As this blog will (hopefully) have a long lifespan, with admirers waiting eagerly for updates, it’s important at this early stage to lay out what we like and don’t like, starting with the latter but going beyond the blatant stuff like a striker wearing 5 or a first-team regular having number 44. It should be pointed out that this is almost certainly an inexhaustive list, and other irrational hatreds will make themselves known as time goes on.
1. Having two or more of the numbers 4, 5 and 6 worn by midfielders is wrong
When looking at a teamsheet, we like to work out who’d be wearing what if the team were wearing 1-11. A lot of the time, it’s easy to process this, but take Barcelona’s squad this season – new signing Ivan Rakitić is 4, Sergio Busquets has taken 5 and Xavi is still 6. If Barça were, for some reason, forced to forgo squad numbers and all three of those were in the team, then two of 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 would have to be in a four-man defence.
2. A two-man strikeforce should never be allowed to wear 10 and 11
Number 9 in midfield is actually a guilty pleasure of ours, once it’s not worn a defensive midfielder – Paul Ince at Middlesbrough, we haven’t forgotten you and your crimes. If 9 is a midfielder, though, then the two strikers must be 8 and 10 (for example, Michael Laudrup in the hole at Barcelona behind Hristo Stoichkov and Romario). What is a complete no-no is 10 and 11 playing up front together, with extra marks deducted if 9 is the left-midfielder (we did say these were irrational).
This affliction likely comes from a complete phobia of having a team numbered in order from left to right, defence 2-5, midfield 6-9 and strikers 10 and 11 – something our manager at U13 level persisted with. Dennis Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord’s rarely-effective partnership probably contributes too (mainly due to Wiltord, it must be said).
3. Captains wearing numbers higher than 11
This stems from a hope that clubs would still number players in a method some way related to having the best players in the lowest numbers, and the players keen to wear numbers in the first 11. We accept that it is a forlorn one by this stage, but nevertheless seeing a captain in a high number still jars. That the most visible exponent of this is John Terry is probably not a coincidence.
4. Players switching from a 1-11 number to a higher one
A young player being given a number in the teens having worn 34 in his debut season is a clear sign that he will feature more in the coming campaign. It’s a sign of progress, so therefore a player’s number going in the opposite direction – without being expressly put on the transfer list – can surely only be taken to be the opposite? He mightn’t be a first-teamer anymore, but at least afford him the dignity of allowing him to keep his number rather than making clear to everyone that you’re helping his career down the tubes. At Middlesbrough, Gary O’Neil went from 4 to 16 to 18 (the latter completely needless), while Oldham’s Genseric Kusunga can’t have been too happy to see his number 5 swapped for 21. Apparently, Alvaro Albeloa chose of his own accord to change from 2 to 17 while at Liverpool, while Joe Hart’s move from 1 to 25 at Man City (when Shay Given took 1) was eventually reversed.
One exception that we’ll allow is Abou Diaby changing from 2 to 24, as 2 was a mental number for a central midfielder. It says much about his injury record that a lot of people thought that his move took place this summer when he actually switched at the start of the 2013-14 season.