Not so long ago, we looked at an occurrence from 1991, where Diego Maradona gave up his favoured Napoli number 10 shirt for 9, so that his anointed successor Gianfranco Zola could wear 10.
Zola was a classic 10, and later wore it at Parma, though the presence of Roberto Baggio in the Italian squad meant he didn’t often carry it on his back for the azzurri.
Neither did the Italian get to wear it at Chelsea – Mark Hughes had 10 when Zola joined during the 1996-97 season and so he was given 25 as his squad number. He kept it throughout his spell in London and it has yet to be re-assigned.
There was one isolated instance where he wore a different number though, and it wasn’t 10.
When Chelsea went to play Coventry City at Highfield Road in April 1997, they only brought their blue home kit with them. While that might seem strange, it’s worth bearing in mind that Coventry had an all-sky blue kit for the two seasons beforehand and Chelsea were able to avoid changing there in 1994-95 and 1995-96.
However, in the summer of 1996 the Sky Blues became the Sky and Navy Blues, with a striped shirt and the shorts and socks changing to the darker shade.
Chelsea couldn’t wear what they had brought and the solution reached was that they would wear Coventry’s red and black chequered away shirts (numbered 2-11) with their home shorts and socks. Only three players – Franck Leboeuf, Steve Clarke and Hughes – had numbers lower than 11, which they kept, while the other players wore appropriate numbers for the 3-5-2 formation they used.
30. Frode Grodas (wore his normal kit)
2. Craig Burley (14)
3. Scott Minto (17)
4. Frank Sinclair (20)
5. Franck Leboeuf
6. Steve Clarke
7. Eddie Newton (24)
8. Roberto di Matteo (16)
9. Gianfranco Zola (25)
10. Mark Hughes
11. Paul Hughes (27)
So, if ever you’re asked to debate the best player to wear the Coventry City number 9 shirt, you have a left-field suggestion.