One of the game’s few remaining tropes that is yet to be overused and tarnished, it means a hell of a lot when a club retires an individual shirt number.
Nobody else can wear that number in fear of compromising an illustrious and glorious history built up behind it at the hands of a legend. Be it becoming the all time scorer, leading a club to greatness, blossoming into the world’s best, or in Birmingham’s case, having an academy graduate leave for Germany.
90min recalls some of the most famous instances where a shirt number has been put into the hall of fame.
A temporary retirement, Leeds closed off use of the number 15 shirt in the 2007/08 campaign, following events from the previous season.
The club had been deducted 15 points by the Football League at the end of the 2006/07 season, meaning they would start 2007/08 on minus 15 points. They retired the shirt number for the season as a result, but amazingly wiped out the deduction early doors with a fine run of form.
For a period of 13 years, Brazilian defender Aldair dominated at the back for Roma, becoming a club legend in the process.
Serving as club captain, his number six shirt was retired following his departure. Until Kevin Strootman arrived in 2013 and asked for it, that was.
The number 21 shirt was briefly retired at Camp Nou in honour of Luis Enrique, who joined from Real Madrid and developed into a club captain for Barcelona.
Enrique also served as manager later on, but Barcelona couldn’t keep his shirt retired for more than two years due to La Liga ruling, thus it was given to Lilian Thuram in 2006.
Retired in honour of Federico Pisani, the forward made his Atalanta debut aged 17 in 1992 and became an exciting young talent for the Bergamo-based side throughout the 90s.
Following his sudden death in a car accident aged just 22 in 1997, Atalanta retired Pisani’s number 14 jersey.
A legend in Croatia and Ukraine, full back Darijo Srna swept up silverware with Shakhtar Donetsk from 2003 to 2018 and earned true club legend status.
A seven-time Ukrainian league winner, their most-capped player could’ve moved into Europe’s top five leagues more than once, but opted not to. They retired his number 33 jersey in honour. Darberto Carlos.
Following Pele’s arrival in 1975, the New York Cosmos enjoyed two years of the Brazilian in some of their finest hours as a club, before a sharp decline.
His number ten shirt was obviously retired, in the knowledge that they might just struggle to find someone better than him to don it. Two years of having to spray their pitches green was worth the struggle.
Junior Malanda was one of plenty exciting, young talents that so often emerge from the Bundesliga.
The midfielder was progressing at Wolfsburg, but was killed in 2015 in a car crash at just 20 years old. The news completely rocked the football world, and Wolfsburg retired his number 19 jersey.
Having served the club through some of their toughest patches, goalkeeper and club legend Carl Ikeme successfully battled cancer from 2017 to 2018.
Despite entering remission, Ikeme retired in June 2018 having come to the senior stages of his career, as Wolves impressed at England’s top level. New goalkeeper Rui Patricio chose to wear number 11 instead, to honour Ikeme and leave his number vacant.
Following the tragic passing of Premier League cult hero Cheick Tiote in 2017, it was his club at the time who paid fitting tribute to the loss.
Tiote had moved to BSU – then Beijing Enterprises – in February of that year and featured in 11 games before his death. They chose to retire his 24 shirt.
Perhaps the most Leeds United of the 2010s story you could imagine, this.
When not being docked points, they were retiring numbers under superstition at the hands of controversial owner Massimo Cellino. The Italian deemed the number 17 bad fortune, thus it was kept inactive from 2014 to 2019.
For her outstanding contributions to the NWSL during a seriously successful stint with Kansas City, Lauren Holiday’s legacy was cemented.
Kansas City decided to retire her number 12 shirt in 2015 following her retirement. She became the first NWSL player to have a shirt retired. A trailblazer.
It’s hard to look beyond the overly in your face Red Bull sponsoring at Salzburg, but beneath it, there is a serious culture and heritage with the club.
In a more recently trophy laden history, striker Jonathan Soriano was integral to four league and cup doubles. In a five year spell, he racked up an obscene 172 goals from 202 games, and had his 26 shirt retired in honour.
In honour of late midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, Manchester City have shelved their number 23 shirt to remember his legacy.
Foe was a successful midfielder in both Ligue 1 and England and an international with Cameroon. He died suddenly in the 2002/03 season – where he was on loan at City – when on international duty.
Ah yes, your favourite Czech outfit.
