Monthly Archives: April 2012

Here’s my weekly blog on Swansea City FC. I’ll be writing this for

To the Next Step

In this first edition of the blog, a quick look at what needs to be done at the club for the next season.

It is wonderful sight to watch Swansea play. Their English version of ‘Tici-Taca’ duly earned them a famous nickname ‘Swanselona’ and an inevitable comparison with Tici Masters and Taca Lords Barcelona.

What Brendan Rodgers has achieved on the foundations built by Kenny Jackett and Roberto Martinez (now at Wigan) has been incredible. To achieve a win ratio of 50.82% and being Swansea’s most successful manager deserves applause. Swansea has given English football, what they lacked for many years, a team breaking traditional 4-4-2 and still playing attracting passing football.

With possession football being core to their footballing style, Swansea deployed 4-5-1 rather than Barca’s 4-3-3. What that reflected into is central midfield due Leon Britton and Joe Allen giving the balls to both wingers Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, who would try to cut in and take a shot or cross once in a while to the striker Danny Graham. So the effectiveness of another attacking midfielder Wayne Routledge was lessened.

With the addition of more dynamic Gylfi Sigurdsson in the January transfer window seem to have sorted the attacking central midfielder problems. Sigurdsson is playing in his natural AM-C position than Routledge who is prominently a winger. Sigurdsson’s involvement in the game has been tremendous.

Sigurdsson has shot 4.1 shots per game with 84.7% of passing success rate in comparison to Routledge’s 0.6 shots per game with 79.2% of passing success. He has also scored 7 goals and 2 assists in his 15 games compared to Wayne’s solitary goal and 4 assists in 27 games.

Although a first priority of the season was to get 40 points and thus next season in the top flight, Rodgers ensured that this is achieved much earlier than the last day huff and puff. Swansea has achieved this in style and playing enthralling football with 4 games to play.

But Brendan Rodgers knows that the Job isn’t done at 40 points, rather it starts at 40.

He has to start thinking about building the squad for the next season. There’s an inevitable curse of 2nd season syndrome in football which they can’t avoid but that’s what Swans will have to negotiate with a strong mindset, courage and shrewd transfer policy.

His style of possession football too will be “Found out” in the second season. Well, it has already been somewhat found out as 4 looses on the trot suggest that. I’m hopeful that Rodgers will not get carried away with all the talks of him getting a prime candidate for Manager of the Season award.

If Rogers has to maintain the same style of football, he must improve the standards as next season in the Premiership is going to be more competitive as ever.

First things first. Every attempt to make Gylfi Sigurdsson’s move from on loan to permanent should be made. Rodgers might not find players suitable to his style in England where Kick and Rush football is still being played across the leagues. For example Chelsea starlet Josh McEachran is not getting any game time as he had hoped for. Rodgers will have to take a look in Europe for sure. Dutch League and La Liga are the two leagues where he can hope to find suitable targets and mostly at suitable price.

Also he must spend money wisely in the next season and not getting carried away with success in the début season. The usual tendency of the promoted club who stay in the top flight is to buy heavily in the second season and in turn change the playing style and philosophy.

I hope he stays on at the club and not get buoyed by any big offers which are likely to come his way.

There’s lot of work to be done at Swansea and Rodgers is the man for it.


In my earlier article, Will the real 4th place team please stand up? we had a look at how incredibly tight was the fight for last place and how it was majorly due to inability of the teams to capitalize on other team’s failure.

By the time I’d written the previous article, the season had undergone 23 out of 38 games and the table stood like this.

In that post, I had touched upon the forms of Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Malaga and Osasuna. Valencia were enjoying a cozy cushion of 7 points above the 4th placed team.

It has been 10 more games since the last article that means everybody had 30 points up for grabs and I was certain that the races for the final Champions League playoff place (4th in the League) and Europa League places (5th and 6th) would have been more of less settled.

How wrong was I? Nothing like that has happened and almost all the teams which we’d discussed above have shown a tremendous inconsistent form and have failed miserably to achieve their goals. Their performances over the season can’t be termed anything but  “Les Misérables” – the poor ones, the wretched ones.

Currently after 33 rounds, the table stands like

Now there are 2 battles have emerged. With 5 more rounds to go and maximum 15 points up for grabs, incredible 9 teams are separated by mere 6 points.

