Squad numbers on football kits are a big part of the game. Literally. They take up the entire back of the shirt, and if that isn’t enough, they print it again on players’ shorts.
While historically squad numbers correlated to positions on the pitch, the game has developed and as squad sizes increases along with competition for places, numbers are taken up a lot quicker. Not everyone can wear one to 11, so naturally conventions have changed.
While some players still take numbers by position seriously and are known for being the best in that bracket – think goalkeepers, strikers etc – others set out to make a number their own. And while that worked with Cristiano Ronaldo revolutionising the number seven and Ronaldinho getting by with number 80 on his back, it’s an anomaly.
Get ready to take a shot every time the word ‘number’ is used – here are the strangest squad numbers in Premier League history…
To brand all Americans as ‘weird’ would be a lazy generalisation and stereotyping. Clint Dempsey’s obsession with wearing the number two as a striker is a little bit odd, though.
Arguably the greatest player of his generation to come from the States, it’s a shame he doesn’t understand the ‘numbers by position’ concept. He wore this monstrosity during his season with Spurs, and with the Seattle Sounders.
From a striker wearing a defender’s number to a defender wearing a striker’s number…
William Gallas chose to don the number 10 shirt after the number 13 was already occupied. The same number 10 shirt that was last worn by the legendary Dennis Bergkamp.
Because number three wouldn’t suffice, obviously.
Renato Sanches’ move to Swansea was a disaster from start to finish.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have gone as badly if the Premier League didn’t physically ban him from wearing the number 85 shirt, which he had donned previously. Instead, he was forced to wear 35, which is far less entertaining.
Staying with the Swans, Wilfried Bony decided to wear the number two shirt when he returned to the club in 2017, despite the number nine being available.
His reasoning was that it was his second spell with the club, thus he wanted to wear the number two. Rubbish. Perhaps him and Dempsey would make a decent strike partnership. Two up top?
Upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2006, Khalid Boulahrouz strangely decided on wearing the number nine shirt, despite being a central defender.
Boulahrouz later claimed that the kit man had ‘set him up’ by not telling him that the number two was actually free.
Audacious from the kit man to mess around with somebody nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’…
After 12 years with Sporting, Wolves was the destination for Rui Patricio’s fresh start in football.
Along with a new team came a new number. While the reason for not choosing the number one was admirable – out of respect for previous keeper Carl Ikeme, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia – choosing the number 11 shirt instead was unusual, to say the least.
In 2015, Stoke were treated with a tricky new number eight among the ranks. No, not a midfielder – an ageing Glen Johnson.
Johnson, a right-back, opted for the number eight shirt instead of literally anything else. It doesn’t get more Stoke City than having a full-back as a number eight.
After Khalid Boulahrouz left the club in 2008, it was time for Chelsea to knuckle down and properly occupy that number nine shirt.
Or not. Instead, free transfer Steve Sidwell – a midfielder by trade – was next to take the number. Horrendous decision.
Another striker with an absurdly strange number selection, Liverpool’s true Champions League hero Milan Baros donned the number five on the back of his shirt.
While he’s got the Champions League winners medal like Zinedine Zidane, he doesn’t quite have the same storied career or ability, despite the pair sharing the same number.
As nice as it is to see Andy Carroll back at the Toon, there’s something just a little bit jarring about him wearing the number seven shirt.
It’s by no means the biggest crime in this list. In fact, he’s not too far away from the position. It’s just a bit off, though, makes it feel so much worse.
Paulo Futre joined West Ham on a one-year deal in 1996 to the surprise of many, but all hell broke loose on the opening day of the season when he learnt that he would be playing with number 16 on his back.
Futre kicked off in the dressing room over the fact that he wasn’t wearing the number 10 – assigned to Jon Moncur – and left before kick off. He eventually got the number 10 from Moncur that season, by offering him a big chunk of money and two weeks in his villa in the Algarve.
It’s fairly normal for youth academy players to debut with a high shirt number and earn a lower one as they progress, Trent Alexander-Arnold has scrapped that idea.
He debuted with the number 66 back in 2016, but is yet to ditch it for a more suitable number. You’re a Premier League winner now, Trent, it’s time to do a bit of growing up.
If boasting an outrageous topknot or wearing sponsored boxers on the pitch isn’t enough, then donning the number 52 by choice might do the trick.
After being allocated the number 26 for Arsenal ahead of the 2009/10 season, Nicklas Bendtner changed his number to 52. He said it was a number close to him, but it’s also worth noting that five plus two equals seven, a number he said was his favourite but was already occupied.
It’s still a mystery today, but…so is Bendtner.