Maldini, Zidane, Ronaldo, Pele: The most iconic player to wear every shirt number

Numbers can become synonymous with the footballing legends that wear them.

Very occasionally in football, it can reach a point where one man has put in so many impressive performances using one shirt number, and often at one club, that they become a pair in the hearts and minds of fans.

It’s why we see clubs retiring shirt numbers when legends move on or call time on their career – it’s a matter of respect and appreciation.

We’ve seen it with players like Paolo Maldini at AC Milan, Diego Maradona at Napoli, and erm, Jude Bellingham at Birmingham… yikes!

But which player/number duo is the most iconic?

Well, FourFourTwo have had the crazy idea of listing which player they believe is the best match for each number and you can check it out below – all numbers are between 1-99, although don’t worry they haven’t used every selection possible!

The most iconic player to wear each shirt

Number 1: Lev Yashin
Number 2: Cafu
Number 3: Paolo Maldini
Number 4: Pep Guardiola
Number 5: Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid
04 February 2006, Madrid, Spain — Real Madrid’s French midfielder Zinedine Zidane celebrates a goal during a Spanish First Division soccer match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. | Location: Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Victor Fraile/Corbis via Getty Images)

Numbers one and four could easily be up for debate here, however the remaining selections in this category have their numbers on lockdown for eternity.

As mentioned earlier, Maldini’s number three shirt has been retired by AC Milan and the only other person that could ever wear it must bare the iconic second name – something which isn’t entirely out of the question given his son is amidst the Rossoneri ranks right now.

Meanwhile, Zidane’s number five shirt at Real Madrid left such an iconic image in its wake that Kylian Mbappe was planning on brandishing it as an ode of respect to his compatriot should his summer move to Spain have transpired.

Number 6: Bobby Moore
Number 7: Cristiano Ronaldo
Number 8: Andres Iniesta
Number 9: Ronaldo
Number 10: Pele

Ronaldo Brazil
SAITAMA-KEN – JUNE 26: Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning goal during the FIFA World Cup Finals 2002 Semi-Final match between Brazil and Turkey played at the Saitama Stadium, in Saitama-Ken, Japan on June 26, 2002. Brazil won the match 1-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

France football wouldn’t consider players outside of Europe for the Ballon d’Or award until 1995, however in 2016 they decided to re-evaluate who would have won the award each year had it been a global competition.

The results? Well, let’s just say that from numbers 6-10 this bunch would have picked up a mighty 15 Ballon d’Or awards between them – seven for Pele, six for Cristiano and two for Brazilian Ronaldo.

Need any more be said?

Number 11: Romario
Number 12: Marco van Basten
Number 13: Gerd Muller
Number 14: Thierry Henry/Johan Cruyff
Number 15: Sunday Oliseh

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
LONDON – NOVEMBER 13: Thierry Henry celebrates a goal during the Barclays Premiership match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on November 13, 2004 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

We see FourFourTwo couldn’t decide between Henry and Cruyff for 14, and to be honest, you can’t blame them for that.

Van Basten and Muller, two of the finest finishers football has ever known, also find themselves in this category.

The Dutchman famously won three Ballon d’Or despite injuries cruelly forcing him into early retirement at the age of 28, whilst ‘Der Bomber’ bagged an astounding 531 goals for Bayern.

Number 16: Roy Keane
Number 17: Kevin de Bruyne
Number 18: Paul Scholes
Number 19: Paul Gascoigne
Number 20: Michael Owen

Roy Keane Man Utd
Football – Manchester United v Chelsea FA Barclays Premiership – Old Trafford – 10/5/05 Manchester United’s Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney at the end of the match Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Darren Walsh Livepic NO ONLINE/INTERNET USE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE +44 207 298 1656.

It seems like this is the Manchester category, with four of the inclusions spread across both sides of the city lines.

The infamous ‘Gazza’ also appears after making the no.19 shirt his own at the World Cup of 1990.

Number 21: Andrea Pirlo
Number 22: Kaka
Number 23: David Beckham
Number 24: Lorenzo Insigne
Number 25: Nwanko Kanu

Andrea Pirlo Italy
YEREVAN, ARMENIA – OCTOBER 12: Andrea Pirlo of Italy in action during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier group B match between Armenia and Italy at Hrazdan Stadium on October 12, 2012 in Yerevan, Armenia. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

This must be the coldest category of them all if it includes Beckham and Pirlo.

The Englishmen is one of the most famous people on planet earth, whilst Pirlo amongst a host of other typically lavish moments, practically ended Joe Hart’s England career with the naughtiest of Panenka penalties.

Number 26: John Terry
Number 27: David Alaba
Number 28: Steven Gerrard
Number 29: Kylian Mbappe
Number 30: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi in action for PSG
MADRID, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 09, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Some of you may not know that Gerrard began his career at Liverpool donning the no.28. He then moved to no.17, before taking up his most famous shirt of all – the eight.

As a matter of fact, we think Gerrard’s more synonymous with the number than Iniesta is and maybe ought to be appearing slightly higher on this list.

Meanwhile, Messi makes the list after donning the number 30 for Paris-Saint Germain.

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Number 31: Basten Schweinsteiger
Number 32: Carlos Tevez
Number 34: Abdelhak Nouri
Number 37: Adama Traore
Number 39: Marcus Rashford

In 2017, Nouri sadly suffered a cardiac arrhythmia attack in a pre-season friendly whilst playing for Ajax. He was left with severe brain damage and unfortunately was unable to continue his football career.

The no.34 has never officially been retired by the Dutch club, but nobody has took it since. Many of his former teammates have also gone on to wear the number in tribute to him at other teams.

Number 41: Declan Rice
Number 42: Yaya Toure
Number 45: Mario Balotelli
Number 47: Phil Foden
Number 52: Nicklas Bendtner

Balotelli and Mancini at Man City
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini (R) poses with new signing Mario Balotelli after a news conference at the club’s Carrington training complex in Manchester, northern England August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN – Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Plenty of Premier League representation here with Rice and Foden representing via their current squad numbers.

The iconic City duo of Toure and Balotelli also make the cut in the 40’s.

Number 66: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Number 69: Bixente Lizarazu
Number 80: Ronaldinho
Number 99: Vitor Baia

Alexander-Arnold really could make the no.66 a unique aspect about his career if he keeps the slightly wacky number for the next decade or so.

Meanwhile, Ronaldinho’s famous no.80 shirt at AC Milan will live long in the memory of football fans across the globe.

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Lionel Messi in action for PSG

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