Number 4 is the the one most commonly associated with Josep Guardiola.
When La Liga introduced squad numbers in 1995, he was assigned 4 at Barcelona and kept it until he left his boyhood club in 2001, also wearing it for Spain at Euro 2000.
Guardiola was Cesc Fábregas’s idol and he has worn it for Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea in his honour and Ivan Rakitić, who inherited the Barça 4 after Fábregas, was thinking on similar lines:
I was not at Barça with him but when I came I asked for the number 4 because it was his number. It was really special for me.
However, Guardiola didn’t only wear 4. With Brescia and Roma in Italy, he donned number 28 – there’s no record of him putting a ‘divided into’ sign between the numbers, in the Zamorano style – and in the 1-11 days, with Ronald Koeman wearing 4 for Barça, Guardiola appeared in 10 in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria and had 3 on his back in the then-Champions League decider against Barcelona two years later.
And, in both of those years, he took part in major tournaments for Spain, and, unusually for a central midfielder, wore 9 both times.
The reason for this, apparently, is the system of seniority used by the country to determine numerical preference, something we shall look at again in the near future with regard to the squads which won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
For the Olympics, Guardiola’s Barcelona team-mate Abelardo Fernández, a centre-back, wore 10 as the two oldest players in the squad, Juanma López and Roberto Solázabal, were also stoppers and chose 5 and 4 respectively.
Abelardo would wear 3 quite a bit for Spain in the 1994 World Cup qualifying and it was also his first squad number at Barça, but 3 ended up being one of the last chosen – as the seventh-youngest, Guardiola had the choice of 3, 7, 9, 17, 18, 18 or 20.
While 3 would have been a logical choice given that he had worn it at club level and 7 would also have been acceptable for central midfield but perhaps he was making an early point about how the future would be without pure centre-forwards. It didn’t unduly trouble him or Spain, as they won the competition.
Guardiola played in three World Cup qualifiers, wearing 8 in the two games against Latvia and 4 at home to Lithuania, but in America, he would have 9 on his back again.
It’s hard to know exactly how the seniority was decided for choosing numbers here. If it was by number of caps, Guardiola could have gone with 4 as the wearer of that at the finals, Paco Camarasa, had nine to Pep’s 11. Going by age, Guardiola was the fourth-youngest, but the youngest player, Julen Guerrero, had 8 so surely that wouldn’t have been passed up for 9.
Maybe he was just being superstitious after the Olympic win. Incidentally, Abelardo got to wear 5 in the USA and would retain it for Euro 96, World Cup 98 and Euro 2000.