In a game that continues to evolve away from what happens with a ball at a player’s feet, shirt numbers are an eagerly anticipated part of a team’s season.
Whether that be waiting to see what number a new signing has taken, or seeing if a young talent has managed to shuffle down the pecking order, the squad numbers have moved away from the traditional 1-11 meaning and can tell us more about what is thought of certain players.
Players themselves like to have a say in it, too. And while it’s cool that they care, some care a little too much. And it’s created some strange yet iconic memories. Here are 30 of the strangest shirt number selections ever.
Born in 1999, it made sense at first for a 16-year-old Donnarumma to wear 99 at Milan. It’s the year he was born, and he was a youngster, thus a high number is expected.
The question is, why did he not ditch that 99 as soon as he had established himself as the first choice? Donnarumma was number one by 2016 but decided not to take the shirt at Milan, leaving in 2021 as number 99. Weird.
The man who has built a brand as CR7, it feels like a fever dream seeing Ronaldo holding aloft the number nine shirt at his Santiago Bernabeu presentation in 2009.
With Raul still at the club, Ronaldo had to wait before he could actually get his hands on the number seven he had become known for wearing at Manchester United. Still looks weird to this day.
Seeing Messi in anything but a Barcelona shirt is strange enough on the eye, so to add in the fact that he is now wearing number 30 for Paris Saint-Germain is even worse.
Nope, don’t give us that ‘it was his youth number’ argument. Rubbish. It’s Messi, lads. Lionel Messi. He can’t not be number ten.
Breaking in rather unexpectedly during Jose Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford, McTominay has since developed into one of United’s strongest assets.
The Scotland international has a bright future ahead of him and is new a regular under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That’s exactly why him wearing 39 is so wrong; time to pick a proper number please, Scott.
Chelsea have had a torrid time of it when giving people their number nine jersey.
Before the days of Alvaro Morata and Fernando Torres, they thought Steve Sidwell was the answer following his 2007 free transfer from Reading. Midfielder Sidwell. He left after a season.
Players picking numbers from the incorrect position might be one of the most frustrating aspects to the game.
Upon his 2017 return to Swansea, Bony elected to take the number two shirt to remind people that it was his second spell with the club. Infuriating. ‘Two’ should’ve come with a two-match ban for such obscenity.
Making your international debut should be a memorable enough moment. But Oar made it unforgettable in 2010 when he came on wearing 121. Yes, three digits.
The 18-year-old came off the bench for Australia in a World Cup qualifier against Indonesia donning the unique number. He revealed years later that he was given the strange number for reasons surrounding registration rules, meaning he was registered in advance as the 121st player and thus had to wear it.
Johnson’s time at Stoke is very much Randy Orton in the 2020s; so careless that it’s gotten to a point where people just laugh with them.
The right back signed in 2015 and instead of taking a full back’s number or even a higher up one, he took on the responsibility of the number eight. Creative wizard.
Remembered best for his spell with Sunderland, Gyan was breaking boundaries at international level with Ghana.
Whenever he turned out for his nation, Gyan would without fail wear the number three shirt, despite being a forward. He took on the number from his older brother and has personal affiliation to it, and has also worn it several times at club level.
Think McTominay, but even more pertinent.
While the Scot is opinion-splitting, Rice is widely considered to be the face of West Ham and is nowadays the vice captain of the club. He’s made well over 100 appearances for the club – ditch the youth team number already. Please.
Quite simply, Hooper was born in 1988, so he’s always donned the shirt wherever possible.
Never trust a striker that doesn’t want to wear the number nine.
For a man that made over 300 appearances for Liverpool and became a fan favourite in his eight year spell, you’d have thought Skrtel would’ve donned a lower number.
The tough tackling centre back stuck with 37, though, due to his lucky number being three and his then girlfriend’s lucky number being number seven. A simple man, but admittedly a strange choice.
See previous criticisms of McTominay and Rice, ramped up even further.
Alexander-Arnold is now a Champions League and a Premier League winner. There is zero need to be wearing number 66, Trent. Please do the beautiful game a favour and choose a normal number.
Eto’o choosing to wear the number five at Everton summarises his time at Goodison Park, which felt like a fever dream on the whole in 2014/15.
Signed in the summer, picked a weird number, bagged a few goals and was gone by January. Perhaps the most Everton story imaginable.
Spoiler; this isn’t the last time you’ll see Bendtner in the list.
