Premier League shirt numbers: Which are the best?
For many fans of English football, certain Premier League shirt numbers will forever be associated with a specific player.
Chelsea supporters will forever associate the number 26 with the Blues’ legendary captain John Terry while few Manchester United fans will be able to see the number 18 without recalling Paul Scholes’ heroics in a red shirt.
When the Premier League kicked off in 1992 though, the new division’s clubs continued what was then the traditional practice of numbering their starting line-up from one to 11, regardless of who was on the pitch.
A year later the Football Association introduced the modern system of ‘persistent’ squad numbers – adapted from the international game – and since the 1993-94 season top-flight teams have been able to allocate specific shirts to their players.
We have analysed every single line-up since then and tracked the fortunes of all Premier League shirt numbers in the history of the competition to date.
A new era
Clubs needed little encouragement to abandon the old ways: since squad numbers were introduced in 1993 there have only been 13 occasions when a Premier League starting line-up saw the players’ shirts numbered from one to 11. The most recent of these was on September 19 in 1998 when Charlton drew 3-3 with Liverpool at Anfield.
There have been a further 47 times when a club has fielded all of the players numbered one to 11 at some point in the same Premier League game. The most recent of these was surprisingly recently: on May 3 earlier this year when Burnley started nine players with a shirt number of 11 or lower and then brought on the other two – Johann Berg Gudmundsson (7) and Ashley Barnes (10) – as substitutes.
Southampton and Tottenham also used all of their 11 lowest-numbered players in a single match last season, although none of these three teams ever had all 11 on the pitch at the same time.
Which of the Premier League shirt numbers has been worn the most?
As expected, the traditional one to 11 are the shirt numbers which have been used in the highest proportion of Premier League matches, with all having been used in more than half of all line-ups.
While many would assume that number one is the most common, being the preserve of the first-choice goalkeeper, it is actually the number 10 shirt which has been the most regular sight.
Almost 64% of Premier League line-ups have seen their team’s number 10 take to the field at some point, edging out the number one jersey, although the latter has been named in the most starting line-ups.
With the number 10 shirt having been worn by some of the competition’s all-time greats like Wayne Rooney, Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero and Eden Hazard, it is perhaps unsurprising that clubs assign it to a player who is intended to be the heartbeat of the team.
Number 14 is the most commonly-seen number outside of the traditional 11, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Jordan Henderson and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang boosting its popularity. For trivia fans, the lowest of the Premier League shirt numbers that has never been worn in a match is 63. Thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s starring role at Liverpool, the number 66 has seen more action than any number above 45.
Which player has worn each shirt number the most?
Sticking to the traditional numbers which have proved the most popular, the 11 players who have worn each shirt the most in Premier League matches can be assembled into a formidable line-up.
It requires Pablo Zabaleta to tuck in at centre-back and for the versatile James Milner to revert to the right-wing slot he occupied in the early stages of his career.
Who is the most successful player to have worn each shirt number?
Keeping our attention focused on the traditional one to 11 numbers, we can also measure success on the pitch rather than just the number of times each player stepped on to it. This has been measured using each player’s win percentage in matches they started, excluding anyone to have made fewer than 100 starts in the Premier League.
This gives us an almost entirely different 11 – the only player who has survived from our first line-up is England and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. His erstwhile team-mate – Ricardo Carvalho – is the most successful player ever to wear one of the traditional numbers, winning over two-thirds of the Premier League games he started in the number six shirt.
Number 10 is the only shirt that nobody has managed to win 60% of a 100-plus game spell in, so while being the most prestigious it is also the toughest to fill.
All eyes will be on Emile Smith Rowe this season as he becomes the latest Arsenal player to try and make the number 10 shirt his own.
Which shirt number has scored the most goals?
We can also look at which Premier League shirt numbers have been responsible for the most goals, and the results are not all that surprising.
Numbers nine and 10 have been locked in a battle to score the most Premier League goals, with nine edging it so far. If Alan Shearer – the competition’s all-time top scorer – had not worn number nine then the removal of the 244 goals he netted while doing so would almost exactly close the gap.
Number 10 may be able to make up some ground in 2021-22 as the ageing Jamie Vardy is the only prolific number nine around, while Harry Kane and Sadio Mane are still flying the flag for number 10s in the absence of Aguero.
Which clubs’ shirt numbers have seen the greatest ‘dynasties’?
Some clubs have been fortunate enough to have had more than one player make the same number their own. There have been nine Premier League teams who have seen four different players wear the same shirt at least 100 times.
Three clubs – Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham – have each seen two of their shirt numbers worn at least 100 times by four different players.
Marcus Rashford is the latest in a line of successful number 10s at Manchester United and one of the previous owners of that shirt – Wayne Rooney – also racked up 100 appearances for the Red Devils wearing the number eight before switching.
We have already mentioned a few occupants of Arsenal’s number 14 shirt but their number 11s haven’t been bad either, with Marc Overmars, Robin van Persie and Mesut Ozil all enjoying successful spells.
Across north London at Tottenham, Son Heung-min is the latest in a long line of fan favourites to sport the number seven jersey, following in the footsteps of Darren Anderton and Aaron Lennon.