Soon, we will publish an article on the 1-11 shirts worn by the most and fewest players in the Premier League era.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn that the Manchester United number 11 shares the title for the fewest – from 1993 until 2013, it was held by Ryan Giggs, with Adnan Januzaj and Anthony Martial the only other two players to have had it.
Giggs made his league debut for United against Manchester City in May 1991, wearing 11 as he scored the only goal. Then, in the 1992-93 season, the last before squad numbers, it was the only one he wore when he started (incidentally, he was a sub for the final game of the season against Wimbledon – Eric Cantona was the last player to wear it in the league in the 1-11 era).
In between those two campaigns, though, the 1991-92 season stands out for the fluidity of the winger’s numbering.
Up to and including the game against Arsenal on February 1, 1992, Giggs had started 23 games that season and worn 11 in all of them. However, this was a time when he was still the ‘new, new hope’, with Lee Sharpe still considered full of potential.
Sharpe had missed the first half of the season with injury, having made number 11 his own in the second part of 1990-91 and when he came back, he had first dibs on the number, which had also been used by Andrei Kanchelskis, Clayton Blackmore, Russell Beardsmore, Lee Martin, Danny Wallace and Mike Phelan in the early part of 91-92. Kanchelskis would also feature in it during the spring, adding to Giggs’ travels.
In order, here are the games where Giggs started but didn’t wear 11 – apologies to the producers of ITV’s The Match for the DIY graphics.
February 5: Southampton
(h, FA Cup fourth round replay, 2-2, lost 4-2 on penalties)
Having appeared as a sub in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal at Highbury four days beforehand, Giggs came into the side as a direct replacement for Mark Hughes, forming an attacking trio with Kanchelskis and Brian McClair. Unfortunately for him, he missed a penalty in the shootout.
Bonus – with Steve Bruce out injured, Paul Parker switched to centre-back, giving a Liverpoolesque numbering in defence.
February 8: Sheffield Wednesday (h, 1-1)
Hughes came back into the side the following Saturday as United drew a fourth game in a row. Naturally, he regained the number 10 and, with Parker dropped – Paul Ince moved to right-back – Giggs had to play in number 2, usually worn by the players marking him.
February 22: Crystal Palace (h, 2-0);
February 26: Chelsea (h, 1-1)
The FA Cup fifth round on February 15 meant that there was a fortnight before United’s next game, allowing Alex Ferguson to swap Giggs with Mal Donaghy, who had worn number 4 against Wednesday.
The only change for the Chelsea match was Gary Walsh replacing Peter Schmeichel in goal.
Against Coventry City on February 29, Parker returned as Bryan Robson missed out. Parker took 2, Donaghy moved to 4, Kanchelskis was now 7 and Giggs went back to 11.
March 31: Norwich City (a, 3-1)
While Giggs had been 11 for the 0-0 draw away to Queens Park Rangers, the return to the side of Sharpe saw him take 11 and Giggs move to 5, which had been vacated by Mike Phelan.
By the 1992-93 season, the pecking order would have shifted, with Giggs wearing 11 and Sharpe 5 – it would be his squad number until he joined Leeds United in 1996.
Bruce had returned to the team by now, but Ferguson had opted to return Denis Irwin to right-back, where he had played in 90-91, with Donaghy at left-back.
April 18: Luton Town (a, 1-1)
That most famous of United shirts, with Giggs opting for short sleeves as he surrendered the 11 he had worn against Southampton.
Kanchelskis was replaced by Sharpe, who scored United’s goal.
April 20: Nottingham Forest (h, 1-2)
Kanchelskis replaced Hughes and took 7 again, leaving Giggs with 10, playing up front as United’s title hopes took a massive dent.
April 22: West Ham (a, 0-1)
With United wearing their 1988-90 away kit as their home and away would have clashed with the Hammers, Hughes was back in the side at 10, partnering Giggs in attack as McClair dropped into midfield.
Neil Webb and Kanchelskis were dropped and Donaghy came back into the team with Clayton Blackmore moving to the right of midfield, switching from 2 to 8 – two of our primary research sources, StretfordEnd.co.uk and MUFCInfo.com, have Blackmore listed as 7 and Giggs 8 (which would have been a first), but this is not the case, as can be seen from match footage.
A second straight loss meant that the title was out of United’s hands and a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool in their next game meant Leeds’ 3-2 win at Sheffield United secured the title for them.
Sharpe didn’t start against Liverpool or in the final game against Tottenham Hotspur. Giggs carried 11 in both and he would never again wear another number when starting a game for the club.