Although all the teams remain same except Getafe and Seville coming into contention, their form over last 10 games has been precarious to be considered as European football contenders.

Lets look at the progression of League positions of the above teams.

Los(t) Che: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: 7

Valencia’s 7 point cushion over the 4th placed Espanyol after 23 games has been evaporated. Their lead at the 3rd place has been reduced to just one point.

Have a look at Valencia’s form throughout the season.

After 22nd match, the wheels on Valencia wagon have come off. Midweek distractions (Champions League, Europa League and Copa del Rey) can be given as an excuse for many of these draws and defeats.

Valencia drew 1:1 with Barcelona in the 1st Leg of Copa del Rey Semi Final and a week later were defeated in the 2nd Leg 2:0. The game vs Atletico Madrid was sandwiched in Copa del Rey SFs, this game was drawn 0:0 in which Valencia fired just 1 shot on target.

Similar pattern was seen when 2 legs of Valencia’s Europa League round of 32 against Stoke were followed by an away trip to Nou Camp where they were hammered 5:1 and a 1:2 home defeat against Sevilla.

Valencia have raked up 1.75 pts per game at home and in 1.41 pts per game away from home. In their remaining 5 fixtures Valencia will play 3 games at home vs Real Betis, Osasuna and Villarreal whose away form has been 1, 0.87 and 0.56 respectively.

But Valencia will play Europa League semi final legs on 20th and 27th against Bilbao followed by a blockbuster showdown against Malaga.

Valencia will have to prioritize between,

  • Europa League title,
  • 3rd spot in the League which will ensure direct qualification for Champions League group stage.
  • 4th spot in the League which will take them to the Champions League playoffs.

My predictions for Valencia’s remaining fixtures are, Betis (H): D, Malaga (A): L, Osasuna (H): W, Villarreal (H): W, Real Sociedad (A): W.

Malaga: Highest League Position: 3 , Lowest League Position: 10 (not considering 1st day defeat)

In my earlier post Project Malaga, we’ve seen How Malaga were yet to arrive despite big spending and their form earlier in the season was nothing near to ‘Champions League playoff contenders’

But finally it seem like slowly but surely the ‘Project’ has finally taken a destined direction. 5 impressive wins in 6 games and drawing 1:1 against Real Madrid at Bernabeu, had seen them leapfrogging Levante, Espanyol, Bilbao.

Malaga had displaced Valencia from their 3rd place after week 31, but In their last defeat to Villarreal, Malaga conceded 2 goals in last 7 minutes to go down 2:1 and a draw against 10 men Sociedad. They have a very talented squad in the League, but 2 losses and a draw in their last 4 games again cast some doubts about the temperament, desire and ability to lift the game of the players.

Malaga’s Home form is 3rd best in the League behind Barca and Real Madrid with 2.1 points per game, but their away form has been equally disastrous (0.93 per game). Their 2 out of 4 away wins have come recently.

3 out of 5 of their remaining 5 matches are away from home against Osasuna, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid whose home form is 1.9, 2.8 and 1.9. These fixtures are 34th, 36th and 37th in the league calendar.

My predictions for Malaga’s remaining games are, Osasuna (A): W, Valencia (H): W, Barcelona (A): L, Atletico Madrid (A): L, Gijon (H): W

Levante: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: (not considering 2 initial draws)

Best romantic story of La Liga. Club haunted by serious money problems, unpaid wages and a poor league form last season have managed to turn things around on the pitch. Their 7 consecutive league wins saw them at the summit which they held for 2 weeks.

Then followed 2 bad streaks for them. First was 3 consecutive losses (10,11,12) and another 8 match win less streak without wins which had 3 draws and 5 losses (16-23). They bounced back with 4 wins in 5 matches and went level on points with Malaga and exchanging 4th spot, but they failed to capitalized on this form and lost their last two games. Other teams were unable to take advantage of this slip up and allowed Levante to retain their 5th spot, Malaga’s 1 point off 2 games meant the gap between them remained only 3 points.

Levante’s away form has been decent with 1.12 points per game and at home they’re formidable proposition with 1.76 points per game. Levante will play 3 of their remaining 5 matches away from home against Seville ( 1.68 points / game at home), relegation threatened Zaragoza (1.18 pts / game at home) and Real Mallorca (1.43 pts / game at home).

