Retiring the number of a sports player refers to the honorable process of preventing future players from donning their iconic shirt number. It is common among U.S. sports franchises to acknowledge a player’s achievements or as a tribute to them after death.
While you often see retired jerseys displayed around NBA or NFL arenas, this isn’t the case with soccer stadiums. Have you ever wondered: do they retire numbers in soccer?
Let’s take a deeper look at jersey retiring and determine whether or not is a regular process in soccer. Throughout this article, we cover important topics, like:
- Retiring numbers in soccer
- Popular squad numbers
- Famous number legacies
- Retired numbers in soccer
What famous player is likely to have had their number retired? Keep reading to see if you’re right.
Do They Retire Numbers In Soccer?
While it’s not very common, certain teams retire numbers in soccer. In the U.S., we are accustomed to seeing sports stars honored by hanging their uniforms from the rafters, particularly if they were associated with a particular number.
In soccer, players tend to be celebrated in different ways. Some players receive honorary titles from their teams, others have their statues erected outside the stadium, and many have stands or even stadiums named after them.
However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Many soccer players have had their numbers retired down the years, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest honors an athlete can receive.
Why Do They Retire Numbers In Soccer?
Like with most other sports, soccer players typically have their numbers retired as a mark of respect for their loyalty and service to a team. For example, Franco Baresi spent his entire 20-year playing career at AC Milan, making over 700 appearances for the club.
Aside from being a loyal servant, Baresi was a remarkable player, widely credited for revolutionizing the sweeper position in Italy.
Baresi was also part of several of the most successful Milan sides in their storied history, accumulating 6 league titles, 4 Supercoppa Italiana, 3 Champions Leagues, and 3 Super Cups throughout his career. He served 15 of his 20 seasons as captain. Baresi also won the World Cup for Italy in 1982.
After his retirement in 1997, AC Milan decided to retire the number 6, which Baresi had worn for the majority of his career. After such a storied career, there’s no denying the worthiness of his number retirement.
However, this is often the level of success a player must reach to have his or her number immortalized.
Another common reason players have their numbers retired is to honor them posthumously. Unfortunately, active players pass away tragically.
Junior Malanda, a Wolfsburg player, died suddenly in a car accident in 2015 at the age of 20. Widely regarded as a serious upcoming talent, the news came as a major shock in the soccer world. Wolfsburg retired his number 19 as a mark of respect.
Other teams retire numbers after one of their iconic players passes away, even if it is years after their playing days.
Rather than retiring certain numbers, it’s more common for teams to place a high value on uniform numbers. For example, if the number 11 was worn by an iconic player for a team, it is a major honor to wear this shirt after him or her. For other teams, the number 11 may not have much significance
While important numbers can vary from team to team, there are a handful of popular numbers by position. The number 7 is a favorite on virtually every team.
However, you rarely come across a defender wearing this number. Instead, a dominant center-back may look for the number 5 shirt, especially if his or her predecessor was an important player.
Check out our article on soccer numbering systems for a deeper understanding of how numbers and positions are related.
Famous Numbers In Soccer
Depending on their position, a player may favor one number over another. However, there is a general consensus regarding the most popular or famous squad numbers.
For the vast majority of players and teams, the numbers 7, 9, and 10 are in the highest demand.
Today, the number 7 is synonymous with Cristiano Ronaldo. He has worn this number for the majority of his career at Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus. Ronaldo also wears 7 when playing for Portugal.
His ties to the number run so deep that it is part of his brand, CR7. As one of the best players to lace a pair of cleats, it’s no shock that other players aspire to wear the famous 7.
“The number 7 shirt is an honor and a responsibility. I hope it brings me a lot of luck.”Cristiano Ronaldo
However, Cristiano is just one player in the long line of famous 7s to play for Manchester United, the team for whom he first wore the shirt. David Beckham, Eric Cantona, and George Best are three of the most famous 7s in soccer history, never mind in United’s past.
Traditionally, the number 7 is worn by right midfielders or right-wingers. These types of players are creative and exciting attackers. Many of the game’s great wide players have donned the famous 7.
#9 and #10
There’s no surprise that the numbers worn predominantly by strikers are two of the most famous and sought-after soccer shirt digits. Scoring goals is the greatest yet most difficult skills in soccer. Forwards contribute the vast majority of goals, making them the biggest superstars and fan favorites.
Wearing the number 9 or 10 is a big deal for virtually every team. On a lighter note, William Gallas infamously wore the 10 at Chelsea. As a center-back, this was always seen as a strange fit.
Other Notable Numbers
As discussed, some players become heroes for their teams, making their squad numbers famous. These squad numbers hold a lot of value for their teams, even after the legendary players move on. Examples of unusual iconic team numbers include:
|Manchester United||16||Roy Keane|
|Manchester City||21||David Silva|
|Manchester City||42||Yaya Toure|
Notable Retired Numbers
Let’s take a look at some of the most high-profile retired numbers in soccer. Although some of these have or will be reinstated, the gesture remains a big honor for players.
#10 Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona’s legacy speaks for itself. His name is etched in the history books through World Cup heroics, feats of individual brilliance, and some of the greatest goals we’ve ever seen. He also had endless character, making him one of soccer’s most beloved players.
Maradona spent 5 of his prime years in Italy, playing for Napoli. Gli Azzurri (The Blues) retired his number in 2020 after Maradona’s passing. The number 10 was also retired by Argentina after Maradona hung up his cleats.
However, it was later reinstated for Lionel Messi. No explanation is needed with that one.
#14 Johan Cruyff
Few players have impacted the game like Johan Cruyff. As a player, he was one of the most skillful and technical of his generation, donning the number 14 for the majority of his career at Ajax.
As a coach, Cruyff continued to dominate, revolutionizing Barcelona’s style of play and laying the foundations for future teams within the club.
To celebrate his 60th birthday, Ajax retired Cruyff’s number in 2007.
#34 Abdelhak Nouri
Promising Ajax youngster, Adbelhak Nouri, suffered a cardiac arrest during a game in 2017. Unfortunately, Nouri was left with permanent brain damage.
Ajax decided to retire his number: 34. Teammate and close friend, Donny van de Beek honored Nouri by opting for the number 34 when he signed for Manchester United.
#99 Bradley Wright-Phillips
Bradley Wright-Phillips’ journey is one of the great underdog stories of the MLS. After struggling to succeed in the UK, Wright-Phillips made the transition to the United States in 2013, signing for the New York Red Bulls.
He enjoyed a record-breaking tenure with the franchise, becoming the all-time goalscorer, netting 126 times.
When he left the team in 2019, he was regarded as a hero. After winning 2 MLS scoring titles, he had his number 99 jersey retired.
#12 Lauren Holiday
Lauren Holiday will go down in history as one of the best players to grace the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). She won two titles with FC Kansas City, picking up a league MVP along the way.
Shortly after her retirement in 2015, Holiday’s number 12 shirt was retired. She became the first NWSL player to have this honor bestowed.