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10 Times A Football Club Retired A Shirt Number For A Player

To some, a football number means nothing; to others, it means everything.

A football jersey number can be chosen due to superstitions, preference, or on-field positioning; for example, a number 10 is mostly known as an attacking midfielder, while a number 6 is linked to a defensive midfielder. However, this isn’t as common anymore.

Every club has an iconic jersey number. George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo all famously wore the number 7 jersey for Manchester United. Argentina has the iconic number 10 jersey due to Maradona and Messi wearing it. These jersey numbers will always be passed onto a world-class player who the club feels can fill the boots of the previous holder.

Then there are players who build their brand around a number. The most obvious player is Cristiano Ronaldo, whose brand is ‘CR7’. Nike released football attire like tops and boots with “CR7” labelled on the products.

However, in recent years, we have seen some popular jersey numbers retired in honour of club legends or in respect of players who may have died while still playing for the club. Below are 9 clubs that retired a jersey number for a player associated with their club.

10 Times A Club Retired A Shirt Number:

Number 22: Birmingham City

At the time, this was a very controversial story, but Birmingham City said it was “fitting“. After Jude Bellingham moved to Dortmund for a fee of £25 million with a 5% sell-on clause, Birmingham City retired his number 22 jersey when he was just 17 years old. Jude became the youngest player ever to score for Birmingham City at just 16 while appearing in 44 games for the Blues.

The England international went on to join Real Madrid for €100 million in addition to earning himself an Adidas contract. The Blues received an excess of £10 million from the 5% sell-on clause that they included in his Dortmund contract.

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Number 23 + 17: Manchester City + RC Lens

In 2003, Cameroon faced Colombia in a Confederations Cup semi-final. Marc-Vivien Foe, a 28-year-old midfielder for Cameroon, collapsed in the 72nd minute and the medical staff was unable to save him. Foe joined Manchester City in 2002 on a season-long loan deal worth £550,000. Foe scored the last goal in Maine Road for Manchester City before moving to their new grounds, now known as the Etihad Stadium. In 35 games, Foe scored 9 goals for the Blues.

RC Lens, Vivien-Foe’s childhood club also retired the number 17 shirt to commemorate their former player. He played 85 games for the club before his move to West Ham United.

In 256 games, Foe scored 30 goals. He won 2 Africa Cups, 2 French League Cups, and 2 French Championships in his career.

Number 6: West Ham

Arguably one of the greatest English players of all time wore this jersey proudly during his tenure at West Ham. He captained his side for more than 10 years. Bobby won the FA Cup, UEFA Cup Winners Cup, and Footballers of the Year awards during his 16-year spell at the London club. The jersey was retired in 2008, 15 years after Bobby’s death. Bobby became the first footballer to be awarded the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year title in 1966. He also received an OBE in 1967, after winning the World Cup with his country in 1966. He is the first and only player to captain the Three Lions to a World Cup.

Pele described Bobby as the “greatest defender” he came up against, while his English teammate Alf Ramsey paid tributes to Bobby by saying that “without him, England would never have won the World Cup“.

Number 9: Nantes

In 2019, Emiliano Sala was on his way to Cardiff to finalise a deal worth £15 million when tragedy occurred and the plane crashed in the English Channel. The Argentine was only 28 years old when he died. He spent four years at the French club Nantes.

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In 238 games, he managed to score an impressive 95 goals and 20 assists. The football world was shaken after the death of the player, and Nantes felt the most fitting thing to do was to retire the shirt number of their former player.

Club President, Waldemar Kita said “I don’t have words. It’s a tragedy, Im crushed. Emiliano left his mark. That’s why, like many fans. I wish to honour him by retiring the number 9″.

Number 4: Limerick & Treaty United

Joe O’Mahony was a former Limerick captain who passed away in 2014. He made his debut for Limerick in 1966, earning himself 418 appearances for the club. He was the captain of the Limerick team that won the league in 1980 and the FAI Cup two years later. In 1982, he scored a goal vs the famous Manchester United in Pat Nolan’s testimonial match. He went onto manage Limerick for 2 years in 1984. Both clubs came together to honour their former player, and there has not been a player in the number four shirt since his death.

Number Six: AC Milan

Franco Baresi, as a 17-year-old boy, joined the AC Milan first team during the 1977–78 season. Baresi went on to make 719 appearances in all competitions for Milan, winning 6 league titles, 3 European Cup winners Cups, 3 European Champion Club’s Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups and 4 Italian Supercups. There is no debate to why Baresi’s famous number 6 was retired by AC Milan. Baresi was named 19th in World Soccer magazine’s list of the 100 greatest players in the 20th century.

Gary LinekerFranco Baresi was one of the all-time great defenders: he read everything, made everything look so easy and at the same time he was brilliant going forward and would supply passes for the rest of that great Italian side.” 

Number 4: Inter Milan

Currently the longest serving player in Inter Milan’s history with 858 appearances in all competitions, Javier Zanetti earned the right to have his famous number 4 jersey retired. He is known as one of the best footballers of his generation while playing as a fullback, wingback and in midfield. Javier took up the role as the vice-president of Inter Milan after retiring in 2014. Javier Zanetti captained the famous Inter Milan side that won the treble in 2009/10 season which also made Inter Milan the first Italian club to win a historic treble.

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Paolo Maldini, AC Milan legend said that Zanetti was his “most respected enemy“. While Ryan Giggs described Zanetti as the “most difficult opponent” he had faced.

Number 14: Ajax

In 2007, Dutch side Ajax decided to retire football icon Johan Cruyff’s number 14 jersey from their club. Cruyff won 8 Eredivisie titles and 3 European Cups at the club. He returned to the club to manage them for a three-year spell in the 1980s. Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or on 3 separate occasions, in 1971, 1973, and 1974. He is also remembered for a famous feint turn known as the “Cruyff Turn” in 1974.

Cruyff contributed to 426 goals in 333 games for Ajax.

Johan CruyffTechnique is not being able to juggle a ball 1,000 times. Anyone can do that by practising. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate“.

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