Graham Cummins: Number on your shirt brings its rewards... and pressure

'I knew there would be a lot of pressure associated with wearing the number nine shirt at Preston'
Graham Cummins: Number on your shirt brings its rewards... and pressure

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during the recent win over Ireland.

WHATEVER happened to the days of players just wearing numbers one to 11? Why do numbers now mean so much to players?

Is it more to do with their ego rather than the number having a significant meaning? Do players believe that by getting the number nine shirt in pre-season, that they will be seen as the main striker in the team and that other forwards will be behind them when it comes to who will be in the starting 11?

A lot had been made of what number Cristiano Ronaldo would wear for Manchester United before the Portuguese star was given the number seven jersey by Edinson Cavani. He will now wear number 21 — the number he wears when he plays for his country — but I wonder the reasoning for Cavani’s decision to relinquish his number.

Ronaldo is a threat to Cavani, as both will be vying for the same position in the starting 11. Is this a sign the Cavani is already waving the white flag when it comes to his battle with Ronaldo for the centre-forward position at United?

Not necessarily, but although it does show weakness from Cavani, I would assume there are other reasons behind the former Napoli player’s decision.

Villarreal's Pau Torres (left) and Manchester United's Edinson Cavani battle for the ball.
Villarreal's Pau Torres (left) and Manchester United's Edinson Cavani battle for the ball.

The number seven means so much to Ronaldo when you consider his brand, ‘CR7’. It would seem strange that one of the greatest players ever to play the sport should be wearing a different number to one that his brand promotes. Were Ronaldo not to have gotten his way and be forced to wear a different number at Old Trafford, would it have weakened his brand and therefore a reduction in Ronaldo’s income?

I wonder did Cavani surrender the number seven because he was being a ‘nice guy’, or could there have been a financial incentive for the Uruguayan to take the number 21 shirt? When his and Ronaldo’s representatives spoke about the possibility of the former Real Madrid player wearing number seven, maybe there was an offer from Ronaldo’s representatives.

Another reason for Cavani’s decision could be because he was worried about the backlash he might receive from the United fans. Yes, the striker is adored by supporters not only for his performances on the pitch but also for the way he conducts himself away from the club.

Cavani is the type of player that represents exactly what United are about. He performs not only in his own displays but the encouragement he gives others and seems to conduct himself in the right manner away from football.

However, for all the good he has done during his time at Old Trafford when it comes to fans choosing a side, they are always going favour Ronaldo, and had Cavani not given up the number seven shirt, then his glowing reputation may have been damaged. It could have made United fans judge Cavani performances less favourably because they would have seen him as the man who denied Ronaldo his jersey.

Drawing on experiences from my own career, I can remember asking for the number nine at Preston North End one season and surprisingly was given it. I had joined Preston halfway through the season previous and wore the number 31 shirt and I saw the chance to be the club’s number nine as an opportunity for me to be seen as one of the main players in the team.

I saw being given the jersey as a sign that the manager believed in me, but by the end, I was relieved to walk into the dressing room the following season and see that I was no longer the number nine at the club. 

That was because I had not performed that season and I think the fact that there wasn’t a bigger name wearing the jersey was weakening my relationship with the fans.

I knew there would be a lot of pressure associated with wearing the number nine shirt, and obviously I had envisioned scoring more goals for Preston, and showing the fans that I was worthy of being the club’s number nine.

So my decision backfired, as being the number nine actually did me more harm than good.

However, I don’t envision Ronaldo having any problems of reaching the levels required of wearing the famous number seven shirt at Old Trafford.

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