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Changing numbers mid-season

Note: We revisited this topic in 2016.

In Spain, as far as we can see, players are allowed to change numbers during the mid-season break. In 2004-05, Henrik Larsson switched from 17 to 7 when the previous incumbent, Javier Saviola, joined Monaco. A year later, Lionel Messi would swap his number 30 for 19, though of course his destiny as number 10 wasn’t too far away.

Messi had to continue to wear 30 in Europe that season, however, as UEFA’s rules are far stricter. So strict are they, in fact, that no number can be used more than once in the same season. This meant that when Andy Carroll joined Liverpool in 2011, he had to wear number 29 in the Europa League, despite the fact that he had inherited the number 9 from Fernando Torres domestically.

Back to mid-season changes, though – in the the Premier League handbook, section M4 states that:

While he remains with the Club a Player will retain his shirt number throughout the Season
for which it was allocated.

By and large, this has unsurprisingly been the case (we do have a fuzzy memory at the back of our heads though that Chris Sutton began 1996-97 wearing 16 for Blackburn before realising Alan Shearer had left and then changing to 9), but Aston Villa in 2010-11 are a massive exception.

No fewer than four players finished the season wearing different numbers than those with which they began it:

Player                                   Old Number       New Number

Moustapha Salifou               17                       37

Andreas Weimann                42                       26

Barry Bannan                        46                       25

Ciarán Clark                          47                       21

Why were they allowed to do so, and in such relatively high numbers, when the practice would seem to be outlawed, and why are there seemingly no other examples? Please get in touch if you know.

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17 Comments

  1. Andrew Rockall
    January 4, 2015 at 18:59 — Reply

    Players may switch numbers in the first few weeks of the season, the list is finalised when the club’s name their 25 man squad in September.

    In 2012/13 Rafael van der Vaart wore 10 for the first two games of the season, Emanuel Adeboyor wore 25 in those games. When vd Vaart was sold on 31/8/12 Adeboyor took the no. 10 shirt for the rest of the season and Hugo Lloris took the vacant 25 shirt.

  2. denishurley
    January 5, 2015 at 11:01 — Reply

    Good spot Andrew, and, as mentioned on Twitter, Erik Lamela wore 33 for one game in the 2013-14 PL before taking 11 when Gareth Bale left. He still of course had to wear 33 for Europe while Vlad Chirches had 12 in Europe and 6 in the league.

    Looking at Villa pics from 2010-11, the changes would seem to have taken place at the start of September too

  3. January 5, 2015 at 14:46 — Reply

    You are right, Though Bale and Huddlestone weren’t used by Tottenham in the Europa League campaign they had been assigned the 11 & 6 shirts respectively.

  4. January 7, 2015 at 19:44 — Reply

    Ibrahimovic wore 18 for his first six months at PSG, before getting the number 10 that had evaded him his whole career after Nene left in January 2013. He had to keep wearing 18 in the Champions League, of course.

  5. January 8, 2015 at 13:38 — Reply

    Paulo Futre was reistered for the 1996/97 season as no 16 for West Ham, in the build up to the first game of the season he refused to wear no.16 and insisted on wearing 10, this was already taken by John Moncur. Futre walked out.

    It is claimed, Futre offered him 2 weeks in his luxury villa to switch, which Moncur did and Futre made his debut 4 days later off the bench wearing no 10. In Harry Rednapp’s Autobiography, he claims Futre was willing to pay £100,000 to switch and compensate anyone who had “Futre 16” on their replica shirt

  6. sjdspurs
    March 23, 2015 at 17:25 — Reply

    When Pascal Chimbonda rejoined Spurs from Sunderland in January 2009, his old number 2 shirt had gone to Alan Hutton and so he took the 21 (vacated by Cesar Sanchez) – but due to that number already being registered in the UEFA Cup, he too had to choose an alternative – and, bizarrely, went for 97!

  7. denishurley
    September 3, 2015 at 20:00 — Reply

    That is very bizarre, is it the highest number allocated by an English club, I wonder?!

  8. September 28, 2016 at 08:55 — Reply

    Aston Villa has royal patronage does it not?

  9. Jesus' raised eyebrows
    September 28, 2016 at 15:12 — Reply

    I wonder if a player can have a squad number, get loaned out, and then take a vacant number when he comes back?

  10. denishurley
    September 28, 2016 at 15:17 — Reply

    Technically, I reckon it must be possible as players like Francis Jeffers at Arsenal in 2003-03 and Nathan Ake at Chelsea last season have gone and loan and had their numbers given away. If this happened and a player was recalled in an emergency…

  11. […] The 32 and the 35 are squad-number related. When he made the breakthrough at Sevilla in 2003-04, he wore 35. For the following campaign, he was initially handed 32, but as his star rose his importance was reflected in a mid-season reassignment to 5 – it’s something which is rare in England but happens quite a bit in Spain. […]

  12. Simon
    January 26, 2017 at 15:38 — Reply

    Kevin Gallacher started the 2001/2 season at Preston in the number 12 shirt. During the season Preston decided to allocate number 12 to their fans and Gallacher switched to 27, which he wore until the left for Sheffield Wednesday later the same season.

    Allocating number 12 to the Preston fans only lasted until the 2004/5 season when it was assigned to goalkeeper Gavin Ward.

  13. Rudy
    October 7, 2017 at 05:41 — Reply

    Not quite the same but Mikel Arteta wore the number 8 for Arsenal in the 2011/12 season despite Samir Nasri wearing it for the first couple of games of the season before being sold to Man City.

  14. Dan
    December 29, 2017 at 08:27 — Reply

    Anthony Le Tallec was assigned number 20 for Liverpool at the start of 2004-05 season before he left on loan. He was recalled midway through the season and with new signing Scott Carson taking his number 20 shirt, Le Tallec took the number 13 shirt… realistically as a goalkeeper Carson should’ve taken this number when he joined!

  15. December 29, 2017 at 18:20 — Reply

    At Liverpool when the squad numbers were announced for the 1995/96 season Paul Stewart was shifted from 8 to 4 to make way for Stan Collymore. Stewart was loaned out to Sunderland and while he was away Jason McAteer was signed and given 4. When Stewart returned from the loan he had the ignominy of not even having a squad number until he was eventually released in March 1996.

    • Denis Hurley
      December 29, 2017 at 18:22 — Reply

      I didn’t know that, Jonny – thought I’d read somewhere he was shifted from 8 to 28! Makes more sense that he was initially given another 1-11 number

  16. Tom
    April 5, 2018 at 20:54 — Reply

    Think this happened with Arnautovic at West Ham this year. Started 27 moved to 7 I believe ?

    In Europe I have seen number changes before. I’m a Newcastle fan and in 2006 we were playing a uefa cup game ( qualifying I think) club had given James Milner number 11. When Damien Duff signed he got given 11 and Milner moved back to 16 I think !

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Changing numbers mid-season