The man that continually made football a laugh through the 2010s, Bendtner chose to wear the number three upon signing for Wolfsburg in 2014. Because of course he did. Nobody was even questioning him at this point.
It’s hardly surprising that a man with the nickname ‘the cannibal’ ended up choosing a properly bonkers number for his shot at the big time.
Upon arriving to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2006, defender Boulahrouz selected the number nine jersey, following Hernan Crespo’s departure. Hell of an upgrade.
Liverpool cult hero Baros is remembered for dropping the Champions League trophy and denting it in 2005, but also finishing as the club’s top scorer that season.
He did all that while donning the number five on his back for the club, as a striker. A midfield Zinedine Zidane got away with it, Baros did not.
Football’s favourite loose cannon of the 2010s, Balotelli’s justification for wearing number 45 is honestly bulletproof.
As a youth at Inter, he chose the number because four and five add up to make nine. And after finding a run of form with it, he never let go of it again. More than just a pyrotechnics expert.
Following a deadline day return to Hibernian in 2008, Riordan – a striker by trade – was issued the ’01’ shirt. Y’know, that common number there’s a queue for.
The number ten shirt had already been taken, so instead of just picking another rather normal number, Hibs agreed to inverse the ten. He finally got his ten shirt the following season.
While Bony had rather meaningful reasoning behind his short use of number two as a striker, Dempsey has never.
Yet still, the American forward has insisted on wearing it just about everywhere he’s been, both in the States and in England. Sure, he’s bagged goals in it, but at what cost?
Upon his 2005 return to Bayern Munich, Lizarazu opted to take the shirt number 69, which at a glance, is rather funny. We’ll let you figure it out.
But his reasoning for choosing such an odd number was due to a connection with it – let us finish. Lizarazu was born in 1969, but also stands at 1.69m tall and weighed 69kg.
Gallas’ request to have an important squad number upon signing for Arsenal in 2006 was a reasonable one considering his abilities and the role he would play.
The decision for him to get the number ten – previously held by Dennis Bergkamp – wasn’t so reasonable. Gallas didn’t want number three and Arsene Wenger didn’t want to burden a forward with Bergkamp comparisons, thus the defender took it on.
Perhaps the best part about a car crash two seasons with Barnet after another football hiatus was Davids’ strange shirt number demands.
Upon agreeing to become player coach in 2012, the Dutch midfielder elected himself the number one jersey. The goalkeeper number. Nothing but respect.
While Davids was wearing the number one, there was a goalkeeper wearing the number ten shirt in Italy in the early 2000s.
On loan from Roma, Lupatelli wore the attacker’s number at Chievo Verona because of a bet he had made with friends. For that, we can only applaud the absurdity.
The blueprint for Davids’ lower tier English football madness, Ardiles was doing it on the grandest stage of them all.
With numbers being allocated in alphabetical order, the Argentine ended up stuck wearing the number one shirt typically reserved for the goalkeeper. Bizarre policy.
The late Zerouali was known best for his stint with Aberdeen between 1999 and 2002, becoming a hero for his abilities, but also his shirt antics.
Mad shirt numbers aren’t usually seen in British football, so the Moroccan picking number ‘0’ was entirely unheard of, and only lasted a season before it became outlawed. He passed away in 2004.
Seriously, what is it with strikers and the number two? It may as well be the new number nine shirt at this rate.
Kone wore the number 22 on a few occasions before picking up the number two at Levante. He then continued wearing it upon signing for Wigan in 2012, and picked it up again in 2017 when heading to Turkish side Sivasspor.
Before he had chosen to wear number three at Wolfsburg, Bendtner had already baffled football at Arsenal by switching from 26 to 52.
The Dane cited that the number had special meaning to him personally, while there were also rumours of him wanting to double his number to resemble him being twice the player. Either way, it didn’t work out.
The game’s resident unhinged goalkeeper, Jorge Campos played football with every cheat code in use. And in flamboyant, custom kits.
When not saving shots, he was dribbling outside of his area and being used as his side’s auxiliary striker. And he was good. So good that he actually wore the number nine shirt throughout his career due to him pulling double duty.
The single most genius concept we have ever seen in the beautiful game. Forget your Messi and your Pele, this is football.
Having signed for Inter in 1996 and initially getting the number nine shirt, a reshuffle saw Inter give the nine to Ronaldo and number ten to Roberto Baggio. As Zamorano didn’t want to not be number nine, he chose 18 and had a plus sign put in the middle to make nine. Incredible.