Getting shirty Numbers at Manchester United

Blog: Getting shirty

What’s in a number? Not much, in my opinion, although I fear I’m in the minority with that view.

A few weeks ago, when Robin van Persie signed for United, I was bombarded with questions on Twitter by Reds fans. A few asked my opinion on how RvP might fit into a side already bulging with attacking talent; far more were concerned only with what squad number he would be handed.

Even the club were keen to keep his number under wraps until the Dutchman strategically revealed his new shirt at the beginning of his official unveiling press conference. The first news to emerge from that meeting with the media wasn’t van Persie’s initial thoughts on the sensational four-year deal that took him from the Emirates to Old Trafford, but “RvP will wear the no.20 shirt at MUFC!”.

The same clamour for numerical knowledge followed Michael Owen’s departure in the summer. Within minutes of announcing he had been released, the speculation began. Who would be United’s new no.7? Would they have the necessary star qualities to do justice to our iconic shirt?

I just don’t get it. Whether Wayne Rooney wears no.10 or no.41 doesn’t change what he’s capable of doing on a football pitch. And Antonio Valencia isn’t, in my opinion, expected to perform greater feats at Manchester United now he’s swapped the no.25 for the no.7.

Smaller numbers don’t necessarily equate to better players, either. You only have to look at Paul Scholes – 22 now, 18 for the majority of his career – to realise that. Then there’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (20), Dwight Yorke (19) and even our current captain, Nemanja Vidic (15).

Granted, tradition and history play a big role in football, so I can understand a player expressing pride to wear a number made famous by a former player. Rafael da Silva, for instance, told me last week that “it’s a big honour to wear the no.2 shirt now”.

“I’m really happy to get Gary Neville’s old number,” the Brazilian said. “He’s a club legend so I’m happy to wear his shirt.”

But will it change the way Rafael plays when he steps onto a football pitch?

“Not at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there’s more pressure on me now. Whenever you play for Manchester United’s there’s pressure.”

Perhaps shirt numbers just give us something else to talk about in this era when fans crave constant debate and analysis.

Surely, though, what really matters is how a player embodies the spirit of the club crest emblazoned on the front of his shirt… not whatever number he happens to be wearing on his back.


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