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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Romario, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka & Bebeto: A Guide to Shirt Numbers for the Selecao

The number of a football player's shirt speaks volumes not only about his position on the pitch but also about the way in which he is perceived by his coach and the team more generally. In the case of the Brazilian national football team, the symbolism of numbers worn on the shirts of Selecao players is richer than in most other national teams given the Selecao's illustrious history, complete with 5 World Cup trophies, two runner up medals and the memory of Tele Santana's 1982 World Cup squad, widely regarded as the best football team never to win a championship. Ever since Pele wore the number 10 shirt for Brazil in 1970, the number 10 shirt has typically been given only to remarkable footballers who have the capacity to change a game. Zico inherited the number 10 shirt in 1982 and 1986 and, like Pele, occupied the position of a pure striker. In recent years, however, the number 10 shirt has shifted to creative, attacking midfielders that orchestrate attacks in addition to scoring goals. When Mario Zagallo gave the number 10 jersey to Allessandro Rivaldo at the 1998 World Cup in France, for example, there was much speculation in the Brazilian media as to whether Rivaldo could "bear the weight" of the number 10 jersey. As it turned out, Rivaldo lived up to and even exceeded expectations in the number 10 shirt both in 1998 and 2002, and since then, the number 10 shirt has gone, for the most part, either to Ronaldinho or Kaka.

The number 9 and 11 jerseys signify a pure striker in the vein of Ronaldo and Romario. Ronaldo famously wore the number 9 whereas Romario was most often seen in the number 11. 7 marks yet another well known number in the pantheon of venerable Brazilian shirt numbers as it is typically worn by another striker, and most likely a winger of a certain kind who lies deeper than a primary striker and plays a pivotal role in creating goal scoring opportunities alongside the attacking midfield. Bebeto wore the number 7 given his penchant for lying deep, behind Romario, and setting up his strike partner to score while concurrently dispatching scoring opportunities that came his way. Rivaldo also wore the number 7 jersey earlier in his career when playing alongside the famous "Ro Ro" combination of Romario and Ronaldo as a left sided winger. The final number of any real significance is 8, the shirt number worn by the great midfielder Socrates and, in select matches, by Ricardo Kaka, who wears the same jersey for Real Madrid. 8 seems to have fallen out of favor in the last ten years or so, but its symbolic association with Socrates has unforgettably marked its bearer as an embodiment of creativity, leadership and midfield brilliance.

The following list identifies attacking Brazilian players for the Selecao and the shirt number they typically wore in World Cup matches or qualifying rounds:

World Cup 2010

Robinho: 11
Kaka: 10
Luis Fabiano: 9
Elano: 7

World Cup 2006

Ronaldinho: 10
Ronaldo: 9
Kaka: 8
Adriano: 7
Roberto Carlos: 6

World Cup 2002

Ronaldinho: 11
Rivaldo: 10
Ronaldo: 9
Roberto Carlos: 6

World Cup 1998

Bebeto: 20
Rivaldo: 10
Ronaldo: 9

World Cup 1994

Romario: 11
Bebeto: 7

World Cup 1990

Muller: 15
Romario: 11
Careca; 9

World Cup 1986

Socrates: 18
Zico: 10
Careca: 9
Muller: 7

World Cup 1982

Falcao: 15
Eder: 11
Zico: 10
Serginho: 9
Socrates: 8
Junior: 6

World Cup 1970

Rivelino: 11
Pele: 10
Tostao: 9
Jairzinho: 7

Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso is widely expected to take over the number 10 jersey in the coming years while Neymar may well inherit number 11, and Alexander Pato the number 9 shirt for Brazil.

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