There had been rumours over the past week. You try to prepare yourself, but still, it’s something of a surprise when it happens.
— Everton (@Everton) January 12, 2017
On the same day as French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin joined Everton, Tom Cleverley left to join Watford on loan. His number 15 was free as a result, as were 13, 32, 34, 35 and 36. For our money, any of those would be more preferable to 2. It’s not as if Schneiderlin loves the deuce on his back, either – he could have worn it in either or both of his two seasons at Manchester United but elected to stick with 28.
Obviously, 4, 6 or 8 are ideal in central midfield, and so is 5, especially if the player is South American. While 7 and 11 are wingers’ numbers, to have them centrally is just one ‘move’ sideways, and there are some strong precedents. You can have number 10 there, once he’s a creator and not a clogger, so, of the outfield numbers, that just leaves 2, 3 and 9 on our prohibited list – it’s just one move backward for 9, but it’s attacking midfielder or nothing if it’s out of its normal habitat.
An aside from personal experience: In the first iteration of Championship Manager 3, released in the spring of 1999, we set about building an Arsenal squad for the future. One of those we signed was Seth Johnson, two years before Leeds United would do so in real life. In the game, he was a DM LC, but re-training of players in new positions was quite easy and, with Nigel Winterburn on the way out, Johnson was identified as the best option.
Having developed, he was given number 3, but then an injury crisis in midfield saw him partnered with Patrick Vieira and he did brilliantly. The only option was to re-assign him as number 8 and forget about him as a left-back – David Grondin matured in the game better than he would in real life and so he formed a top defence with David Wright, Jon Otsemobor and Matthew Upson.
By and large, 2 and 3 don’t really populate the midfields of top teams, but there have been exceptions. Under Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, Josep Guardiola often wore it, including the 1994 Champions League final, when left-back Sergi wore 7. Given that, and this at the 1994 World Cup, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Guardiola has overseen some awful numbering as a manager.
One such example is when he signed Xabi Alonso in 2014. The Spaniard’s favoured 14 was taken, but while 12 was available, he took 3:
Normally, we don’t like when a player goes from a 1-11 number to a higher one, but Alonso switching to 14 for the 2015-16 season was very welcome.
Someone else who wore a full-back’s number in midfield before eventually switching was Abou Diaby at Arsenal.
When he joined in the January 2006 transfer window, he was hailed as the new Patrick Vieira, but while his compatriot’s number 4 was empty since Vieira joined Juventus the previous summer, Diaby took the 2 which hadn’t been used since Lee Dixon retired in 2002.
Unfortunately, a bad injury at the end of 2005-06 meant a long spell out and, over the next decade, sustained runs in the team were hard to come by as he constantly broke down. He only played once in 2013-14 and was limited to a sole appearance in the following campaign, his last. As a result, it passed many people by that he had actually moved from 2 to 24 in the summer of 2013. Now with Olympique de Marseille, he wears 5 while fellow Frenchman Mathieu Debuchy hasn’t exactly rehabilitated the Arsenal number 2.
The relatively tighter rules on numbering in Spain – squads must be 1-25 with goalkeepers 1, 13 and 25 – mean that things are usually kept under control (barring aberrations like that Fabregas example linked to above). For six months in early 2004, Barcelona had another instance.
When Edgar Davids (a man who once gave himself the number 1) joined on loan from Juventus, Barcelona were in mid-table but he was the driving force which helped them to secure a Champions League spot. Such an impact had he that he is credited with setting the ball rolling for Barça winning Europe’s top prize in 2006.
Morgan Schneiderlin *might* have the same effect at Everton. Then again, he might not.