There are always numbers in the game that catch my eye, whether for the right or wrong reasons. Here’s looking at you, Khalid Boulahrouz.
Because of this, I decided it would be fitting to give my team, Manchester United, a bit of a switch up, renumbering players into their ‘correct’ places in the squad, and also taking into account any new or potential transfers on the horizon.
The end of the 2016/17 season has seen United lose players in high profile numbers:
- The somewhat underwhelming Memphis was shipped off to Lyon in the New Year, freeing up the #7
- Zlatan Ibrahimović has officially left the club on account of his contract expiring (and floppy ankle), leaving the #9 vacant
- Wayne Rooney has finally left the helm after 13 years in Manchester, making available the often sought-after #10 shirt (though he initially took #8 whilst at Old Trafford)
- Midway through writing this, Adnan Januzaj left the club for Real Sociedad, leaving #15 free, but I’ll touch on that later
This means that some United players could potentially be getting a nice upgrade from their current number, or we could potentially be seeing some new high-profile players fill the void.
Here are my predictions (and hopes) for next year’s Manchester United squad number situation.
- David DE GEA. It looks unlikely that Dave will be going anywhere now, and moving from #1 to anything else would be an odd choice.
- Antonio VALENCIA. We’ve seen a steady transformation over the years from pacy winger to solid full-back, so the only thing left to complete Valencia’s conversion to a traditional full back would be for him to wear the #2 shirt. If he were to change, it would be his third number at United (25 and 7 being the others).
- Luke SHAW. Many of you may remember that Luke Shaw initially wore number 3 when he joined United from Southampton back in 2014. He wore it for one season, and then switched to #23 ahead of the 2015/16 season.
The 20-year-old told MUTV before he wore the shirt against Tottenham: “I wanted to be 23 last season when I came but Tom Cleverley was already that number so I couldn’t take it. Obviously he’s left, so I thought I’d go back to my original number, 23. It’s where I started from. It’s the number I feel comfortable with and it’s probably the number that I want to carry on with until I finish my career.”
A lot of us will want to see Shaw – an out and out left back – back in the number 3 shirt which is currently owned by recent signing Eric Bailly.
- Eric BAILLY. Eric Bailly is a centre back. He currently wears number 3, which makes me shudder every time I see it. Sort it out, José! This would have a knock-on effect for Phil Jones, so expect to see his name pop up later.
- Marcos ROJO. When fit, Marcos Rojo has proved himself to be a top tier centre back (aside from a few reckless challenges). For this reason, number 5 is a no-brainer. Before him, it was worn by Ronny Johnsen, Laurent Blanc and Rio Ferdinand – all traditional centre backs.
- Paul POGBA. 6 is the perfect fit for Pogba – he wore both 6 and 10 whilst in Italy, but 6 matches his creative playstyle and flair. Plus, I feel there are other options for number 10 which are better suited.
- VACANT. The number 7 has a rich history at Manchester United, however recent inhabitants seem to have struggled at the club. Is it the pressure of following on from club legends such as David Beckham, George Best, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bryan Robson, or were they just not United-calibre? Since Ronaldo left for Madrid back in 2009, the shirt has been wore by Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Ángel Di Maria and most recently by Memphis, and one could argue that none of them fully lived up to the number. There is no-one currently in the squad who deserves to wear the number 7, and it should therefore be left vacant until the right man comes along.
- Ander HERERRA. Currently, number 8 is worn by Juan Mata, but I have moved him to another number which you’ll see shortly. Moving Mata would free up number 8, which would be a perfect number for a central midfielder like Ander Hererra who currently wears number 21 at United. The number 8 is synonymous with some of the world’s greatest midfielders, and would fit Hererra perfectly.
- Romelu LUKAKU. Lukaku is a number 9. He wore #10 at Everton (supposedly due to mother being born on the 10th of the month), but he’s not a traditional number 10 – it’s as simple as that. Lukaku has been vocal of his love for the number 9 as a striker and has said in interviews that he has asked Zlatan Ibrahimović if he can wear it next season, and United followed through with his wishes and handed him the number. Not sure why he needs Zlatan’s permission, but we can’t argue with his want for the #9.
- Juan MATA. Juan Mata was vocal in the past of his preference of the number 10, but couldn’t take it due to Wayne Rooney’s presence. However, now Wazza has left, the #10 is now available. He’s a number 10 too, so it wouldn’t be anything forced or ill-fitting.
- Anthony MARTIAL. It seems something (or someone) that got overlooked when the mighty Zlatan joined Manchester United, and that was Anthony Martial. There was much discussion over what squad number Ibra would be given, and as it turns out, he ‘chose’ the number 9.
