Five, six , seven, eight: Squad numbers in modern football

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Liverpool's dressing room in the Hong Kong stadium
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Ethan Golding talks the importance of shirt numbers in the modern game and who could fill the vacant spots in Liverpool’s current squad list. 

With Mohammed Salah receiving the number 11 shirt and Roberto Firmino’s subsequent donning of the famed number 9, I’ve been thinking about our vacant first team squad numbers and who can fill them.

These days some numbers are more about marketing and retail value than having any real relevance to what position you play in. Numbers such as 4 and 5 have become accepted in positions outside of their traditional ones; Cesc Fabregas being a prime example along with our very own Gini Wijnaldum.

All this being said, certain numbers really do belong in certain positions. Schneiderlin and Ayew’s decisions to adopt the numbers 2 and 3 at their respective clubs, whilst operating outside of defence, is enough to make even the least traditionalist fan’s skin crawl.

Liverpool are not without sin in this regard. In the past, Czech striker Milan Baros wore the number 5 and James Milner looks set to go into a second season as the first choice left back wearing possibly Liverpool’s most sacred of numbers: 7.

Currently, the number 3 shirt, though somewhat cursed in recent years, is one of three first team squad numbers expected to be vacant by the start of the season proper. The other two being numbers 4 and 8.

Monopoly price tag and transfer drama aside, I believe most Liverpool fans would like to see Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk take the number 4 shirt while Naby Keïta looks destined to claim the mantle of Liverpool’s number 8, should he join this summer from RB Leipzig.

The Guinean midfielder scored 7 goals, provided 8 assists and received 8 yellow cards in the Bundesliga last season. He wears the number 8 and is reportedly 5”8’. It’s practically a sure thing.

As it stands, the Naby Keïta saga looks set to rumble on throughout the summer and Van Dijk has gone back and forth and up and down.

Despite interest from Chelsea, Man City and… Everton, Van Dijk appears to have made it clear to Southampton there’s only one team on Merseyside he wants to join, and they play in Red. He now appears to even be training on his own.

It seems likely that any CB that comes into the club this summer will be taking the number 4 shirt. The only other name linked with a move of late is Lyon’s Emanuel Mammana.

I won’t claim to have a well rounded opinion of the young centre back, but from what I have managed to find he seems comfortable on the ball and fleet of foot. And despite a penchant for a Lovren-esque lapse in concentration, Lyon fans appear to have taken him to heart. This link does, however, seems to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

However, should these two numbers remain vacant I would like to see Adam Lallana adopt one – the number 8 – and despite his decision to wear the 32, let’s get Matip in that number 4 shirt.

All this being said, I think we would all like to see Trent Alexander-Arnold eventually lay claim to the number 8. Assuming he grows into the midfielder he seems destined to become.

If Milner is going to continue as first choice left back I would prefer to see him follow in Firmino’s footsteps and offer up his number to a more suited player. I suspect most, if not all, fans would agree Mané is the most suitable candidate.

This would leave James Milner with the decision of committing to the full back role or maintain his auxiliary man status by picking another squad number. Despite performing above all expectations last year, Milner is not a full back.

Though his footballing brain has reduced the necessity for pace in this position, Milner’s mobility is only going to lessen from here. This combined with his being naturally right footed meant all too often last season Liverpool were devoid of width or pace on the left hand side.

On the few occasions that Alberto Moreno made a cameo, his willingness to overlap and play first time crosses highlighted the flaws in the current system, and the potential dangers that a top quality left back could cause other teams. By many accounts Liverpool U23’s left back Juanma Garcia looks an exciting prospect but seems far from first team action.

In recent days, Liverpool have completed the signing of Scottish fullback Andrew Robertson. In his last two flurries in the Premier league he has shown that he can work well in a side set up to defend and still offer at the very least an outlet going forward. 

Hopefully, he can provide a middle ground between Milner’s defensive stability and Moreno’s overly offensive mindset. 

I personally feel this is a good move, provided we are not looking for him to be starting every game this year and in this capacity Robertson is an obvious upgrade on what Klopp previously had at his disposal.

Robertson has been given the number 26 shirt, however, whether it is a permanent situation or not will alter after the expected move of Mamadou Sakho.

What the number 3 needs is pedigree and as happy as I am with the Robertson signing in the short term, in the long term I would still like to see a LB signing of top level quality.

Jonas Hector seems to have made the Germany number 3 his own in recent years and would provide experience and maturity in one of football’s most specialist positions. And if not him somebody in this mould.

With all this in mind, Liverpool’s first team squad numbers could look something more like this:

    1. Karius
    2. Clyne
    3. Andrew Robertson/Milner
    4. Virgil Van Dijk (Matip)
    5. Wijnaldum
    6. Lovren
    7. Mané
    8. Naby Keïta (Adam Lallana)
    9. Firmino
    10. Coutinho
    11. Salah

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