Of all the teams fighting for 4 spot, Levante will fight hard as some Champions League money will do much good to their financial cause.

My predictions for Levante’s remaining games are, Sevilla (A): L, Granada (H): W, Zaragoza (A): D, Mallorca (A): D, Bilbao (H): W.

Osasuna: Highest League Position: 5, Lowest League Position: 15

They are a surprise package of the league and certainly most unlikely team to compete for a European spot.

Only 6 teams out of 20 have scored less goals than Osasuna, and only 3 teams out of 20 have let in more goals than Osasuna, but most importantly only 3 teams out of 20 have lost less matches than Osasuna.

Stats stand heavily against Osasuna in the final flight. 37 goals scored and wooping 53 goals conceded in 33 matches is certainly not an exciting stat also their longest winning streak lasted just 2 games. Osasuna’s league position has been helped by failure of other teams to pounce on their losses.

Osasuna’s home form is incredible. They have picked up 1.88 points per game at home, winning 9 games out of 17 including a famously gunning down mighty Barcelona (3:2). But away from home, their form is precarious. They have only 2 wins, 8 draws to their credit away form home, and 6 losses. Out of those 6 losses, 8-0 against Barcelona, 7-1 against Real Madrid and recently 6-0 against Rayo Vallecano have been real thumpings.

Osasuna’s run down is pretty difficult. They’ll host Malaga and Sociedad and will travel to Villarreal, Valencia and Racing Santander.

My predictions on Osasuna’s remaining games are, Malaga (H): L, Villarreal (A): L, Valencia (A): L, Sociedad (H): D, Santander (A): W

Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol and Getafe all are tied on 45 points, 6 points adrift of current 4th placed Malaga.

Have a look at their away form throughout the season. It really a poor statistic by some of the giants of Spanish football. Sevilla has been UEFA Cup winner in the past and Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao along with Valencia make 3 out of 4 Spanish teams in Europa League’s semifinalists.

Athletic Bilbao:

Although Athletic Bilbao have been sensational in Europa League knocking out Manchester United and Schalke, in the League they haven’t been able to exert their force. Their haven’t been able to win more than 2 matches on the go, and this feat too they could achieve only once. On the other hand they’ve managed to lose 3 games in a row twice in the season.

Bilbao initially went 6 away games unbeaten, but in their last 6 away games they have managed only 2 draws and losing 4.

Bilbao will travel to relegation bound Santander, Zaragoza and 4th spot contender Levante. Their home games are against unstoppable Real Madrid and resurgent Getafe.

Another Europa League semi finalists Atletico Madrid share the similar tale and yet more disappointing away form.  

Just 4 wins, a draw and 5 losses in their last 10 matches meant they could win secure only 13 points out of possible 30. Out of these 10 matches 5 were at home and Atletico managed 3 wins and 2 losses, which were against Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their performance in both of these matches were excellent.

Out of remaining 5 matches, Atletico will play 3 at home against Espanyol, Sociedad and Malaga.

I’ve been impressed by Getafe so far who had a disastrous start to the league campaign. After 10th game, they found themselves at the bottom of the league with only 7 points to show.  They managed 4 wins in next 6 games. Getafe could manage only 19 points after first 16 games and managed a respectable 12th place.

Well, if a 12th place team can have only 19 points after 16 games, the inconsistency of the entire league barring top two is brutally exposed.

However Getafe have managed 26 points from next 17 games with 7 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses. They just thumped another contender Sevilla 5-1 at home last night. Unbelievably 26 points in 17 games is a highest tally among the above teams involved.

Getafe’s run seem to be the easiest and their recent form is decent too. They’ll play Granada (A), Mallorca (H), Santander (H), Athletic Bilbao (A) and Zaragoza (A).

Relatively weekly points progression of the teams will show the fact that how closely these teams are knit and how a couple of good result or a couple of bad results can change the standings completely.

Parting Shot:

I don’t want to start a debate on which league is best in Europe or in the World, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking out the League standings across the Europe after 33 games and checking out where a team closer to 52 points does stand.

In no other leagues does team with 1.58 points / game stands a chance for a direct qualification in group stage of the Champions League, rather those teams are struggling for their chances to play in Europe.

In the following table shows 3rd place teams in Major European Leagues and their performance in terms of points per game.

