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Jersey Week: Best Manchester United Squad Numbers

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What’s in a number? Quite a lot as it turns out.

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Eric Cantona Manchester United FC 1994 Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images

Number 7

David Beckham, George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo all have worn the iconic number 7 jersey for Manchester United. Personally, the number 7 jersey is Manchester United and all the pressure associated with playing for one of the biggest teams in the world.

Many have tried to wear the number 7 jersey; Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel Di María, Memphis Depay, and Alex Sánchez. They all had the task of carrying on the legacy of the number 7 jersey but failed miserably.

Their failures should and do not taint that jersey for me. True legends wore that jersey and are still being talked about today, long after they moved on from Manchester United.

In Roy Keane’s autobiography ‘The Second Half’, he recalled when Sir Alex Ferguson called him in to discuss jersey numbers and captaincy.

‘The captaincy is important,” he wrote, ‘but squad numbers can have an importance, too. At United, 7 was the iconic number. When Eric Cantona left there was debate about who was going to be the next captain. I was quite relaxed about it. But there was his number, too – 7.

Although Keane wore 16 and represented United well in it, even he knew of the power of the number 7 jersey. Here is another excerpt from Keane’s book that explains how it was decided that Beckham got the number 7:

‘Bryan Robson had had it before Cantona and, of course, it went back to Georgie Best. The manager pulled me into his office and said that he wanted me to wear the ‘7’.

‘And he (Sir Alex Ferguson) said, “I know Becks will f**kin’ want it and I don’t want him to have it.”

‘The little power battles. (between Beckham and SAF)

‘I’d had 16 since I’d signed for the club. I was comfortable with 16. I think it might have kept me on my toes, being outside the 1 to 11. I didn’t think I was a number 7. I said, “Give it to Becks.”

‘Becks got it, and it suited him – and Cantona. Ronaldo had it after Becks.’

Ultimately after that conversation the jersey was given to David Beckham, and we all know what he means to Manchester United and the number 7 jersey. - VR

Number 10

Fulham v Manchester United - Premier League

Number 7 isn’t alone in its arsenal of great players to at Manchester United, the Number 10 is arguably up there with it. Denis Law, Mark Hughes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and the club’s greatest ever goalscorer/Mount Rushmore player (disputed), Wayne Rooney. All are some of the deadliest goalscorers in club history, and are now succeeded by Marcus Rashford, who is on a trajectory to join them in the record books before his United career is finished.

Rooney is certainly the biggest name on this list with 253 goals and 146 assists, but Law, Hughes, and Van Nistelrooy aren’t too far behind in all-time goals for the club. They each performed in big moments as well, with plenty of silverware and club history shared between them.

Beyond the greatness of the number 10 at Manchester United, it occupies a special place in the game of football in general. Pele, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Lionel Messi are just a handful of the great names who looked up to a hero in that shirt before becoming legends themselves. It’ll never die as one of the most iconic jersey numbers in sport, that bears a weight of expectation with it as well. This weight now passes down to Rashford, who looks more than capable of living up to the hype. - CD

Number 1

Manchester United v Chelsea - Champions League finale Photo by Eric Renard / Onze / Icon Sport via Getty Images

Manchester United have a habit of finding great goalkeepers over the last three decades, which has given the no. 1 shirt even more pressure than it normally comes with at a top club. Peter Schmeichel, Edwin van der Sar, and David De Gea are three of the best to ever stand between the posts, and have secured their legacies with Manchester United fans for as long as the sport is played. De Gea is still playing, but has already earned his badges as one of the best in the game, and he’s followed in some pretty big footsteps.

Schmeichel may have played for the Blue half for a couple years, but before that he spent a decade helping United become the most dominant force in England, and eventually Europe as he captained United to their remarkable 1999 Champions League comeback, completing the historic Treble. It took some time to find a suitable replacement for the Great Dane, but Dutch no. 1 van der Sar came in at the end of his already storied career to see yet another period of dominance and silverware, highlighted by the 2008 UEFA Champions League win in Moscow where he saved Nicolas Anelka’s sudden death spot kick.

Even names you may not remember as well are worthy of recognition here. Gary Bailey was a hero on more than one occasion for the Ron Atkinson and Dave Sexton teams of the 1980s, Alex Stepney helped the club win their first ever European Cup, and Harry Gregg, “The Hero of Munich,” was as remarkable off the pitch as he was on it. And don’t forget the electrifying Fabien Barthez, a Champions League, UEFA Euro, and World Cup winner (none of these while he was at United). - CD

Number 4

Juan Sebastian Veron

“Longed for him. Got him. Shit.” - Margaret Atwood

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Manchester United v Middlesbrough Photo by Neal Simpson - PA Images via Getty Images

“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.” - Arthur Miller

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Old Trafford Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” - Sarah Dessen

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-LIVERPOOL Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” - Alexander Pope

- BM