I’m just going to say it – by and large, I consider the retirement of shirt numbers to be mawkish.
This piece from The Guardian last week by The Gentleman Ultra has views which largely correlate with our own. In instances where a current player dies, there is a case to be made, but beyond that, it’s overblown sentimentality. West Ham not playing with a number 6 against Wolverhampton Wanderers in March 1993, their first game after Bobby Moore’s death, was a magnificent gesture; West Ham permanently retiring the number 6 in 2008, forcing Matthew Upson to switch to 15, was less so.
Likewise, AC Milan don’t have a number 3 or a number 6 anymore (Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi), while their rivals Inter are without a 3 and a 4 (Giacinto Facchetti and Javier Zanetti, Facchetti’s honour bestowed, like Moore’s, long after he had played his final game). Obviously, the intended message is that the club values those players so much, but it seems to us that a message is being given that they’ll never again have someone worthy enough to wear the shirt in question.
Imagine if Manchester United had felt the need to withdraw the number 7 shirt after Eric Cantona left or if Barcelona had felt that 10 should be retired after Ronaldinho departed (thankfully, the 1-25 system in Spain prevents this). Far better, to our minds, to leave a number sit idle until someone comes along who is worthy of wearing it.
It’s an approach Roma seem to have belatedly taken. When Aldair ended his 13-year association with the club in 2003, the giallorossi retired the number 6 he had worn since 1996-97 (he had had 5 in the 1995-96, the first year of squad numbers) but upon the arrival of Kevin Strootman in 2013, a request was made that the Dutch midfielder be allowed to inherit it and the Brazilian granted it.
I was pleased that my number six jersey was withdrawn in the past 10 years which was nice but I think it is also nice to it back in the field especially for the younger kids who will not have seen it.
I hope the fans are happy with what I did, just for the shirt and it will be a pleasure to see that number again especially because Roma have had many other great champions like Bruno Conti, Falcao and Cerezo who have not had their jerseys withdrawn.”
Meanwhile, Strootman was gracious for the gesture:
I want to thank Aldair. I know he was one of the best players ever to play for Roma. It’s an extremely tall order to emulate what he achieved at this club and I hope the fans will give me all the support I need.
Here in Rome, his is still an important name. They had withdrawn his shirt, he had to give me permission to play with the 6 on his shoulders. It is special. With that number I bring his legacy in the field with me, I have to wear it with pride and try to make others proud of me.
Strootman didn’t have a bad Roma career but he didn’t set Stadio Olimpico alight either and joined Marseille at the beginning of this season, wearing number 12 for them.
However, the unretirement of 6 may perhaps provide an important precedent in terms of another fabled Roma number.
Francesco Totti’s 25-year career with the club ended in 2017, with the attacker having worn 10 since 1997, donning 20 and 17 in the two seasons before that.
In 2014, Roma owner James Pallotta had declared that the shirt would be retired:
When Francesco stops? We will retire the No 10 jersey, there is no doubt – his farewell won’t last just an hour either, it will be at least a month.
However, in Totti’s final season, Roma’s then-coach Luciano Spalletti put forward the opposite viewpoint – that 10 was an heirloom to be passed on.
I say that they shouldn’t retire it. Before Totti, Giuseppe Giannini wore the number 10… in the past, others wore it.
But what about the kid who longs to play with that shirt? Do we want to deprive him of this pleasure?
I can’t bear to hear people saying that the shirt should be retired. This is my thought. If I don’t see that shirt anymore, then I will go to the cemetery and will look for Totti’s shirt to see it again.
Most importantly, Totti himself shares that opinion.
I have always said no, they shouldn’t, but in the end it is a decision for the club to make. For the youngsters, for the kids, it is natural that they are all going to dream of wearing the number 10 shirt for Roma.
I had that dream as well, and fortunately I got to live it. So, to take a child’s dream of doing it too, that would upset me.
Since his retirement, Roma haven’t had a number 10, but when it is assigned again, the player receiving it will be aware of the significance. It may well be the inspiration to become a future club legend.