In Major European Leagues, La Liga has a team with lowest points/game at 3rd place in the League.

Well, Spain maybe the European Champions and World Champions and they might have a best shot in conquering European Championships again.

Valencia, Athletic Bilbao maybe playing beautiful football, Malaga may have a best assembled petroleum squad, Levante might be defying all the odds stacked against their existence, but unless you perform consistently in terms of results, and rely on mediocrity of other teams to secure better positions, you won’t stand a chance in Europe’s élite club competitions.

Numbers, the world revolves around them. Numbers keep ticking us on. We spend most of our lives chasing the numbers and numbers relentlessly chase us. We deal with them so much in our day to day lives that we remember them even in our deepest sleep.

Bank Account Numbers, Telephone numbers, Credit Card Numbers, Social security numbers, Birth dates, Anniversaries, Finances, Fixture Dates, Stats and even players’ Jersey numbers.

Hang on a minute. Is it Jersey Numbers?


We do remember our favorite players and their Jersey numbers. Not only that, we also remember entire squad and their numbers year by year.

Football has always been associated with the jersey numbers and the players who wear them. According to the archives, the numbers were used in football for the first time in 1928, in a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal. In that game, the numbers were strictly assigned by field position.

The numbers were allocated as per the standard 2-3-5 (‘Pyramid’) Formation. As the game evolved with the new formations, the conventional numbering system also changed.

Although there were no hard and fast rules as to which number represented which position (especially given football’s varied formations), a de facto standard emerged over time and was employed by most teams, with few exceptions:

Goalkeepers generally wore the number 1 shirt. This convention has become almost universal.

Defenders generally wore numbers between 2 and 6.

Midfielders most commonly wore numbers 4, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 (11 and 7 were typically used for the left and right wings, respectively).

Strikers wore 9 and 10, and less commonly 7, 8 and 11.

Now many teams have adopted following convention for assigning numbers as per player positions.

When substitutions were introduced to the game in the 1965, the substitute typically took the number 12; when a second substitute was allowed, they wore 14. Players were not compelled to wear the number 13 if they were superstitious.

Till 1993 in England it was mandatory for player in the starting line up to wear the squad number between 1 and 11. FA decided to adopt permanent squad numbers and used it for the first time in 1992-93 League Cup Final ironically between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. It was fully implemented with effect from 1993-94 Premier League season.

In Spain, the permanent squad numbers started in from season 95-96. Germany adopted the system in 1993-94 season and Italy in 1995-96.

Now in England and Italy, Players may now wear any number (as long as it is unique within their squad) between 1 and 99 but in Spain the system is different and stringent. In La Liga players in the A-squad (maximum 25 players, including a maximum of three goalkeepers) must wear a number between 1-25. Goalkeepers must wear 1, 13 or 25. When players from the reserve team are selected to play for the first team, they are given squad numbers between 26 and 50.

But some numbers have their own tale.

Number Keepers:

Though it is traditionally the goalkeeper’s number, Pantelis Kafes a playmaker from AEK Athens has been wearing no. 1 jersey since his Olympiacos days (2003-06).

On other hand, Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci wore the numbers 7 (2005–06) and 5 (2006-08) jerseys. Also Crisiano Lupatelli, a wandering goalkeeper wore No. 10 Jersey at Chievo and No. 3 in his second stint at Roma. He’s now at Genoa wearing No. 22 at Genoa.

Gigi Buffon however got into trouble for his No. selection. At the beginning of the 2000 season, he bizarrely decided to switch to No. 88 from No. 1. Apparently this move caused a huge rage in Italian Jewish community. They pointed out that 88 is a neo-Nazi symbol as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 equates to HH, or Heil Hitler.

Buffon later spoke in the press that, “I have chosen 88 because it reminds me of four balls and in Italy we all know what it means to have balls: strength and determination,” he said. “And this season I will have to have balls to get back my place in the Italy team.” He changed it to No. 77.

The Honor of becoming the first ever player to don no. 99 jersey in the final of major European competition goes to Vítor Baía of Porto in 2003-04 final against AS Monaco.

World’s highest scoring goalkeeper Rogério Ceni who has scored 101 goals for São Paulo, 55 Free Kicks and 46 Penalties wore the No. 618 for Sao Paulo in 2005 to commemorate his 618th appearance for the club. However, this was just a one-off appearance, before Ceni reverted to his regular number 1.

