Since the dawn of the Premier League football clubs have been asked to assign shirt numbers for their players before the start of the season; mainly as a clever marketing tool which has seen an incredible demand for club shirts with the name and number of a fans respective favourite player adorning the rear.
This has given even more cult status to specific numbers including the number ‘9’ but at one club the space is currently vacant.
Manchester United is the club in question and since Dimitar Berbatov left for Fulham in the summer the vacancy has stood for the entire season.
Dimitar Berbatov, Louis Saha, Andy Cole and Brian McClair are the four players to have pulled on the shirt since 1992 and with heavy expectations laid upon their shoulders. Of course the number ‘9’ is the shirt number favoured by club legend Sir Bobby Charlton.
With that in mind taking on the mantle certainly has a level of expectation some may not envy.
Now Robin Van Persie has confirmed that next season he will stick with the number ‘20’ shirt he shoved Fabio da Silva out of last summer rather than take up the option on this famous shirt; but who will wear it next season?
Sir Alex Ferguson could offer within. Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck may want to take it for the upcoming campaign; I highly doubt Wayne Rooney will switch from his current number ‘10’.
Perhaps interestingly is the shirt number of choice for Polish goal-machine Robert Lewandowski at his current club Borussia Dortmund. With speculation high of his impending exit if United can fend off the competition it will be a no-brainer.
Manchester United have also been linked with Atletico Madrid striking sensation Radamel Falcao in recent weeks. He also wears the squad number in question in the Spanish capital and would more than happily slip into the famous red version.
Or the other option; retire it. As the ultimate homage to one of the greatest players ever to have stepped out for the club the number could be consigned to the history books much like Napoli have with the number ‘10’, West Ham ‘6’ and Ajax ‘14’ as a tribute to Diego Maradona, Bobby Moore and Johan Cruyff respectively.
I don’t mean Louis Saha of course but Sir Bobby Charlton. It would be a great honour for the man to see Manchester United retire his shirt and I am sure many United fans would also be pleased to see it. Not many English clubs take this decision; most of the time shirt numbers on our shores are only ever retired in moments of tragedy such as Marc-Vivien Foe (23 at Manchester City) and Ray Jones (31 at QPR); in fact I cannot find a single example of a retired number in England where the recipient was alive to witness the moment (please enlighten me if wrong?).
It would be nice for the action to be used in light of more happy times; with Sir Bobby’s sheepish smile on show.
Should United retire the number ‘9’ shirt?
image: © eirikref