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What’s In a Shirt Number?

A player’s shirt number can be seen to represent many things; a position, or even favouritism from the manager for example. Moving into the summer transfer window, could shirt numbers lend a hint as to how players will figure under the manager during the upcoming season, if at all?

As you’ll know from my biography section on footyblog.net, i’m a season ticket holder and life long fan of Norwich City football club. So when the club announced its squad numbers fresh for the new season on Tuesday July 1st, it got me thinking. Is the number 20 ‘just a number’ as striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel tweeted?

Let me explain. The first major change that I noticed when I scrolled down the list was that last summer’s £8.5m signing from Sporting Lisbon had been dethroned of his number nine shirt by new signing Kyle Lafferty, recently signed from Italian side Palermo. In response to this, Ricky tweets ‘Yes I have been given number 20 I guess it’s just a number’. Now, can we interpret this as newly appointed manager Neil Adams taking Ricky’s sole goal return from last season as a sign that he is not number one material in the striking department, and instead has brought in the lanky Irishman Lafferty as one of ‘his signings’ in preference over the Dutchman? And can we interpret Ricky’s tweet as a sign of frustration, or him not reading too much into the situation? On the one hand, he was heavily advertised when he signed last year as ‘the big bad wolf’ who would score plenty of goals with an impressive record of goals scored in Portugal. So you could understand any potential frustration if any existed from him being stripped of the prestigious number nine shirt at a lower level following City’s relegation. On the other hand, one national counterpart in Robin van Persie has been known for wearing the number 20 shirt and maintaining a high goals return at the highest of levels. Perhaps it’s a sign of 20 goals a season to come from the big bad wolf? Whether it’s a push out the door, or a kick up the backside of motivation from Adams to van Wolfswinkel, if he does the business on the training ground and on the playing field, he’ll be in the team. You’ve got to believe there is some justification there in such a high price tag, and Norwich would be foolish to just discard him after one transitional season in England.

The next noticeable number change is perhaps a bit more conclusive than Ricky’s situation, and that is that of one Sebastien Bassong. Known as ex-manager Chris Hughton’s man, City’s team captain of last season has been displaced of his number five shirt, and been shifted right the way down to the lower reaches of the pecking order, to number 30. Simply put, if he was still in the manager’s plans, he would not be given such a low number as 30. Heavily anticipated to be captain come the start of the new season, Russell Martin has swapped his number two jersey for Bassong’s number five, which could be seen as the biggest hint yet that he will be captain for the upcoming season, and be deployed in more of a central role, as players holding the number five shirt traditionally are. Failing to appear for a single game under Adams at the end of last season, all the signs seem to point to a summer exit out of Norfolk for Sebastien Bassong.

So who takes Russell Martin’s vacated number two? Fellow Scotsman Steven Whittaker has taken over in that department, which suggests he will be City’s regular right back for next season. He vacates the traditionally left back number (a position which he has played numerous times for Norwich in previous seasons), and you would have expected either Martin Olsson or Javier Garrido to snap that up wouldn’t you? Wrong. The number remains vacant. Is it a hint that Adams is in the market for another left back? Is Olsson (who has been linked with a move back to the Premier League this summer with West Ham and West Brom) or Garrido (who was back up to Olsson last season and rarely featured) on the way out of Carrow Road? Or perhaps, just perhaps, a shirt number really is just a shirt number if they are happy to retain the same digits on their backs as last year.

From out of favour players, to suggested playing positions, take notice of your teams number list for the 2014/15 season once released, and see if you can try and decode it like I have with Norwich City. One can speculate, but of course we won’t really know what is going on in the manager’s mind until matches are played and line-ups are named. But up until that moment of clarity, shirt number lists can make interesting reading.

Image sourced from skysports.com.

About Ian Gurney

Keen football writer and film/TV videographer. Norwich City fan and season ticket holder, dabbling in a bit of live football commentary.

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