Do they really have a psychological impact on players?
I doubt players like Nicklas Bendtner give much worth to a number, just as long as he can show the world how much his wages are each week. For other players and specifically those of particular nationalities, there’s a lot of significance in a squad number.
Lionel Messi was given the no.10 shirt following the departure of Ronaldinho to AC Milan. There’s a lot of weight and responsibility in that number, especially due to it’s reputation in South American football. But clubs like Barcelona were hardly going to give a famous number to a player like Alex Hleb or Martin Montoya.
However, the importance of numbers do work both ways. Clubs want to hand responsibility and the prestige of certain numbers to their best players. At Arsenal, Jack Wilshere was recently given the no.10 after Robin van Persie found more worth in an extremely forgetful number elsewhere, while newcomer Lukas Podolski also chased the Dutchman’s former shirt. But Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand Wilshere the number was symbolic of the faith he has in the player and his position at the club moving forward. His position on the pitch and as a leader for the club.
It’s also not something that’s central to just football players. You’re sure to find players in many other sports who chase a number due to it’s meaning, while others land on a number and never change for the rest of their career. Does it hold worth beyond just being a throwaway gimmick? Sure, and it’s a strange one, yet wholly understandable.
And we can take it a step further and into the world of gaming, where I’m sure serious addicts of FIFA or Football Manager are going to offer their latest signing a respectable number and one in keeping with his talent and importance to the side.
William Gallas looked ridiculous in the no.10 shirt while playing for Arsenal, and not just because of the player who wore the number before him (although it did have something to do with it). But no Arsenal fan will complain at the decision to hand Wilshere the number. Quite simply, defenders have no place in a shirt number that is so regularly associated with one of the key attackers in a team.
No one will ever wear Wayne Gretzky’s no.99 shirt in the NHL again, while Bryce Harper is making the no.34 look increasingly more fashionable in the MLB. The importance of Michael Jordan’s 23 has been transferred to football with David Beckham opting for that number upon his arrival at Real Madrid, yet I’m sure he’d swat away the worthlessness of the number 24.
Players like to feel comfortable in their numbers, and a classic no.9 striker needs his worth to be made a little more obvious with the correct number of his back. To outsiders, it’s all just sports nonsense, like which shin pad you put on first or the album that has to be played before a game.
One thing is certain, like Gallas at Arsenal, Michael Owen really shouldn’t have worn the no.7 at Manchester United. Again, probably a lot of old nonsense, but certainly not to those who are more used to players like Beckham, Eric Cantona or Cristiano Ronaldo carrying the traditions and importance of the number.