Dynamo had the honour of retiring their number eight shirt to commemorate the legacy of a pretty decent ex player. Karel Poborsky started and finished his career with the club, having played at some of Europe’s top sides and balling out at Euro 96.
Henrik Larsson’s first spell with Helsingborg was a short one before he was snapped up by Feyenoord, having bagged 34 goals in his first season as a full-time pro.
He turned down a permanent move to Manchester United in 2007 to return to Helsingborg for a second spell, where he once again starred. Icon status achieved.
Officially, the number 25 isn’t exactly retired at Chelsea, meaning there’s still time for a Danny Drinkwater or similar to carve out a fine renaissance wearing it.
But since Gianfranco Zola left the Bridge in 2003, nobody has donned the number and his legacy has been cemented as a result, being voted their best player ever in that same year.
The most hilarious entry of all. Sorry, serious. Big respect points to Birmingham for such an unnecessarily classy touch. Class.
Having broken through at 16, Jude Bellingham was quickly becoming their worst kept secret and one of football’s brightest talents. His ceiling earned him a move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, prompting Birmingham to retire the 22 in memory of his 44 appearances.
Nope, not one, 01. More gimmicks than Chris Jericho, this one.
In honour of famous goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni – who is already a pub quiz icon enough for his scoring exploits – he regularly donned the unique ’01’ variation on his back, which Sao Paulo retired as a result.
A cardiac arrest stole yet another great from the football landscape in 2018.
Davide Astori was a hit at Fiorentina and one of the most competent defenders in Serie A. La Viola immortalised his legacy by retiring his number 13.
The MLS is a truly different world for fans of the European game.
Bradley Wright-Phillips barely scratched the surface in England, but his 2013 move to the New York Red Bulls turned into six years of relentless goal getting. He left in 2019 as a two-time MLS Golden Boot winner and the club’s record scorer.
The only national team entry in the list, numbers always change at the international level, so to have one retired is seriously unique.
After George Weah’s 75 caps and 18 goals for his country throughout his playing career, his iconic number 14 shirt was officially shelved following a 2018 friendly that he played.
While Ajax retired the number 34 shirt in honour of Abdelhak Nouri following his retirement aged just 20 after a collapse, his influence transcends the club.
Ajax alumni across Europe have donned his number in honour of one of their brightest academy stars. Justin Kluivert wore the number, and Donny van de Beek chose it upon signing for Manchester United.
Not only should Brescia have retired the number ten to honour Roberto Baggio, they should’ve also put a block on anyone else sporting long hairstyles.
Nobody will come close to emulating the legacy of the ‘Divine Ponytail’ himself, be it on the pitch with his wizardry, or on his head with that fantastic style.
Posthumously honouring the late, great Giacinto Facchetti, Inter took the number three out of their available squad numbers in 2006.
The Italian represented the club 634 times wearing the number and is a legend of the game. It meant Nicolas Burdisso switched to number 16 at the time.
One of English football’s most celebrated names, Sir Bobby Moore was forging a legacy with the Hammers when not lifting the 1966 World Cup with England.
Moore was captain of the club by the age of 20 and represents the very best of the English game. West Ham retired his shirt number in 2011.
The latter end of the list has become very Italian; expected considering their romantic grip on the game.
Number three and number four are both unavailable on the blue side of Milan. Javier Zanetti’s impeccable service to Inter over 19 years saw them retire his number four in honour of his work.
If Italian sides are retiring shirts, it’s more often than not going to be for defenders.
The red side of Milan is no exception. After over 700 appearances and setting the tone for elite level defending, the Rossoneri retired Franco Baresi’s number six. There will never be another quite like him.
Flanking Baresi was his slightly younger understudy and at times partner, Paolo Maldini.
Maldini’s legacy came alongside and just after Baresi’s, which isn’t talked about enough. Milan struck gold. Their number three bossed it at full back and later centre back over three decades. Ridiculous.
One of modern football’s most elite minds and technically gifted players, Ajax will never see someone represent the number 14 like Johan Cruyff did.
The Dutchman won three Ballons d’Or and brought his total football style to the mainstream, bringing a dominant, newfound style across Europe for club and country.
While Cruyff’s flair was subtle and measured, Diego Maradona’s was everything we love about the game. Impassioned, unapologetic, effortless.
The Argentine became a legend in Italy for his spell with Napoli from 1986 to 1991, sweeping up accolades and stealing the hearts of just about everyone, except those who couldn’t get over his national team antics. The greatest of number tens, honoured following his 2020 death.