In 2006, when Chelsea signed defender Khalid Boulahrouz from Hamburg, he took No. 9 which was apparently vacant.

Also William Gallas surprisingly wore no. 10 which was vacated by legendary Dennis Bergkamp. Arsene Wenger explained this decision in an interview to Arsenal’s official magazine. Arsene said, “Number three was uncomfortable for him and I had given the rest of the numbers out. In the end I thought it might be a good idea to give the number ten to a defender, because a striker would suffer a lot with the comparison with Dennis. At first I was reluctant to give Dennis’s number out, and especially to a defender, but overall I think its better that way.”

During his second spell at German giants Bayern Munich in 2005, French World Cup winner Lizarazu chose the squad number 69. With obvious connotations, many saw this as a disrespectful choice from the left-back, but he claimed that he chose it as it was his ‘lucky number’ (as he was born in 1969, measured 169 cm, and weighed 69 kg).

Iván Zamorano, a Legendary Chilean striker who has been selected in the FIFA 100, a list of the best living football players in the world compiled by Pelé, got involved in some bizarre number game.

Zamorano had won La Liga with Real in 1994-95 and individual awards like two EFE Trophies and Pichichi, got transferred to Inter in a crazy swap deal of €1m + Roberto Carlos in 1996. Having played for Real Madrid in No. 9 jersey, he continued to wear the same for Inter till 1998 when they signed Roberto Baggio. Baggio demanded No. 10 Jersey which he had always worn in the past. So Ronaldo, who had to give up no. 10 for Baggio, took up no. 9 which already belonged to Zamorano. Therefore he chose retain same No. 9 with a twist. He then chose to wear bizarre No. ‘1+8’ jersey for two remaining years.

In 2008-09 summer AC Milan signed Ronaldinho from Barcelona, Mathieu Flamini from Arsenal and Andriy Shevchenko from Chelsea. Upon their arrival in Milan, they chose their respective birth years as their jersey numbers, 80, 84 and 76 respectively, as their old No. 10, 16 and 7 were already held by Clarence Seedorf, Željko Kalac and Alexandre Pato.

In Scotland, Hibernian signed a striker Derek Riordan in 2008, and gave him No. 01 as No. 10 was already occupied by another striker Colin Nish. When Steven Fletcher moved to Burnley in 2009-10, Nish took vacant No. 9 and Riordan finally got his No. 10. Hicham Zerouali, a Moroccan striker was allowed to wear No. 0 when he was in Aberdeen (1999–2002) as it was his Nickname ‘Zero’.

The Mexican forward Bautista has gained a reputation for being somewhat of a show-off, and his strong personality has won him both friends and enemies. While a Chivas player, Bautista chose the squad number 100, and is the only player to regularly wear a triple figure squad number. However, after a fall-out with both his manager and his team-mates, ‘Bofo’ was transferred to Chiapas, where he currently wears the number one shirt – one which is normally reserved for goalkeepers.

Mexican league has no restrictions on the numbers, but when Mexican clubs enter any FIFA authorized CONCACAF competitions, they have to wear double digit jerseys only.

Currently following players in the Mexican league are having triple digit Number are,

Legendary Goof up:

Pele, who has always been associated with No. 10, began to wear the number in 1958 World Cup. But it has been found out that he got that number as a goof up.

Brazilian Football Confederation forgot to send the player number list to FIFA. Thus FIFA randomly distributed the numbers to players. No.3 was given to their World Cup winning Goalkeeper Gilmar, Garrincha and Mario Zagallo got No. 7 and 11 as they were playing on the wings and Pele got No. 10. Pele finished the tournament with six goals in four matches played, and was named young player of the tournament. He never looked back and never wore another number again.

Argentine debacle:

During 3 consecutive World Cups (1974, 1978, and 1982) Argentina numbered the team alphabetically by surname. In consequence, starting goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol wore the number 5 jersey during the 1978 World Cup and the number 7 in 1982 letting the number 1 to an outfield player. In 1982, Argentina adopted the same method but allowed Diego Maradona to wear No. 10 instead of sequential No. 12.

When the Argentinean FA announced in 1986 that they would be doing a repeat of 1982 and ordering the shirt numbers alphabetically, apart from Diego Maradona who would swap again to number 10, captain Passarella and Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano pulled rank and insisted on keeping their own numbers too, so Passarella kept his favored number 6 and Valdano wore 11.

