Today is August 17 or 17-8 – it could be said to represent the squad number change of Atlético Madrid midfielder Saúl Ñíguez this summer.
It’s the second time Saúl has made such a change, having also done so in 2016. He wore 8 until his loan move to Chelsea in 2021 – he also wore 17 at Stamford Bridge – but on his return last season, 8 had been taken by Antoine Griezmann and so he reverted to 17 for Los Colchoneros.
The number 8 was a second choice for Griezmann, who had had 7 in his first spell with Atlético but, when he returned to the club following a stint with Barcelona, his favoured digit was now held by João Félix. With the Portuguese attacker falling out of favour, he spent the second half of last season with Chelsea and so Griezmann has claimed 7 again for 2023-24.
The triangle was completed ever so briefly when, after a time without a number, João Félix was allocated 17. However, it was indicative of how low his stock had fallen with coach Diego Simeone that he was bumped to 18 when left-back Javi Galán was signed from Celta Vigo and given 17.
The episode reminds us of something similar with Tottenham Hotspur in 2012, which was also short-lived.
While Gareth Bale had moved from number 16 to 3 in 2008, he began to morph from an average left-back into a top-quality winger and so another switch was required. While he had donned the number 9 in some pre-season friendlies ahead of 2012-13 (and would do so again in 2020-21, after returning to Tottenham on loan from Real Madrid), a better solution was found.
The Wales international moved to number 11, which had been held by Rafael van der Vaart – the Dutchman shifted to 10, replicating the switch made by his compatriot Robin van Persie at Arsenal in 2010.
In 2011-12, 10 had been worn by Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City, but when that move was made permanent just after the start of the season, the Togolese striker was assigned 25, which he had previously worn for Arsenal and City.
At Tottenham the number 25 had belonged to left-back Danny Rose – who took the 3 vacated by Bale.
As with Atlético Madrid in 2023, the tidy swap-around was just fleeting.
Having played in the opening two matches of the season, van der Vaart left Tottenham, rejoining one of his former clubs, Hamburg (where he was reunited with the number 23 he had previously had with the Rothosen, Real Madrid and the Netherlands national team.
Van der Vaart’s last match was at home to West Bromwich Albion, in which he was substituted for Adebayor. It proved to be the only time the striker wore 25 for Tottenham as, with 10 free again, he was able to move back to what he had had in 2011-12.