Because of this, Martial (who was wearing #9 at the time) was quietly shunted up to #11 to accommodate the Swede. This also had a knock-on effect with Adnan Januzaj who had to move from #11 to #15. While I found this to be incredibly insulting to the Frenchman, it has somewhat accurately represented his role in the team of late. Martial has been playing much wider than when he first joined United as a striker, with most of his appearances being from left midfield. Number 11 is the perfect number for his position, and it’s had some decent previous owners (but let’s pretend Januzaj never wore it).
- Chris SMALLING. 12 is one of those squad numbers I can never seem to tie down to a particular position, much like 14. There aren’t many numbers available at United that would be more appropriate for a centre-back without going higher, so Smalling can stay where he is.
- Sergio ROMERO. I doubt this would ever happen, but a man can dream. 13 is a classic backup goalkeeper number, so it would make sense for Romero to switch from #20 to #13 to free up a potential outfield number.
- Daley BLIND. 14 seems like one of those numbers which could be used for literally any position on the pitch, so it’s fitting that Blind gets moved down a few due to him being a utility player. Blind is a versatile player who can play in both midfield and defence, so a number that reflects this is a must. This also frees up 17 for Jesse Lingard (who currently wears 14) – a straight swap!
- Victor LINDELÖF. When I first started writing this piece, Adnan Januzaj was still a Manchester United player and holder of the number 15 shirt. However, on July 12th he was shipped off to Real Sociedad leaving his shirt vacant. It’s important to note that Lindelöf has been seen wearing the number 2 on his training gear, though as we have found out from previous pre-season games, the numbers worn before the season starts aren’t always final. When Memphis joined he wore #9 on tour, and Bastian Schweinsteiger was handed #23 as Marouane Fellaini was currently wearing #31, but this all changed come game time.
In recent years, the Swede has worn number 14 at club level, thought it’s not necessarily a classic centre back squad number. He has worn number 2 and 3 at international level, so it’s entirely possible he will stick with #2, but unless he decides he’s now a right back, it just doesn’t sit well with me. Seeing a number 15 at centre back again would bring back a lot of fond memories for United fans. Midway through writing this, Lindelöf was handed the #2 permanently, though I stand by my reasoning for #15.
- Michael CARRICK. Captain Carrick – there’s no reason for him to change now. He’s been at the club since 2006 and has worn the same number for the whole duration, and only has one year left at the club before his likely retirement. It’s also fitting to mention Roy Keane, a previous United captain who also donned the #16.
When asked about wearing Keane’s number and people drawing comparisons, Carrick recently said:
“Do you know what, it never really bothered me that much. There was a lot of talk about it, people saying about the pressure and having to.. I was never Roy Keane. I’m not that type of player. I’m just not that style, so I was never going to be. Say when I finish at United, and they buy somebody else, they’re not going to be me, they’re going to be whoever they are.“
- Jesse LINGARD. Like with Smalling at 12, 14 is an odd number. I don’t see it as a wide man’s number, nor any other position for that matter. This is why I’ve moved Lingard from 14 to 17 which is much more fitting for a winger. A straight swap with Dutchman Daley Blind.
- Ashley YOUNG. Young is one of United’s longest serving current players, and has worn 18 since he joined. No reason to change this one.
- Marcus RASHFORD. He may be a local hero, but he’s not quite number 9 just yet. Lukaku is proven and deserving, and the last time we had a 9-19 strike partnership worked out pretty well.
- Matteo DARMIAN. When the Italian joined, he kept ahold of his number 36 jersey that he wore whilst at Torino. While we appreciate the sentiment, it’s not a number fitting of a first team player. Moving Sergio Romero down to number 13 would free up 20, a significantly more acceptable squad number for a player of his ability.
- Phil JONES. This would be cruel, but he’s just not United standard. I opted to switch around the defence, and someone would have to miss out on their number because of this. Sorry, Phil.
- Henrikh MKHITARYAN. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for the numbers 22, 33 and 44, so to see a first team player wearing one of these doesn’t pain me too much. In addition to this, Mkhi wore #22 at all of his former suiters except the most recent – Borussia Dortmund – wear he wore number 10. As mentioned above, I feel there is a player who would fit the number 10 better, so for now, I’ll leave Mkhitaryan with his number 22.
- Andreas PEREIRA. Moving Luke Shaw (back) to number 3 would free up his current number – 23. Pereira spent last season out on loan at Granada, and is definitely one to watch this season. I predict him to actively challenge for first team football, so would need a number to reflect this. A change from #44 to #23 would be a worthy upgrade.