After Maradona’s retirement, every next No. 10 player was burdened with lot of pressure to justify that number’s legacy. Ariel Ortega was given No. 10 for 1998 World Cup. Ortega was supposed to carry playmaker’s flag, but he failed to deliver.

In September 2001, the football authorities of Argentina decided that, starting from November 14th, the #10 shirt of Argentina will be retired forever, as a tribute to Diego Armando Maradona. The decision was taken from all the members of the committee of the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (AFA).

For 2002 FIFA World Cup, Argentina submitted their squad list of 23 players and assigned them 1-24 numbers and No. 10 was left blank, which was against FIFA’s tournament regulations (Point 4, Article 26). FIFA sent the list back and ordered no. 10 to be given to any player. And the Man himself Sepp Blatter gave a bizarre suggestion to award No. 10 jersey to third choice goalkeeper Roberto Bonano. So it was given to Ortega again.

Now it has been claimed by Maradona’s apt successor Lionel Messi. Although he’s world’s best footballer, doing miracles for Barcelona, the jury is still out on him for his contribution to the national team.

Swapping Game:

There has been a long chain of players’ swaps between Real Madrid and Manchester United involving No. 7.

When Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 he asked for the no 28 shirt he had worn at Sporting Lisbon, which was held by Mark Lynch. But Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him to be a legend and gave him the shirt of a legend – vacated by David Beckham (who had taken the 23 at Real Madrid as there was no budging Raul). Ronaldo said: “After I joined, the manager asked me what number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honor.”

Apparently when Luis Figo moved to Real Madrid from Barcelona, he too wanted No. 7, but Raul’s refusal made him take a vacant No. 10. Next year when Zidane moved to Real, he wanted No. 10, which was held by Figo, who wanted No. 7, which was held by Raul.

Zidane’s bad luck about numbers goes back to Juventus days. Zizou used to wear No. 7 at Bourdeaux, but when he moved to Juve, Angelo Di Livio held No. 7 and Alessandro Del Piero held No. 10. Zizou had to opt for a strange No. 21 at Juve and No. 5 at Real Madrid.

Raul had held No. 7 for 14 years at Real Madrid and was vacated only when he got transferred to Schalke in 2010. At Schalke he has taken No. 7 from Chinese player Junmin Hao, who has been moved back to No. 8.

Ronaldo has not only lived up to the legacy of No. 7, but he also has elevated the stature so high that next No. 7 of Real Madrid will suffer the same fate as Argentina’s no. 10.

Retiring Numbers:

Another game with Jersey numbers is of those which are being retired in honor of their icon players. This way of expressing gratitude is more common in Basketball in America.

To name a few, Chicago Bulls have retired the No. 23 of Michael Jordan and 33 of Scottie Pippen, LA Lakers have retired No. 32 of Magic Johnson, No. 33 of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and No. 34 of Shaquille O’Neal, Boston Celtic have also retired No. 33 of Larry Bird and many more. Although Michael Jordan has never played for Miami Heat, they have retired his No. 23 for his contribution to the game. This is certainly a unique way of paying tribute to the Legend of the game. Football too isn’t far behind in this.

Some of the famous retired Numbers are below.

Legendary No. 14:

On 25th April 1957, a 10 year old kid joined the youth academy at Ajax and he left them in 1973 for Barcelona as a 26 year old superstar. In his illustrious career at Ajax, he won all the trophies which a club footballer can win. With 8 Eredivisie titles, 5 KNVB Cups, 3 consecutive European Cups, 2 UEFA Super cups, 1 Intertoto Cup and 1 Intercontinental Cup, the lad was already a world superstar. After hanging his boots as a player, he returned to Ajax as a manager as a 38 year old man. Not only he won 2 KNVB Cups and a Cup Winners Cup, he also installed a strong football philosophy which is stilled used at Ajax and Barcelona. His name is Johann Cruyff.

He started his career at Ajax with a traditional No. 9 but in 1970-71, he insisted on wearing no. 14 shirt, although being in the starting lineup.

On his 60th Birthday on 25th April 2007, Ajax retired the number 14 jersey, which in their best period was worn by Johan Cruyff. His contribution for the Ajax jersey is immeasurable, and he brought world fame to the club, said the president of the club, John Jaakke.

