By Ed Stopps
There are some numbers synonymous with certain individuals – Cristiano Ronaldo and 7, Dennis Bergkamp wearing 10 and of course there are plenty of legendary number 9s.
With the advent of higher squad numbers being introduced and frequenting the pitch far more often in recent years, we look at those players that either stick to what they know or hark back to the comfort and familiarity of a former number, when moving to a new club.
Declan Rice, who moved to Arsenal and kept the 41 he wore on his back since his rise from the academy at West Ham, is perhaps the highest profile of current times.
However, Dan Burn is the perfect example of a current Premier League player who is clearly deeply attached to his number – the number 33 shirt he has worn since his days at Fulham, going on to wear it at Wigan Athletic, Brighton and now his beloved Newcastle.
With Burn’s position on the pitch often being left back, the 33 sits quite well with me. Although arguably too high for the first team regular that he clearly is, it’s certainly not unique for a left-back to take the number; thinking of Ben Davies at Spurs (also wearing 33 whilst at Swansea) and Emerson Palmeri currently at West Ham United, having worn 33 at Chelsea and Roma previously.
Others have stuck with numbers throughout their career. Mario Balotelli famously wore 45 for Inter, Manchester City, Milan and Liverpool before flirting with the classic number 9 at OGC Nice – this was forced upon him due to a since-abolished Ligue 1 rule stipulating no numbers over 40 at the time.
I can understand it – the 45 was assigned as he was coming through at Inter (although his first number was 53), four plus five equals nine (using the old Zamorano 1+8 formula) but he’s currently wearing 99 at Adana Demirspor, having previously worn 45 and 9 for them across two spells, so who knows what Mario will do next!
One from the Premier League archive is Martin Škrtel. A player who had spent several years at Zenit St Petersburg wearing number 3, as well as donning that number at international level for Slovakia, then joins Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool and takes the number 37.
It was a number he would keep for the remainder of his time with the Reds and go on to wear for Fenerbahce, Atalanta, Basaksehir and Spartak Trnava before retiring at age…37! Perhaps Martin knew all along?
One player heavily influenced by Škrtel is fellow Slovakian and current Paris Saint-Germain centre-back Milan Škriniar. Having said in previous interviews that Skrtel is one of his idols, he has gone on to wear the 37 shirt for Sampdoria, Inter and PSG.
Looking further up the pitch, at the case of Gary Hooper. When he joined Celtic, he donned the number 88 – some say to symbolise the year the club was formed (1888) and Hooper drew plaudits for wanting to honour the Bhoys’ history.
Yet 88 also represents the year he was born (1988) and is a number he has gone on to wear for Wellington Phoenix, Kerala Blasters and Omonia Nicosia.
Since Hooper 88 has also been worn at Celtic by Eboue Kouassi and most recently Josip Juranović, so we’ll say Hooper’s birth year was a happy coincidence!