Strangest squad numbers? Bizarre XI features Arsenal, Real Madrid and Chelsea choices

  • Kobe Tong
Gallas wore No. 10 at Arsenal.

Ah, squad numbers. A completely insignificant and trivial detail of football or a deeply personal and traditional aspect of the game depending on who you ask.

While, yes, there are supporters who wouldn’t bat an eyelid about a goalkeeper running around with ‘10’ on their back or a centre forward sporting ‘3’ on their jersey, there are just as many fans who would subsequently have a meltdown.

Or, you might be somebody like yours truly who – despite not necessarily tearing one’s hair out at the thought of an unorthodox squad number – does get a strange, illogical feeling in your stomach whenever a digit choice breaks convention.

Unorthodox squad numbers

Besides, let’s not pretend as though Manchester City confirming that Joao Cancelo will now wear their number 7 jersey didn’t at least catch you out seeing as it’s a number often reserved for midfielders.

It is, after all, the shirt associated with the Cristiano Ronaldos and David Beckhams of this world as opposed to a full-back, even one as attacking and skilful as Cancelo.

In fact, City’s atypical number designation, as well as a great read from FourFourTwo, got us thinking about other examples of players who gave certain fans a migraine by donning shirts that are traditionally incongruous with their position.

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And in what could be considered an act of pure cruelty against those who live and die by starting XIs being correctly ordered 1 to 11 from goalkeeper to striker, we’ve constructed a line-up that flies in the face of convention.

XI of bizarre squad numbers

The result? An infuriatingly untraditional XI for the old-school fans out there, but one that we like to view as a hipster’s paradise where chaos reigns supreme.

Do bear in mind that we’re by no means criticising the players, many of whom wear their unorthodox numbers for deeply personal and poignant reasons, but rather light-heartedly teasing those who we know will be hyperventilating into a brown paper bag reading this.

So, if that’s you, then brace yourselves as we walk through our anarchic line-up of atypical squad number choices down below:

GK: Guillermo Ochoa (8)

What’s happened here then? Well, the suspicion is that Ochoa sported the number typically associated with box-to-box midfielders at Standard Liege as a pun on his name with ‘eight’ translating to ‘ocho’ in Spanish.

RB: Glen Johnson (8)

Did Johnson secretly channel his former teammate Steven Gerrard and become a wizardly playmaker for Stoke City? No, no he didn’t, he just picked the lowest available squad number and the traditionalists probably hate him for it.

Johnson wearing No. 8 at Stoke City.
Britain Soccer Football – Leicester City v Stoke City – Premier League – King Power Stadium – 1/4/17 Stoke City’s Glen Johnson in action with Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

CB: William Gallas (10)

The man himself says ‘it was good for Arsenal’ that he chose the number 10 jersey over the No. 3 shirt freshly vacated by Ashley Cole, duly succeeding Dennis Bergkamp despite playing at centre-back. We’ll let Gooners past judgment on that…

Gallas celebrates with Henry.
LONDON – SEPTEMBER 26: Thierry Henry (R) of Arsenal is congratulated by team mate William Gallas (L) after opening the scoring during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Arsenal and FC Porto at The Emirates Stadium on September 26, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

CB: Khalid Boulahrouz (9)

No wonder the number nine jersey is cursed at Chelsea when centre-backs are wearing it with Boulahrouz, who made just 13 Premier League appearances in blue, winding up with the digit as something of an afterthought.

He explained the madness to FOX Sports in 2019: “I had to pick a number and the kit man from Chelsea started with No. 9. And then he continued with 45, 47… So my thought was ‘I’m not gonna play with a number like that’ so I said ‘Okay, give me No. 9’.”

Boulahrouz as Chelsea's No. 9.
Football – Blackburn Rovers v Chelsea – Carling Cup Third Round – Ewood Park – 06/07 – 25/10/06 Blackburn’s Shabani Nonda in action against Chelsea’s Khalid Boulahrouz Mandatory Credit: Action Images / John Sibley

LB: Joao Cancelo (7)

Ah, the reason we’re here. Cancelo has gobbled up Raheem Sterling’s old shirt and ditched the two from his old ’27’ attire in the process, but we’ll cut him some more slack than the others given that he does come about as close to being a No. 7 as a full-back possibly can.

CM: Edgard Davids (1)

Nothing to see here, just a former Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus star declaring that he wants to start a trend by wearing the No. 1 jersey as player-manager for Barnet in non-league football. What a time to be alive.

Davids wearing No. 1 at Barnet.
Football – Barnet v Wrexham – Skrill Premier – The Hive – 13/14 , 13/10/13 Edgar Davids – Barnet Player Manager Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

CM: Steve Sidwell (9)

Take it away, Steve: “[Jose] Mourinho was sitting there at the front and he says, ‘Steve, you’re going to wear No 9 this year.’

“Every player who joins a new club looks at the numbers available and I’d seen the numbers 9, 14 and others that went upwards from there. I just assumed I may get the No 14 at a push.

“I didn’t know whether he was just testing me. If I said, ‘No thanks’ it would look like I had a weakness in my mentality. If I say ‘Yes’, it may have been that he was only joking. But I thought at least I’d then show him I had the balls to wear it. So I said ‘Yes’ and it turned out he was being serious.”

Sidwell as Chelsea's No. 9.
Football – Stock 07/08 – 5/1/08 Steven Sidwell – Chelsea Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Tony O’Brien

CAM: Clint Dempsey (2)

The American icon explained that he wore number 2 at Tottenham because of its significance to his early playing days, but that didn’t stop instances where it looked as though Spurs’ right-back had lost their head and gone on mad runs into the box.

Dempsey as Tottenham's No. 2.
Football – Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur – Barclays Premier League – The Britannia Stadium – 12/13 – 12/5/13 Tottenham Hotspur’s Clint Dempsey (L) and Stoke City’s Steven N’Zonzi in action Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Andrew Boyers EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

FW: Nwankwo Kanu (4)

Again, personal reasons are the most widely accepted explanation for Kanu’s unorthodox number choice during his Nigeria career, but it still left us doing a double-take even more so than Milan Baros wearing No. 5 at Liverpool.

Kanu wearing No. 4 for Nigeria.
Nwankwo Kanu Nigeria stock Season 98/99 Pic : Action Images / Stuart Franklin

ST: Emmanuel Adebayor (6)

No, you haven’t just woken up from a fever dream because Adebayor did indeed briefly play for Real Madrid, leading the line with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, with the number of a defensive midfielder on his back.

Adebayor as Real Madrid's No. 6.
MADRID, SPAIN – APRIL 02: Emmanuel Adebayor of Real Madrid reacts at the end of the the la Liga match between Real Madrid and Sporting Gijon at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

FW: Samuel Eto’o (5)

Is there anything more random than the fact that Eto’o spent six forgettable months as an Everton player? Yes, yes there is, and that’s recalling that he wore the number 5 jersey throughout it all.

Eto'o in his Everton days.
Football – Lille v Everton – UEFA Europa League Group Stage Matchday Three Group H – Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France – 14/15 – 23/10/14 Samuel Eto’o – Everton Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Andrew Boyers EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Feeling rattled?

Don’t pretend as though you’re not rattled, we see you there. Yes, you.

Like we say, the days of every position on the pitch being anchored to a certain number is long gone, but that arguably makes it even more interesting that unorthodox digit choices can still provoke such a visceral reaction.

Perhaps there’s just three guarantees in life: death, taxes and a centre forward wearing number 2 on their back looking so, so wrong.

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