- Timothy FOSU-MENSAH. Tim is another youngster who looks to have a promising future at United. He had his number upgrades at the start of the 2016/17 season from from 51 (shudders) to 24, so there’s no real need for another upgrade until he further improves his game.
- Marouane FELLAINI. This would be Fellaini’s third squad number at Manchester United if he were to change – he started off his stint at United wearing number 31, but he gave it to Bastian Schweinsteiger when he arrived from Bayern Munich and switched to number 27.
He wore number 25 at Everton, and it’s a much more aesthetically pleasing number that you could associate with a player of his type.
“When I was younger and became a professional, Standard Liege gave me the number 27. It was a great number for me and, when I had the chance to change, I did. After that, I heard that Bastian Schweinsteiger liked the number 31 and I had no problem with that. I am really pleased with my new number.”
- Axel TUANZEBE. Another youngster who got a decent amount of gametime last season. Some solid performances has earned him an upgrade for the upcoming season – a switch from #38 to #26 would be fitting.
- VACANT. Vacated by Marouane Fellaini who has been moved to number 25.
- Cameron BORTHWICK-JACKSON. Similar to Tuanzebe – currently number 43 but should be lowered.
- James WILSON. James Wilson does not currently have a number assigned to him after being out on loan and injured for a little while. Number 29 is available, and my sole reasoning for picking this option is because of Louis van Gaal’s ‘policy’ of keeping strikers with a number 9 in their squad number. Ahead of the 2014/15 season, LVG switched Wilson from number 47 to 49. Wilson was asked about it:
“I asked why it had changed as it wasn’t my decision and, because I’m a striker, the gaffer wanted me to have a nine in my number. So he has moved me up to 49. I could have been 99 in theory, but 49 was the closest one.”
Let’s just be glad he didn’t take number 99! If he were to be assigned a number number, it would be Wilson’s fourth squad number at United (47-49-19).
Update: Since the time of writing, Wilson has been spotted wearing the number 29 in training for United. Move over, Paul the Octopus!
- Guillermo VARELA. When Varela went out on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt, he was docked of his number 30. There was no real reason given for this, but the number wasn’t assigned to another player. Maybe this means he’s on the way out, maybe not. However, Varela has potential – but he’s not quite there yet. I’ve decided to keep him at number 30 for one sole reason – he has an awesome pool table with the back of his shirt printed on it! Also a fun fact – Guillermo Varela regularly holds livestreams on Instagram, and being a squad number nerd, I asked on the livestream chat what number he would be wearing for the 2017/18 season. He did not verbally respond, but simply flipped the camera from his face and focused on the pool table with “VARELA 30” on it.
- Sam JOHNSTONE. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Joel Castro PEREIRA. There’s a promising future in store for Pereira – he’s displayed some solid performances for the Reds and is one to watch. Currently number 40, an upgrade to #33 would be appropriate.
- Dean HENDERSON. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Demitri MITCHELL. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- VACANT. Vacated by Matteo Darmian who has been moved to number 20.
- VACANT. Vacated by Axel Tuanzebe who has been moved to number 26.
- Scott McTOMINAY. McTominay has had a few first team chances, but I can’t see him getting a lot of first team football next season. Noo reason to upgrade his number just yet, and you’ll find a similar comment on a few more youngsters below.
- VACANT. Vacated by Joel Castro Pereira who has been moved to number 33.
- Regan POOLE. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Matty WILLOCK. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- VACANT. Vacated by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson who has been moved to number 28.
- VACANT. I have vacated this number ahead of the arrival of potential new signing Ivan Perišić. The number is currently worn by Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira, but it’s likely he will have much more game time next season, so fully deserves a lower squad number. However, Perišić currently wears number 44 for Internazionale, and would likely request it again considering he also wore it whilst playing for Club Brugge KV and for one season as Borussia Dortmund. It’s an unusually high number for a first team player, but as I mentioned with Mkhitaryan, 22, 33 and 44 are numbers I have a guilty pleasure for so I could give this a pass.
- Kieran O’HARA. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Angel GOMES. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Zachary DEARNLEY. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- Joe RILEY. Not a first team player – no need for an upgrade just yet.
- VACANT. Numbers above 50 should be made illegal.
What are your thoughts on my proposed renumbering of Manchester United? Would you make any different changes?
The news of a potential Zlatan Ibrahimović return also poses a tricky question – what number would he take should he resign with the Red Devils now that new boy Romelu Lukaku is wearing his number 9 shirt? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting to @squadnos!
Finally, if you’d be interested in renumbering your favourite team, get in touch with us and we’d be happy to put up a guest blog. Jim Hearson recently touched on Nottingham Forest’s current setup, so we recommend giving that a read too.