Football News

Most bizarre shirt numbers in football right now as Joao Cancelo explains his switch to 7

By Ben Green

Most bizarre shirt numbers in football right now as Joao Cancelo’s explains switch to Raheem Sterling’s former top

Published: 16:07, 20 July 2022

Joao Cancelo has inherited Raheem Sterling’s No. 7 shirt for the 2022/23 season at Manchester City following the forward’s departure to Chelsea.

The England international completed a £47.5m move to Stamford Bridge earlier this month after seven trophy-hoarding years at the Etihad, relinquishing the No. 7 jersey in the process, which has now been claimed by an unusual source.

Instead of handing the shirt to a more attack-minded player with an already-high squad number at the Etihad, like Phil Foden (No. 47), Riyad Mahrez (No. 26) or Bernardo Silva (No. 20), a defender has sought to lay claim to one of football’s more cherished jerseys.

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Having donned No. 27 last campaign, versatile full-back Cancelo will be turning out in the 7 shirt from 2022/23 onwards, earning his place in Premier League folklore as a player who took on an unconventional number — following in the footsteps of William Gallas’ 10 shirt, Milan Baros’ No. 5 and Clint Dempsey’s 2 top at Spurs.

Explaining the decision to succeed Sterling as City’s new No. 7, Cancelo revealed his mother was the motivation behind the shirt switch.

“This is a special number for me,” he said. “It’s my mother’s birthday and it’s also her favourite number.

“I decided to choose this number because I think it brings me luck and I hope it brings luck to the team too, so this year we can win many titles.

“I know it’s a number that comes with a lot of responsibility for what Sterling has done for the club.”

There are well-documented examples of bizarre shirt numbers in the sport, with Gallas, Baros and Dempsey all prime case studies, but what about current players? Below, we’ve explored several unusual numbers in football right now.

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Radamel Falcao (No. 3)

Radamel Falcao started 2021/22 like a house on fire back in Madrid after leaving Galatasaray for Rayo Vallecano, scoring five goals in his opening eight La Liga games. The 36-year-old’s form eventually waned, but it was good to see the Colombian roll back the years in those early autumnal months.

A traditional No. 9 in every sense, Falcao’s fox-in-the-box exploits took on a bizarre twist last season, as he devastated the final third while wearing The Red Sashes‘ No. 3 shirt. Typically assigned to full-backs, Falcao explained that his decision to wear the number was inspired by his late father, Radamel Garcia, who donned the shirt during his playing days as a defender in Colombia and Venezuela. He famously represented Colombia at the 1980 Summer Olympics while playing for Independiente Santa Fe.

“I want to thank Fran Garcia, number three was available,” Falcao said last summer.

“For my father it had a lot of meaning, he transmitted to me the passion for this sport, he played with that number, it is the one he liked the most and what better than to play with number three.”

Juan Foyth (No. 8)

Santi Cazorla, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Fornals and… Juan Foyth? The No. 8 shirt is sacred at the Estadio de la Ceramica having been worn by some of the club’s most fabled playmakers, but these days you can find right-back Foyth parading the jersey up and down the touchline. It’s not your typical number for a defender, but the 15-capped Argentine is adored in Castellon, so fans will probably let him off the hook, particularly if Villarreal keep making deep runs in Europe.

Romelu Lukaku (No. 90)

Large shirt numbers are pretty commonplace in Italy, but this one is certainly bizarre given Romelu Lukaku has either been a 10 or a 9 for the last eight years, switching to the former in 2014/15 for Everton. His last stint at Inter saw him wear the No. 9 jersey, but that has since been taken by Edin Dzeko, while Lautaro Martinez has the No.10. So, 90 it is for Lukaku.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (No. 99)

While no official announcement has been made yet, Gianluigi Donnarumma appears on the official PSG website as the club’s No. 99 for the 2022/23 season, seeming to return to the shirt that saw him rise to prominence at AC Milan. The Italian was prohibited from taking on the 99 shirt when he signed for PSG, as Ligue 1 rules prevent players from wearing such high numbers, with Mario Balotelli famously being denied the No. 45 at Nice. 

Since relocating to Paris, Donnarumma has worn the No. 50 shirt — with Ligue 1 making an exception — No. 16 and No. 1. He now looks set to return to his famous No. 99 shirt, a symbolic choice given it was the year he was born.

Declan Rice (No. 41)

When Declan Rice first burst onto the scene as an unheralded midfield gem, fans were immediately impressed by the maturity of the academy prospect. Gliding across the turf in that 41 shirt all those years ago, fans didn’t for one second think that it would go on to become a sacred number. And yet, here we are.

It’s previously been worn by other academy hopefuls like Jimmy Bullard, Zavon Hines and Sebastian Lletget, but none have gone on to impact West Ham quite like Rice, who recently told Gary Neville that he may retain the shirt number throughout his career.

Speaking on The Overlap back in February, Rice explained: “It was just the number I was given in the academy by the kitman, when you are in the under-23s there are the first team squad numbers and then it gets to the higher numbers and I was given 41 when I went to Seattle on my first trip with the first-team. I was just given 41 and it has stayed with me since.

“And to be honest with you I have been having these conversations with my dad, regardless of what happens in my career I may stay with 41.

“I just think Rice 41 has a nice ring to it and obviously I have grown up playing in it and I am a bit superstitious with things like that, I don’t know if I change to a new number if it will hamper my performances, I don’t know! Sometimes I think about things like that.”