Every player in modern-day football wears a number on the back of their shirt. Football adopted this numbering system since the early days when teams used it to identify positions.
However, the concept of football shirt numbers has since evolved. Nowadays, it is common for players to wear any number of their choice. Sometimes, footballers prefer to wear shirts with high numbers.
Here is what you need to know about why players have high numbers on their shirts:
Why do football players have a high number on their shirts?
Football players are allowed to wear any available number of their choice. However, competition rules may restrict the choice of numbers.
In Spain, players must wear numbers between 1 and 25, while reserve players can choose between 26 to 50 when called up for the first team.
Generally, other competitions in other countries do not have these restrictions and allow for various choices. As such, players may decide to choose high numbers for several reasons.
Here are 7 reasons why they may wear high numbers:
Every professional football team has a reserve team that competes in lower league divisions. Mainly, these reserve teams comprise youth players from the club’s academy.
During the season, the manager may decide to call on youngsters from the reserve team to appear for the first team. These call-ups may be due to injured first-team players or to give promising talents a chance.
Since these players were not registered with the main squad at the beginning of the season, they are usually allowed to choose any number outside already registered numbers. Thus, youth players usually wear high numbers on their shirts.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is regarded as one of the best fullbacks in world football. The Liverpool defender joined the club’s system at the tender age of six and rose through the ranks till his professional debut in 2016.
However, one of the most noticeable features of the Englishman is his unique #66 shirt number which he has worn since his debut from the youth setup.
The number remains one of the oddest in English football. Still, it has become iconic due to the legendary trajectory of Trent’s career.
Players may take a liking to particular high numbers and decide to wear them. In such cases, the number may not hold any deeper meaning except for being preferred by the player.
Ballotelli played for many top clubs across Europe. This includes:
- Manchester City
- AC Milan
- OGC Nice
- Olympique Marseille
‘Super Mario’ Ballotelli has worn his iconic 45 and won many accolades with the shirt, including a treble with Inter in 2010 and Manchester City’s iconic premier league title in 2012.
He stuck with the number because he believed it to be his lucky number after scoring four goals in four consecutive games during his early days at Inter.
It is pretty common for players to choose high numbers based on their birth years. Many players have adopted the custom of wearing the numbers of their birthdays.
The number worn could represent the date, month or year of a player’s birth.
Gianluigi Donarruma wore the number 99 shirt during his days at AC Milan. The Italian goalkeeper donned this number in honour of his birth year (1999).
However, after his summer move to Paris Saint-Germain, the rules restricted him from wearing his preference. Donnaruma then switched to #50, the highest number allowed in France.
Long before Donnaruma made his debut at AC Milan in 2015, three former players signed during the 2008 summer window also used their birth years for shirt numbers.
These players may have inspired Donnaruma’s choice, namely:
- Ronaldinho – #80 (born in 1980)
- Andriy Shevchenko – #76 (born in 1976)
- Mathieu Flamini – #84 (born in 1984)
Unavailability of Preferred Numbers
Since all numbers are to be registered, it is common for the desired shirt numbers of players to be unavailable. This is because one of their teammates occupies the number already.
In such cases, the player may choose a high number shirt.
Lionel Messi is renowned as one of the greatest players of all time. Messi is also notable for his #10 shirt, which he wore for his entire Barcelona career and still wears for the Argentina National team.
Thus, Messi chose the #30 shirt, which is the same number he wore for his Barcelona debut in 2003. The number combined that of his mentors, Ronaldinho and Deco, who wore the #10 and #20 shirts, respectively.
Players wear high numbers on their shirts for special occasions. These occasions may be related to the club, personal lives, or both. Such events include:
Footballers may also decide to wear high numbers on their shirts to celebrate their achievements. Such achievements may be career milestones (such as career appearances or goals), other football-related achievements, and personal celebrations.
Suppose a player reaches a certain number of appearances for his club or country. In that case, he may wear a commemorative shirt number for that particular match.
Rogerio Ceni wore the number 618 on his shirt during his record-breaking 618th appearance for Sao Paulo FC in 2005. The Brazilian goalkeeper later doubled his appearances record after playing over 1200 matches for the Brasileiro Série A club until his retirement in 2015.
Apart from the legendary status he achieved at his boyhood club, Ceni is notable for scoring the most goals (132) ever by a goalkeeper. His long career produced many fruitful moments for club and country.
You can find out more about goalkeepers scoring goals here.
Players can also wear high shirt numbers to celebrate their club anniversary. Thus, the shirt number will be the same as the club’s toasted age.
In 1999, Pablo Bengoechea wore the number 108 to celebrate the 108th anniversary of Penarol. The legendary Uruguayan midfielder captained the Primera Division club and won several victories with them.
Footballers may decide on wearing high shirt numbers to honour notable world events. This usually occurs when the event is significant to the player.
Eden Hazard wore the number #50 to honour the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. The Belgian superstar chose the number during a friendly match for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in 2019.
This match was Hazard’s debut for the club after signing from Chelsea for the club record sale fee. However, Real Madrid had not allocated a shirt number to Hazard yet. So he chose #50 to honour the remarkable feat of Space history.
Players may also wear high numbered shirts to honour their city’s events. This event may be an anniversary or another memorable holiday.
Arellano ‘El Cabrito’ remains an honourable figure in the lore of Monterrey after over 400 appearances for the club. He helped both club and country to several victories during his career before retiring in 2011.
Tribute to beloved ones
Clubs and players may wear high shirt numbers to honour particular players (present and former). Usually, the people honoured have personal ties with the club or player.
AFC Ajax organised a tribute for Abdelhak Nouri. The former Ajax player collapsed on the field due to a heart attack while playing a friendly match for the club against Werder Bremen in July 2017.
He received urgent medical attention on the field and was admitted to a hospital. The player’s critical condition worsened and led to severe permanent brain damage.
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Players may include their shirt numbers as part of an endorsement deal for commercial brands. Footballers are recipients of such endorsement deals due to the leverage of their public image.
Sergio Vargas wore number 188 due to an endorsement arrangement with Telefonica CTC Chile. The Chilean goalkeeper played for one of the country’s top clubs, Universidad de Chile, and earned the name “Superman” for his outstanding saves.
Despite his Argentinian roots, Vargas represented Chile internationally and garnered nationwide appreciation for his efforts. In 2001, he started wearing the #188 for the telecommunications company.
Sometimes, competitions may implement rules that allow for high shirt numbers among the players. Due to such mandatory regulations, players will resort to wearing high numbers.
Because of this rule, players had to choose unique numbers and stick to it for the rest of the tournament. Many players also opted for high numbers.
As such, players wore high shirt numbers for the competition matches.
During one of the matches, Thomas Oar wore the #121 shirt for Australia against Indonesia. This was because Tommy was the 121st player to be selected, and he could not receive any lesser number since all numbers were unique to each player.
Many other players on both teams also wore high numbers.
It is common for players to wear high number shirts. Many of these high numbers tend to be unique and iconic due to the player’s status.
Several circumstances may influence the player’s choice to wear a high number. Moreover, competitions may also encourage or discourage high numbers through their rules.
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