Few clubs have such a rich history as Manchester United. An iconic stadium, iconic players and a shirt number that has become legendary after being worn by some of the best players to grace the game, the number 7.
Squad numbers were first worn in professional competition in 1928 and have been a mainstay of the game ever since. However, prior to the Premier League era, squad numbers were primarily used to determine positions on the field, the 7 being generally reserved for left or right positions.
This is how one of the most iconic players to play at Old Trafford wore the shirt. George Best. The better synonym, however, is the No.7, which he has worn in just 141 of his 470 United appearances. In fact, he wore No. 11 in more than half of his matches. The reason people miss him wearing the number 7 shirt may have something to do with the Euro 1968 final against Benfica.
I think it’s fair to say that the iconic shirt number didn’t really come into play until 1981 when new signings from West Brom arrived. Bryan Robson, known as ‘Captain Marvel’, took over Steve Kopper’s number 7 shirt and wore it regularly throughout his time at Manchester United. Robson was an imposing midfielder of his day, undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever play for the Red Devils and the first to actually move into a No.7, but even Robson couldn’t have been predictable . He usurped the effect of this number.
The squad numbers were allocated during the 1993/94 season, with Robson’s number 7 going to a Frenchman of sublime talent and unprecedented arrogance. Coming to Old Trafford, it’s hard to say which player had a bigger impact on United’s Premier League history than Eric Cantona.
The Frenchman, who joined the team at the end of 1992, changed United’s fortunes in the league and changed the general attitude of the team, with Paul describing the legend as follows: “He just had this aura and this presence. The responsibility is taken away from us. It’s like he said, ‘I’m Eric and I’m here to win a championship for you’.”
With the arrival of number seven, Eric King has to be there, not only because of his talent on the pitch but also off the pitch, an incredible player and a larger than life, sometimes controversial role.
The mantle of wearing the iconic jersey then passed to a player who went beyond football and became a global celebrity and world-class talent.
Once Teddy Sheringham was brought into the team, David Beckham took the number, initially wearing a ten. Sheringham wanted No 10, so Beckham got No 7.
A gifted player and one of the best free-kick scorers in the modern game, Beckham went from being a former Preston loanee to global United superstar, while wearing the No.7 shirt. In any conversation about who is the most Manchester United’s great number seven, Beckham must be involved. Beckham was hugely talented, worked hard on and off the pitch, transcended the sport like few other players had and ultimately led to his departure from Manchester United.
There is only one place to go from here. Manchester United’s current No.7 shirt, which he originally wore in 2003 when he first played for the club. Cristiano Ronaldo was so good on his first stint, prompting George Best to say: “There are players who have been described as ‘the new years and this is George Best’s first’. A compliment.” Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best young players in the world under Sir Alex, returning to the club as a different but still deadly player in front of goal.
Between Ronaldo’s two seasons there were plenty of No.7s, Irving, Valencia, Cavani, Sanchez, Di Maria, Memphis Depay, but no one can claim to have had a lasting impact wearing the shirt. For me, Manchester United wouldn’t be the team they were in under Sir Alex without Eric Cantona, he changed the fortunes of Manchester United, changed the attitude, added confidence to the whole team, so he really is the “king”.
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