El Diego again:

Claudio Bellucci is a luckiest man in Naples. He became a last player ever to wear legendary No. 10 jersey, which was graced by Diego Maradona. Diego’s impact on Napoli can’t just be captured in words. As a tribute to him, Napoli retired No. 10 Jersey from 2001-02 season.

But Maradona wants Napoli to being No. 10 out of retirement only if fellow countryman Ezequiel Lavezzi wants it. But Lavezzi has decided to keep his current No. 22 Jersey as he wants to establish himself as first Lavezzi rather than being second Maradona in Naples.

The Divine Ponytail:

After a disappointing season with Inter in 1999-00 and being left out of Italian National Squad, Roberto Baggio decided to resurrect his career with small team Brescia. Baggio joined Brescia at the start of 2000-01 season and helped them to achieve a respectable 8th place. In 01-02 season, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee and had a lengthy absence. He played his last game on 16 May 2004 at the San Siro against Milan. In the 88th minute, Brescia coach Gianni De Biasi subbed Baggio off so he could get his curtain call. The 80,000 present at the San Siro gave him a standing ovation. He scored 45 goals in his 4-year tenure with Brescia and they decided to pay their respect by retiring his No. 10 Jersey.

Curious Case at AC Milan:

AC Milan became the first team in Europe to have two No.s retired, when they retired Paolo Maldini’s No. 3 jersey after he hung up his boots after his 25 year stint with Milan. They had already retired Franco Baresi’s No. 6 jersey as a respect to his 20 year service. Both Maldini and Baresi have spent their career only at Milan.

Apparently Maldini’s jersey has been semi retired. His sons Christian (15) and Daniel (10) have already been signed by AC Milan’s youth team. Paolo has given his consent to bring the shirt out of retirement if anyone of them makes it to AC Milan’s first team. So he has made sure there’ll only be a Maldini wearing No. 3 jersey.

Seven clubs in England and Scotland have retired a number, but most as a result of a player’s sudden death. Hartlepool (Michael Maidens, No. 25), Manchester City (Marc-Vivien Foe, No. 23), QPR (Ray Jones, No. 31), Wycombe (Mark Philo, No14) and Aberdeen (Hicham Zerouali, No20 and who also wore No. 0) have all withdrawn numbers in the wake of tragedy. West Ham too, has retired No.6 shirt’s withdrawal as a tribute to Bobby Moore.

Usually fans that are also referred as a “twelfth man” can get their share in the team’s history in a unique way. Many teams dedicate a number to their fans. The most common number for this practice is 12. Some of the teams who have retired No. 12 are,

Sparta Prague, Portsmouth, Bayern Munich, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Lazio, Parma, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce (had to be) and Lech Poznań (remember their goal celebration?).

Heartwarming Tale:

Undoubtedly, an award for most romantic number story goes to Hungary’s Ferencváros TC.

Hungarian legendary goalkeeper Gyula Grosics nicknamed Black Panther, who was a part of Hungary’s Golden Team of 1950s, played for Budapest Honvéd FC along with Ferenc Puskás. After an ill fated South American tour of 1957 where the club was declared as invalid by FIFA, Ferenc Puskás signed for Real Madrid, but political pressure forced Grosics to return home. Although Grosics wanted to play for Hungary’s most prestigious club Ferencváros TC, he was transferred to modest provincial outfit Tatabanya against his wishes as Hungarian authorities had opposed his move to Ferencváros.

He ended his career with Tatabanya in 1962 with a massive regret of never being able to play for Ferencváros.

46 years after his retirement, Ferencváros decided to amend this mistake. In 2008 officials at the club organized a friendly match against Sheffield United and signed Grosics to allow him to appear on their team sheet at least once.

Before the kickoff, 82 year old Grosics lined up with a squad dressed in his usual black, with his white hair slicked back. He took up position between the posts and got a touch on the ball before being substituted for regular keeper Adam Holczer.

After the game, Ferencvaros retired the No.1 shirt in his honor and, every year, his name features on the list of players which the club sends to the Hungarian Football Association. Till date Grosics is still a registered member of the club.

Forty-six years on from his retirement, Gyula Grosics’ dream had finally come true.

Who says “It’s just a number”?