A numbers game: Manchester United may be incomplete but they know it

United are the only one of the Premier League elite to have left some of their most historic shirts vacant.

This wasn’t supposed to be an article about Manchester United.

Enough has been written about the club’s failure to hand the number seven shirt to any of their current playing squad.

So instead I looked at some of their rivals’ squad numbers for the new season, convinced I would find a story or two, clues to potential new signings in what is left of the transfer window.

But the truth is: no one is giving anything away…as much as anything can be revealed via the simple act of matching a name with a number.

At Liverpool, you have to count to 13 before you find a vacant shirt…and to 17 before you find the next one.

New arrivals Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas have taken numbers four, six and nine respectively.

Similarly at Tottenham, new signings Paulinho and Roberto Soldado have taken numbers eight and nine. Apart from 12 and 13, the next available shirt is 23.

Even Arsenal – themselves struggling in the transfer market – have only the number two shirt spare, followed by 13 and 18.

As boring as it may be to simply list numbers, there is a reason for it.

United’s failure to either fill (or reward a current player with) either the number seven or number nine shirt speaks of a squad incomplete but very much aware of that fact.

Many touted Wilfried Zaha as United’s next number seven. But rightly or wrongly certain shirts bring more pressure than others. The young winger should be allowed to grow without the added weight of history on his shoulders.

Over at Manchester City some of the first names on the team sheet wear numbers in their 40s, but only the number three is vacant from the first 11.

Perhaps United’s unclaimed shirts are welcome mats for potential new arrivals. Or perhaps the numbers game is completely irrelevant compared to the one that takes place on the field.

But then again, the number seven shirt has not once been unoccupied since United began their era of success under Sir Alex Ferguson…

image: © Gordon Flood

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