In this week’s Two Points Lost, Lucas Howe delves into the trivial, yet frustrating, bane of his footballing life: inappropriate squad numbers.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to football. I like my wingers hugging the touchline and tearing fullbacks to shreds. I like my players to tuck their shirts in, to play with pride and to put their bodies on the line for their club. I like players to be loyal to their clubs through it all. I like them to have appropriate squad numbers…
Very little seems to grind my gears more than seeing a centre-back given the number 10 shirt (a la Gallas in his Arsenal days) or a centre-forward given the squad number most associated with centre-backs: number 5 (Milan Baros at Liverpool, anyone?). The blessed number 10 jersey should be saved for the playmaker, or the smaller, more agile striker. It should certainly not be given to a sulky Frenchman who sits in the middle of defence, yelping orders to the rest of his team. The number 5 squad number should certainly not be given to a striker (I use the term loosely when discussing the Czech journeyman. Although maybe that’s why Baros was allocated that squad number… anyway I digress).
This gripe was recently reborn following Clint Dempsey’s recent arrival at Spurs. When he joined there were a few numbers he could have been allocated outside of the first XI – numbers that would completely reasonable for an attacking midfielder like him. Before Adebayor changed his squad number from 25 to 10, I was sure Dempsey would take that number – seems the perfect squad number for a player of his style. The numbers 9, 12, 14, 15 and 17 were all available for the American, but he wasn’t allocated any of these numbers – instead he was given the number made famous by George Cohen, Gary Neville, and at Tottenham Stephen Carr (spot the theme?). That’s right, he was given right-back number of choice: number 2.
Granted, it’s far more important to play for what’s on the front of the shirt rather than the back, but you’ll never see an attacking-midfielder become that “iconic number 2” in the same way that the Alan Shearer has become synonymous with the number 9 jersey (ideally in black and white stripes).
With the modern era of football being more about the player playing for himself, rather than the team or for the love of the sport, it’s apparently important for these egotistical players to create a “brand” or “image” for themselves. The move away from tradition in football was forever incoming. By moving away from tradition (or banality, if you want that spin on it) footballers can stand out – become more identifiable. More and more we are seeing players who have a particularly preferred number outside of the first XI. Former Tottenham trequartista Rafael van der Vaart prefers to wear the number 23 shirt; Chelsea captain fantastic John Terry likes his number 26 jersey; the number 32 shirt is a favourite of Man City maverick striker Carlos Tevez. These numbers may have some personal “luck” attached to them, or a kind of sentimentality, but the importance placed on playing for what’s on the back of the shirt is becoming increasingly (and in my opinion, wrongly) more real.
For me, the traditional footballer, the back-to-basics style players, are the far more endearing. They play with pride and for what is on the front of the shirt. The Scott Parkers, the Paul Scholes, the Michael Dawsons: shirts tucked in, bodies put on the line for the team, not feigning injury, just proper old-school footballers. They are playing for the sport and the team rather than the glory, fame or money. These players are becoming a dying breed. Again, I digress.
Bring back the classic one-to-eleven, I say. Though, in reality, it’s more likely player-power and the need for players to create and maintain their own brands will continue. That’ll certainly resolve one of the most frustrating, yet trivial, annoyances in football (for me, at least…)
Do any of you share this pet-peeve, anything similar? Feel free to comment below. Don’t forget to follow Lucas on twitter @lucas_howe