Saturday July 7, 2007
By BRIAN MARTIN
Ask any kid in a Sunday kickabout in the park what jersey he would like to have, and more often than not, the answer would be a number seven or 10.
The number seven is usually worn by a midfield player or a winger, and, because the wearer has a central position on the pitch, he is traditionally given the captaincy of the team.
In the old days, numbered jerseys were given out for specific positions, for example, the goalkeeper got the number one jersey, the central defenders, numbers four and five, the centreforward, the number nine, etc. This meant that a footballer did not “own” a jersey. If he were injured or dropped, his replacement would assume the same jersey. Squad numbers ranged from 1-13.
The number seven, though, continues to be one of the most coveted shirts in any football team. With apologies to Liverpool and Arsenal fans, it is the current EPL champion Manchester United that has produced the most iconic number sevens in recent years.
Here are five of the greatest number sevens the Red Devils have produced.
George Best (played for United from 1963-1974)
Born: May 22, 1946
United Record: 466 appearances, 178 goals
The late George Best needs no introduction. He was quite simply one of the best footballers ever to play the game. Although he also wore the number 11 shirt, Best played for most of his United career as a number seven – including that glorious night of May 29, 1968 when the Red Devils became the first English club to lift the European Cup.
Operating as a winger or as a deep-lying forward, Best tormented defenders with his sublime dribbling skill and his ability to shoot with either foot.
Best goal: Going to Benfica’s Stadium of Light as a 19-year- old in 1965 and scoring a terrific solo, beating two defenders, the goalkeeper and nonchalantly side-footing the ball into the net.
Born: Jan 11, 1957
United Record: 434 appearances, 97 goals
A superb defender, an awesome midfielder and a lethal goalscorer, Captain Marvel was the complete footballer – pulling off a goal-line clearance one minute and popping up in the opposition box to score the next.
He was signed for a then British record fee of £1.5mil. Despite suffering more than enough injuries to fill a medical dictionary, Robson led England and United for the best part of 10 years.
His bone-crunching displays in the heart of midfield will forever endear him to the United faithful.
Best goal: April 1985, FA Cup semi-final replay against Liverpool. Picking up the ball in midfield, outdistancing Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen, he rifled a superb 25m left-footer into the top left hand corner of Bruce Grobelaar’s goal.
David Beckham (1991-2003)
Born: May 2, 1975
United Record: 348 appearances, 84 goals
Beckham, a childhood United fan, enjoyed an Old Trafford career which no fantasy writer could have scripted. He won the EPL in his first full season, won the Champions League, scored some amazing goals, and along the way married a Spice Girl.
Despite having a love/hate relationship with his manager, the media and fans, Beckham time and again proved all his critics wrong with some unbelievable performances wearing his boyhood hero, Bryan Robson’s number seven shirt.
Best goal: Time stood still as Beckham watched his amazing halfway-line shot sail over Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan on the opening day of the 1996/97 season.
Eric Cantona (1992-1997)
Born: May 24, 1966
United Record: 181 appearances, 80 goals
With his upturned collar and puffed out chest, “Le King” played majestically in the red of United.
Cantona took over the number seven shirt from Robson and eventually replaced him as captain and inspiration of Alex Ferguson’s first great United side of the 1990s.
First to arrive on the training ground and last to leave, Cantona was credited with inspiring United’s young guns – Scholes, the Nevilles, Butt and Beckham. The Frenchman received the ultimate accolade when he was voted United’s Greatest Ever Player in a 1995 poll.
Best goal: It may not be the most creative goal Cantona has scored in the red of United, but the only goal in a drab 1996 FA Cup Final was certainly the most important. From a Beckham corner, Liverpool goalkeeper David James flapped at the ball and it fell to the mercurial Frenchman. Twisting his body, Cantona fired in an unstoppable volley beyond James and his despairing defenders.
Born: Feb 5, 1985
United Record(todate): 190 appearances, 50 goals
United fans worried about the famous number seven jersey being handed over to a relatively untested Portuguese youngster after Beckham’s departure in 2003, were soon over the moon.
In terms of pure skill, Ronaldo is head and shoulders above all the other United stars. His form in 2006/07 was so good that he ended up being the top United scorer as well as player with the most assists.
More than anyone else, United owe their latest premiership title to the talented 22-year-old. He ended the season by picking up all the individual awards.
Best goal: Feb 24, 2007, United, desperate to keep Chelsea at bay, needed a last gasp goal to steal the points at Craven Cottage. Ronaldo was the hero, dribbling from the halfway-line and finishing with a vicious drive.