Drogba, who had left in the best way possible after scoring the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, re-signed after a two-year stint that saw him play for Shanghai Shenhua and Galatasaray.
With Drogba’s old number 11 now in the possession of Oscar, the Ivorian striker was given the number 15 shirt that he had worn in the first two seasons of his initial spell – displacing young Egyptian attacker Mohamed Salah, who was bumped to Hazard’s old number 17.
Behind the scenes, though, there were moves afoot to reunite Drogba with 11 and the solution was that Oscar would move to number 8, still free in Lampard’s absence.
Those two shuffles were announced on the eve of the season – though poor Salah would still be left with 17. Thankfully for him, he would benefit from good karma when he joined Liverpool from Roma in 2017 as Roberto Firmino moved to number 9 so that Salah could take his favourite number – 11, of course.
While Drogba would go on to make 28 Premier League appearances in his final season with Chelsea as they won the league, just eight of those were starts as another new signing – Diego Costa, wearing the number 19 – became Mourinho’s first choice centre-forward.
With first-choice defenders Gary Cahill, captain John Terry and César Azpilicueta all having numbers in the 20s – and Courtois unseating Čech – the high level of volatility in the 1-11 sector was ultimately of little import in terms of ‘tidying up’ Chelsea’s numbers.
However, given that they ended the season as champions of England for the fifth time, they probably didn’t mind too much.