Many sports fans have a strong association with numbers. Whether it’s the year that their team finally secured some silverware, or perhaps the amount of victories achieved over their bitter rivals in the last ten years. Shirt numbers are also hugely significant to supporters, and just the mere mention of a numeral has the potential to evoke fond memories of a club legend in their pomp.
Some players have such a strong alliance with their shirt number that clubs have subsequently taken the decision to retire it in order to recognize their achievements and commitment. It is one of the highest honors in sport, and although some may believe that this practice has gone too far, it is a tradition which is likely to continue for many years to come.
Although the majority of retired shirt numbers have been completely taken out of circulation, some clubs such as Roma have opted to reinstate them. The Italian giants initially retired Aldair’s famous number 6 jersey, however, upon the arrival of Kevin Strootman, the capital club decided it was finally time to restore it.
Retiring shirt numbers in US soccer
It is a tradition which began in the NHL and it has gradually crept into other sports over the last couple of decades. Although soccer wasn’t particularly popular in the US at the time, it is believed that Pele’s iconic number 10 shirt at the New York Cosmos may have been the first example of a squad number being retired in the sport.
Although there are very few examples of this practice in the MLS, with the recent expansion of the league, it wouldn’t a surprise to see many franchises follow suit. It’s popularity continues to grow throughout the states, and with the inception of David Beckham’s Inter Miami, US sports fans are becoming increasingly interested in the game. With many governors also legalizing online sports betting in recent years, it has helped add an extra layer of interest. Soccer fans who live in any of these nine states, details of which can be found amongst the latest news at LegalBetting, can now enjoy pre-match and in-play wagering opportunities on Major League Soccer. With increased TV coverage across the country, it’s of little surprise that the sport is slowly beginning to attract a worldwide audience.
Real Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis is one of the few Major League Soccer players to have had their squad number retired; however, after eight years on the sidelines, the former striker asked the club to reinstate his famous number 9 shirt at the end of 2018. After 306 appearances for LA Galaxy, Cobi Jones is another player whose squad number was also rested following his retirement.
Other famous retired numbers
Gianfranco Zola’s number 25 shirt at Chelsea was never officially retired but hasn’t been re-issued since 2003. Bobby Moore’s number 6 jersey at West Ham was immortalised, albeit 15 years after this death; whilst Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi (both Milan), Roberto Baggio (Brescia) and Diego Maradona (Napoli) have all seen their numbers taken out of circulation.
Diego Maradona helped Napoli to their first-ever Serie A title 33 years ago today.
Forever an icon of the city 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ccA9trU4gr
— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 10, 2020
Some were only temporarily placed on the sidelines with Raúl’s number 7 shirt at Schalke coming out of retirement after just 12 months, while Mathieu Valbuena’s number 28 at Marseille is now back in use in the south of France.
Is it impractical?
Supporters are largely divided on this issue although very few fans can quibble with a club’s decision to mark the sudden passing of a current player. However, there is some debate surrounding former employees or long-since-retired club legends. Many of these former stars are also immortalized in the form of statues, or may even have a stand named after them. These commemorative measures are an excellent way of enshrining the seemingly irreplaceable, whereas retiring shirt numbers is far more likely to cause issues going forward. Wolves’ standing down of the number 1 shirt following Carl Ikeme’s retirement was not a universally popular decision, with Rui Patricio wearing number 11 instead.
Wolves have released their squad numbers for the new season.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 10, 2018
Although it can act as a burden to be wearing the same number as a terrace hero, it may also prove to be an inspiration, and young players may step up to the challenge fully aware of the size of boots that they are required to fill.
Most fans understand the sentimentality aspect of retiring shirt numbers in soccer, and although player loyalty is less prominent in this day and age, it still feels like a largely impractical measure. As long as the current squad members are giving 100 percent on the pitch, the majority of supporters are unlikely to be too concerned about the number emblazoned on the back of their shirt.