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The History of Numbers: Brazil

The History of Numbers: Brazil

A break from Premier League 1-11s as we return to another series, charting the way numbering systems came to be common in various parts of the world.

Having already looked at the British, Argentinean and Eastern European styles, we now return to South America and Brazil.

Similar to their albiceleste neighbours, Brazil generally have 2, 3, 4 and 6 in defence, but in a different format. Basically, they did the opposite to Argentina when dropping a player back as the 2-3-5 formation evolved into the W-M, withdrawing 6 rather than 4:


Then, as they invented what would become known as the 4-2-4, number 4 became a centre-back alongside 3 with 5 remaining in midfield, as would become the practice all over the continent.


Then, again mirroring what Argentina did, 11 remained as the second striker with 9 while 7 dropped back, giving us what is today known as the 4-2-2-2. Incidentally, over time 3 and 4 have become interchangeable – for example at the World Cup in 2014 Lucio was the right-sided centre-back wearing 3 with David Luiz carrying 4 on the left.


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  1. Avatar
    Alex Howells
    July 6, 2015 at 18:14 — Reply

    Although Brazil’s current numbering system is as you have explained they have used various systems since numbers were introduced at the 1950 World Cup. In 1950 the nominal left half Bigode No 6 did operate as left back and was roasted all game by Uruguay right winger Ghiggia. However four years later in 1954 right back Djalma Santos was No 2 and left back Nilton Santos was No 3. The centre back Pinheiro was No 5 as in the English system. Two years later at Wembley Djalma Santos was No 4, centre back Pavao was number 2 and Nilton Santos was again No 3.(this is highlighted in England Football Online website). Forward to 1958 and Djalma Santos was still No 4 and captain and centre back Bellini was No 2 even though many of squad numbering appeared to be random. In 1962 they had yet another new system back four numbered 2,3,5,6. with the defensive midfielder Zito No 4. By 1970 they adopted the Uruguay system with right back Carlos Alberto No 4 and the centre backs numbered 2 and 3.

    It seems as if they were unsure what system they wanted to use before finally ending up with the current system.

  2. denishurley
    December 8, 2014 at 10:29 — Reply

    Hi Jay,

    The system appears as we represented it, it’s not fully scientific but rather showing how the formation ‘slid’ rather than there being a rigid re-tooling. If we were being really strict about it, the number 6 in the present-day line-up should probably be slightly further forward.

    Re Bebeto, we *think* this may have had something to do with Careca losing his place in 1993. He generally, if not always, wore 9 but Zinho, a midfielder, had it in the 1994 World Cup. Our theory is that Bebeto was part of the middle ‘2’ and then advanced to partner Romario but kept 7.

    • Avatar
      Túlio Fernandes
      November 26, 2016 at 19:36 — Reply

      Here in Brazil when the wingers (7 in the right and 11 in the left) disappeared in the 80’s we moved to the 4-2-2-2. The defensive line remais 2-4-3-6, the defensive midfielders 5-8. This deserve an explanation too. The number 5 could be the left defensive midfielder when they’re playing side by side or he could be the most defensively midfielder with the 8 playing as a center midfielder with a centain liberty to join the attack. Jumping to the attack, 9 is the stricker and his partner who plays like a second forward. This SF could be 7 if he play in the right or 11 if he play in the left. Back to the midfield, the 10 is the classic attacking midfielder and now in the 4-2-2-2 he can play in the left or right side, in fact that depends of his partner plays for the left (11) or the right (7). In WC 94 the anomaly was Romário. In the beginning of his career he play as a left winger (11) because of his was not very tall (1m68cm), but he becomes a star in Vasco da Gama and Barcelona as striker. He changed his position but kept the number. 1~11 Brazil 94: 1Taffarel – 2Jorginho/3Rocha/4Ronaldo/6Leonardo – 8Dunga/5Silva – 10Raí/11but9Zinho – 7Bebeto/9but11Romário.

      Sorry for the bad English :/

  3. Avatar
    December 6, 2014 at 11:59 — Reply

    The last image shows the formation as being lopsided, with something resembling a right-winger, a central number 10, and the number 11 (centre-)forward apparently – and fittingly – drifting to the left. Is that a deliberate representation? Is there potential for further reading on this in Inverting the Pyramid?

    Also, was Bebeto’s choice of shirt number simply an anomaly?

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The History of Numbers: Brazil