Saturday, June 24, 2006

"Away from the numbers is where I am free..."

This is the triumphant era of the squad number. Yearning even casually and comically for the return of rigid 1-11 selections can mark you out as a hopeless nostalgic for the days of the W-M formation, gentleman amateurs in flat caps and longjohns hoofing a medicine ball across a boggy swamp of a "pitch", and the England team being selected not by a manager but an FA committee (actually, that may explain the continuing presence of David Beckham in the starting line-up…)

But still, but still… This World Cup has thrown up a few still-odd discrepancies between a player’s number on his back, and his position in the line-up.

For example, Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, an excellent, probing striker – wearing “3”, a left-back’s number if ever there was.

Wearing the perennial, left-on-the-bench signifier, number twelve: Thierry Henry, France’s Zizou-otherwise talisman even if, as Guardian Unlimited put it, his international party trick seems to be “shamelessly icing a cake baked by someone else”.

His club team-mate Emmanuel Adebayor notionally leading the attack for Togo, but taking his unusual number 4 shirt too much to heart and thus haring around the field trying to do much – yet ending up achieving very little, other than confusing his own colleagues.

At least Argentina appear to have adopted a more conventional approach – though they have perplexing previous.

Handing out squad numbers not by likely place in the side, but alphabetical order, may have seemed a thinking-outside-the-penalty-box wheeze by which to avoid too many ego clashes.

(Though, oddly enough, the much-prized number ten shirt appears to have fallen to Germany’s Oliver Neuville this time almost by default, with no-one else actually wanting it – not even captain Michael Ballack, hoping to prove a lucky 13 this tournament).

There’s just something a little too jarring, however, in the footage of Argentina’s 1978 World Cup triumph, with midfield playmaker Osvaldo Ardiles at the hub of matters – in the number two shirt.

Too outré, too soon, for Luddite football to embrace?
It would certainly seem so, though Argentina did at least persevere for their ill-fated attempt to retain their title four years later.

This was just too odd, though – witness the sight of Ardiles still in midfield, but now wearing number one. Telling, though, to see that even then, Maradona insisted on wearing the ever-important number ten.

If the rules of the game won’t constrain him from enjoying his own way, then why should something as insignificant as the alphabet?

1 comment:

Mike said...

I do miss the standard 1-11 numbering. At Arsenal, we don't even have a number 4,5,6,7 and 10 since they were vacated by Vieira, Keown, Adams and more recently, Pires and Bergkamp.

Diaby, our Vieira-clone signing in January ended up taking Lee Dixon's number 2 shirt. Where is the logic in that?!