Soccer Jersey Numbers Explained: A Complete Guide

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What do the different soccer jersey numbers mean? When the beautiful game was initially introduced by the English Football League in 1939 the players had to wear a specific number based on their position on the field. This included assigning numbers in ascending order or basing them on player positions or seniority within the squad, which is no longer the case.

During the mid 1990s, permanent squad numbers began gaining popularity among clubs worldwide. This trend allowed fans to associate their favorite professional players with specific jerseys over seasons – an essential evolution for fan-player connections. Nowadays, players do not have to wear a specific jersey number based on their positions, however the numbering system still plays a crucial role in the modern soccer world.

CR7, LM10, R9. Cristiano Ronaldo 7, Lionel Messi 10, Ronaldo 9. These are just a few of the many examples of iconic players who are known for wearing a specific shirt number. In this blog, I will cover everything you need to know about soccer jersey numbers and explain the importance of this essential piece of soccer equipment.

soccer jersey numbers

Traditional Numbering Conventions and Player Positions

In soccer, jersey numbers are not just digits on a player’s back. They carry historical significance, often indicating a player’s role and position on the field, but not always. The numbering system is a great way to hand out squad numbers and many players have superstitions about these numbers.

Since there are eleven players on the field the numbering system used to focus on distributing the first eleven numbers to the starting players with the defenders getting the lower numbers, midfielders getting the middle numbers, and attackers getting the higher numbers.

Let’s now take a look at the significance of the different numbered jerseys in soccer.

Number 1

The number 1 is typically given to the top goalkeepers, and starting goalkeeper, of the team. In the modern game, the goalkeeper is known as the team’s number 1 player. The second choice goalkeeper will usually get the numbers after the starting XI such as 12 or 13 but that will also differ from team to team.

Some of the best number 1 goalkeepers in the world include Thiabut Courtois from Real Madrid and Manuel Nueuer from Bayern Munchen.

Number 2

Moving up the field, the next numbers are given to the four defenders, which may differ to three or five defenders depending on the formation chosen by the coach, but typically it is four defenders. The right back is the player that traditionally received the number two jersey.

One thing to note is that the number position combination is not as common in the defense and usually differs. Some of the best number 2s, or right backs, include Achraf Hakimi from PSG and Kyle Walker from Manchester City

Number 3

The left back is the player that used to get the number 3 and as you can probably guess by the name of this position, the left back plays to the left of the central defenders, or center backs, and makes up one half of the full backs.

Similar to the number two, this number position combination is not as common. Some of the best number 3s, or left backs, include Alphonso Davies from Bayern Munchen and Theo Hernandez from AC Milan.

Number 4 and Number 5

The next two numbers, four and five, are given to the two center backs and these two can be interchangeable. Nowadays, most centerbacks still wear either of these numbers, although two and three are also common, as well as numbers higher than 11.

The two center backs playing directly in front of the goalkeeper are the main line of defense and top center backs are required to have a strong and successful back line.

Some of the best number 4s and number 5s in the world include Virgin Van Dijk from Liverpool FC, Ruben Dias from Manchester City, and Antonio Rudiger from Real Madrid.

Number 6

The number 6 is usually given to the defensive midfielders. The defensive midfielder, or the holding midfielder, is the player that will sit in front of the two center backs and their job is to protect the backline and dictate the flow of the game.

Some of the best number 6s in the world include Rodri from Manchester City, Casemeiro from Manchester United, and Joshua Kimmich from Bayern Munchen.

Number 7

The number 7 is typically given to the left or right winger. This number can vary but it is usually given to the left winger and their job is to create goal scoring opportunities and be a constant attacking threat.

The most famous example of someone who wears the number 7 is Cristiano Ronaldo, but many other players, who don’t wear this number, are also great at the winger positions such as Neymar from Al-Hilal and Vini Jr from Real Madrid.

Number 8

The number 8 is usually given to the true central midfielders. The central midfielder is a box to box player that is involved with both the attack and defense. The most famous example of a number 8 is someone like Andres Iniesta, but many other players such as Mateo Kovacic from Manchester City and Toni Kroos from Real Madrid are excellent at playing the center midfield role.

Number 9

The number 9 is given to the player playing the most advanced position on the field, the center forward or striker. This is one of the most common number combinations and until this day many strikers are referred to as the number 9, even if they are not wearing the number 9.

Some of the best number 9s in the world include Karim Benzema who plays for Al Ittihad, Robert Lewandowski who plays at Barcelona, and Erling Haaland who plays for Manchester City.

Number 10

The number 10 was and still is the most special number in the modern game. The number 10 is usually given to the center attacking midfielder, but it is also usually given to the best player of the team and the one who has the most creative abilities.

The number 10 is usually able to do every bit of attacking such as give assists, take shots at goal, score goals, and create goal scoring opportunities for more forward players like the wingers and strikers. The best players who wear the number 10 include Leo Messi from Inter Miami, Luka Modric from Real Madrid, and Kevin De Bruyne for Belgium.

Number 11

The Number 11 is another number given to the winger players. This number is interchangeable and given to either the right or left wingers although it is usually given to the right wingers.

The main role of a number 11 is to be a constant attacking threat by creating goal scoring opportunities, taking on defenders on 1v1s, and scoring goals. Some examples of players who play in the number 11 position include Rodrygo from Real Madrid, Bukayo Saka from Arsenal, and Mo Salah from Liverpool FC.

soccer jersey numbers Image by Colin + Meg

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you pick a jersey number in soccer?

The shirt numbers in soccer used to be assigned to players based on their positions, however that is not entirely the case anymore. To pick a soccer number either pick a number you like and you are familiar with or a number that goes along with the position you play.

What is the difference between box to box midfielders, holding midfielders, central midfielders, attacking midfielders, and defensive midfielders?

All of the players mentioned are part of the central midfield. This means these players are responsible for controlling the mid and linking the defense with attack, however each player has a slightly different role based on the name of their position.

A box to box midfielder is known as a central midfielder, or an 8, while the holding midfielders are the defensive midfielders, or the 6, and the attacking midfielders are the 10s.

Who were the best national team soccer players at the FIFA World Cup 2022?

Goalkeeper: Emi Martinez

Right back: Achraf Hakimi

Center back: Koulibaly

Center back: Jasko Gvardiol

Left back: Theo Hernandez

Center midfielder: Luka Modric

Center midfielder: Sofyan Amrabat

Center Attacking midfielder: Bruno Fernandes

Left winger: Antoine Griezmann

Striker: Kylian Mbappe

Right winger: Lionel Messi

Conclusion

In conclusion, soccer jersey numbers hold a rich history and make up a special part of the beautiful game. Although back in the day players had to wear a specific jersey number based on their positions that is not entirely the case anymore.

Some numbers are still associated with specific positions in modern football today and many players love to get their hands on a jersey with a number from the first starting eleven. In this blog, I covered everything you need to know about the basics of soccer jersey numbers, one of the most essential pieces of soccer equipment.

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