As stars continue to emerge in the Europe’s top football leagues, fans interested in squad numbers watch on excitingly as top talents earn the right to wear the most coveted numbers. The 2021-22 season has been no different, with new signings and academy graduates cementing their places and earning themselves the right to wear more desired shirt numbers in the process.
Originally introduced in the 1920s, shirt numbers have undergone huge changes since then both in how they are allocated and how they are received by spectators. For almost 70 years, the numbers 1-11 were mandatory for the starting line-up of each game, which meant coaches generally allocated squad numbers based on position. Although these numbers varied depending on formation and region, there was at least a universally accepted unwritten rule that players in certain positions wore certain numbers. This changed when the FA introduced persistent squad numbers in 1993, which gave players the option of choosing their own permanent numbers for at least a season.
The result of this is lack of cohesion in shirt numbers across squads, with only a few managers opting to stick with traditions when allocating them. Most modern fans are no longer interested in what number their favourite player wears, meaning having an interest in such things has become a niche hobby in the same vein as fantasy football, pools and management simulators. However, the popularity of football means that even a niche has a lot of fans, just like millions of us are obsessed with fantasy football, the same can be said for squad numbers. So, here are some of the changes we’d like to see happen in the Premier League for the start of the 2022-23 season.
Arsenal – Takehiro Tomiyasu from 18 to 2
Signed from Bologna as part of the Gunners’ ongoing squad overhaul, Takehiro Tomiyasu has hit the ground running in the Premier League, despite the fact many fans hadn’t even heard of him before he signed.
Having worn the number 14 at Bologna, Tomiyasu opted for the number 18 upon his arrival at Arsenal. As we know, right-backs traditionally wear the number 2, but this number was still assigned to Hector Bellerin – who had previously stated a preference for the number – though he is now on loan at Real Bétis.
One would imagine that Tomiyasu taking the Spaniard’s number would depend on his future as an Arsenal player. Whether Bellerin returns or not, Tomiyasu has cemented his place as the first choice in that position so it would be nice to see him wear the appropriate number.
Manchester City – Ederson from 31 to 1
Since his arrival at Manchester City, Ederson has been the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, signed to replace the under-performing Claudio Bravo, who was struggling following his move from Barcelona.
The Brazilian has been one of the leagues most consistent performers, helping his team to three league titles while broadening the scope of what was thought possible from the goalkeeper position.
When considering all of this, it is somewhat strange that he continues to wear the number 31 rather than 1 on his back. It was understandable when he arrived, as Claudio Bravo had the number 1, but since his departure in 2020 it has been vacant.
Ederson has never stated any reason for wearing 31, so shirt-number fans will hope he takes the number 1 before next season.
Liverpool – Trent Alexander-Arnold from 66 to 2
Trent Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become one of English football’s most popular players with his technical quality on the pitch and his cool demeanour off it endearing him to fans around the country.
Since his breakthrough in 2017, he has been Liverpool’s first-choice right back, but, rather than wearing the number 2, he has 66 on his shirt.
It was previously thought that the number held some significance for the player, but it was recently revealed that it was simply the shirt assigned to him by the kit man and he’s stuck with it. For fans of tradition, seeing such a high number on a regular starter is a bit of an eyesore, especially as Liverpool’s number 2 shirt has been vacant since Nathaniel Clyne’s departure.
At this stage, it’s unlikely that Alexander-Arnold will ever switch from 66 – Jamie Carragher, who wore 23 for the entirety of his career, urged the full-back to make the number his own – but we can still hope.