Last month saw the launch of FIFA 21, with the popularity of the series as strong as ever. You might think that releasing effectively the same game year after year would have a finite appeal, but the inclusion of new kits and up-to-date squads each season is of course a major selling point.
It wasn’t always the case. FIFA 96, for instance, was released in the autumn of 1995, but the squads were those of the 1994-95 season. While in real life, Serie A had introduced squad numbering for 1995-96, the EA Sports researchers decided to base Milan’s numbers for the game around those used by their Italian internationals at the 1994 World Cup (right).
Of course, at that time Italy operated a system whereby squads were numbered in positional blocks, with defenders, midfielders and attackers generally ordered alphabetically within those sections. One exception was Franco Baresi, who used his sway as captain to play in his favoured number 6 (while Roberto Baggio seized number 10) but it explains why Paolo Maldini, who generally wore 3 for Milan, was 5 in the game while central midfielder Demetrio Albertini was 11. One exception is Daniele Massaro, 13 in the game and 19 at the World Cup.
Harder to explain is why Marcel Desailly is listed as 10 when he always wore 8 for Milan, especially as 8 is missing from the roster. Presumably, Marco van Basten (who hadn’t played since the 1993 Champions League final and would retire in 1995) is 12 as a nod to Euro 88.
Central defender Alessandro Costacurta was 4 at the World Cup and in the game, but in reality – as the ‘marking’ centre-back alongside Baresi’s libero – he generally occupied the number 5 shirt prior to the introduction of squad numbers. The irony is that, if Baresi had been in the alphabetical order at USA 94 and worn 2, as he did at Italy 90, Costacurta would have worn 5 and Maldini 6.
In the 1994-95 season for Milan, ‘Billy’ Costacurta wore 2, 3 (once each) and 6 (one) as well as 5 in the league – on each occasion, the number 5 was worn by Filippo Galli, presumably due to his seniority, even though he had been usurped by Costacurta.
When Milan published their new squad numbers for 1995-96, there were a few surprises as Marco Simone – almost always number 11 – opted for 23, while Zvonimir Boban, another first-choice in 1994-95 – wearing 4, 7, 10 and most often 9 – was number 20. That the number 9 was now on the back of new signing George Weah made that understandable but, with Galli wearing 5, Costacurta had number 29 on his back.
Things got stranger the following season. Galli moved on to Reggiana and 5 was free but when Costacurta switched numbers it was to 11, which had been worn by Roberto Donadoni for a part of 95-96. Costacurta did finally move to 5 for 97-98.
We asked our Italian friend Matteo of Jersey Vice if he knew the rationale for the odd number choices of the defender:
I distinctly remember an interview where they asked Costacurta the reason for his unusual choice for the jersey number, just like you ask me. He simply replied that he wanted to try ‘different’ numbers. Once he took off the whim, he went back to classic 5. But I don’t know where to go to look for the interview, I don’t even remember if I read it in a newspaper or seen it on TV. You have to trust my memory.
Costacurta kept the number 5 until the end of 2001-02, when he announced he would leave the club, but only for a short time as defensive shortage prompted Milan to re-hire him. In the interim, though, Fernando Redondo had taken advantage of 5 lying vacant. When he signed from Real Madrid in 2000, he wore 16 and then, having missed most of his first season, he moved to 30. While he wore 6 for Real Madrid, he always carried 5 for Argentina and took it for Milan too for 2002-03, leaving Costacurta to have to be content with 19 when he returned.
Injury dogged Redondo’s time with the club (he refused to accept a salary while out and tried to return the house and car which the club have given him) and he left at the end of 2003-04, allowing Costacurta to don 5 once more. He would keep it until his retirement, as a European champion once more, at the end of 2006-07, scoring in his final game against Udinese aged 41 years and 25 days to become the oldest goalscorer in Serie A history. It was only his third goal in the domestic top flight.
At international level, after USA 94 Costacurta represented his country at the 1996 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup. On each occasion, the squad order fell in such a way that the alphabetical numbering gave him the 5 shirt.