Historically, and still largely to this day, the number seven shirt has tended to be donned by a wide player, but in the last two or three decades, the number has also been adopted by a number of more central forward players.
Here are football’s 7 greatest number 7’s:
7. Andriy Shevchenko
So, seventh place in a list of the seven greatest number sevens in football history. It doesn’t get much more Sevens than this. The man who takes that title is Andriy Shevchenko, one of the most deadly strikers in Europe at his best. An excellent all-round centre-forward who was strong, industrious and clinical, Shevchenko scored 175 goals in 322 games for AC Milan. The Ukrainian number 7 was nominated for the Ballon d’Or eight times, winning it once in 2004 and finishing third twice.
6. Luis Figo
Portuguese former footballer Luis Figo attends a commercial event on September 8, 2018 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province of China.
The best footballer in the world at the turn of the millennium, Luis Figo was a remarkable technician with excellent close control, wicked vision and superb crossing ability. A six-time Portuguese Footballer of the Year who won the Ballon d’Or in 2000, Figo’s peak was probably his final season at Barcelona, but he was excellent for both Real Madrid and Inter Milan. Capped 127 times by his country, Figo actually wore the number 10 shirt at Real Madrid, but he donned the iconic number 7 for Sporting, Barcelona, Inter and Portugal.
5. Kenny Dalglish
A Liverpool legend known as ‘King Kenny’ among the red half of Merseyside, Kenny Dalglish is one of the finest footballers Britain has ever produced. A master schemer who operated as a second striker in behind Ian Rush for most of his time at Anfield, the hard working Scot scored a few as well, and he is almost as celebrated among Celtic supporters as he is among Liverpool fans. A Ballon d’Or runner-up in 1983, Dalglish won 10 league titles and three European Cups as a player, and he has previously been named as Liverpool’s greatest ever player.
4. George Best
Manchester United player George Best during a match against Northampton Town, UK, 7th February 1970.
From probably the greatest player in the history of Liverpool FC, to arguably the finest from their North-West rivals Manchester United. George Best was obviously a marvellous footballer, who was comfortably among the best in the world for at least five seasons. A winger who scored 32 goals in his most prolific season, which was virtually unheard of for a wide player in the 1960’s, that - combined with his long hair, good looks and playboy lifestyle, made Best the biggest celebrity in the sports history at that time.
It’s little wonder his number 7 shirt became so iconic at Old Trafford then, and Best is already our third Ballon d’Or winner, only four players into this seven. It’s worth pointing out that the Belfast-native was not without his flaws. He often played as an individual, and his demons outside of football saw his career come to an end at the highest level at the age of only 27, but he still merits fourth place in this seven.
3. Stanley Matthews
Britain’s two greatest wingers of all time, in our opinion at least, feature consecutively in this seven. Matthews was arguably football’s first truly global superstar, and he is the reason every boy in Britain would want the number seven on the back of their shirts for so many years. Nicknamed the Wizard of the Dribble, Matthews was a master technician who was quick, agile and relentless in his pursuit of providing deadly crosses into the box.
Every left-sided full-back in the world knew Matthews’ tricks, but none could stop him, including the best of the lot - Nilton Santos - who Matthews humiliated at the age of 41. The most incredible thing about Stan may have been his longevity. His career spanned 33 years, ending aged 50 and still in the top flight. He won a Ballon d’Or at the age of 41 and the FWA Footballer of the Year award at 48.
Brazilian footballers Pele and Garrincha, 2nd February 1968.
The only right winger to have surpassed the great Stanley Matthews in the half century since he retired is the Brazilian maestro known as Garrincha. A troubled genius much like Best, Garrincha also had his struggles with alcoholic, but they took more of a toll after his career than during. A star of the Brazil sides which won both the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, Brazil never lost a game in which Pele and Garrincha both played.
Nicknamed the Joy of the People in Brazil, Garrincha had a spinal deformity which left him bow-legged. Virtually unstoppable with a ball at his feet, Garrincha spent nine years as one of the best players on the planet, and in Pele’s absence - he took that title outright in 1962.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Federico Bernardeschi of Juventus celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus scoring second goal during the Serie A match between Frosinone and Juventus at Stadio Matusa, Frosinone,...
In terms of talent with a ball at their feet, Cristiano Ronaldo would be no match for Garrincha. However, the Portuguese superstars effectiveness, consistency and longevity make him the greatest number seven in the history of the game. Ronaldo’s insatiable appetite to score more goals, win more trophies and be considered the greatest footballer on the planet have made him an absolute force of nature for more than a decade.
The scorer of some 575 goals in 768 games for four different clubs, the winner of multiple Ballon d’Ors and five Champions League’s, Ronaldo’s achievements are inarguable. There may have been more talented or more iconic number 7’s in the history of the game, but none ‘greater’ than Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was recently suggested that we should do some honourable mentions between the second and first placed entries in our videos, so we thought we’d give it a go here and we welcome your feedback on whether you like this approach in the comments.
Honourable mentions here would go to David Beckham, one of the finest crossers of a ball and dead ball specialists the game has ever seen. Quite possibly the most iconic number 7 in the history of the game, Becks came second in the 1999 Ballon d’Or, although he did of course switch to the number 23 shirt at both Real Madrid and LA Galaxy.
Another Manchester United legend in the form of Eric Cantona certainly warrants a mention, as does Beckham’s former Real Madrid team mate Raul. Both cult heroes at their respective clubs, and both finished in the top three of Ballon d’Or voting at one time or another.
One Celtic great may have made this seven, but there are two notable ones who didn’t, namely Henrik Larsson and Jimmy Johnstone. Both world class at their best, they can consider themselves unfortunate to have missed out, as can former Arsenal and France star Robert Pires, an excellent technician who was equally effective out wide or through the middle.
Some other players who were considered include Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson, Tom Finney, Jorge Burruchaga and more recently N’Golo Kante.
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