Iconic Kits: Manchester United No.7
We’re taking a closer look at some of the most iconic kits in the history of the beautiful game. This week, we’re putting Manchester United’s infamous No.7 shirt under the spotlight…
It’s one of the most famous football shirts in the world.
To be given the opportunity to don the No.7 strip at Manchester United is seen by many players as the pinnacle of their career. The shirt is steeped in such a rich history, that players across the globe lay awake at night dreaming of one day having their own name emblazoned above that infamous number.
Young children all over the world have fallen in love with the beautiful game thanks to the legendary players that have donned the No. 7 shirt. Known for their flair, creativity and downright audacity, you only need to look back at the players that have worn this shirt to see exactly why it’s one of the most iconic in the game.
After all, it’s this kind of playing style that makes us all want to watch football in the first place. The adventurous, relentless dribbles of George Best; the bending freekicks of David Beckham; the sheer pace and power of Cristiano Ronaldo; the unbelievable technique and exquisite finishing of Eric Cantona.
It’s these things that have given the No.7 shirt the kind of mythical status you’d normally associate with Bigfoot or dragons.
But the magic of this particular United shirt is a fairly recent phenomenon. There’s much disagreement amongst the club’s fans over when this tradition of No.7 “superstars” really got started, but the fact of the matter is it’s developed this legendary reputation in just over 20 years.
Some Red Devils may be reading this and promptly scoffing into their brew as they try to cry out: “but what about George Best?!” Of course, whenever there’s a discussion about United’s greatest ever No.7’s, George Best is always going to get a mention- and this leads to the impression that the age of the “Superstar 7’s” started back in the 60’s.
Nobody’s doubting that George Best was an incredible player. He set the world alight at Old Trafford during his time there, scoring 179 goals in the 470 appearances he made for the Red Devils and being labelled as “the best player in the world” by none other than Pele.
But if you look back over those 470 appearances, less than half of them were actually made whilst wearing the No. 7 shirt. Best actually wore No.11 for the vast majority of his games, with Ryan Giggs being called “the new George Best” for this very reason when he first burst onto the scene.
It’s true that Best was wearing the No.7 during United’s 1968 European Cup triumph, and that’s probably why he’s remembered so fondly in it. But there was certainly no significance to him wearing the shirt at the time. Only now, following a plethora of other superstars wearing that particular shirt, is the fact that George Best wore the No.7 considered important.
It was Eric Cantona that made the shirt so famous. The French talisman is still a fan-favourite today, over 20 years since the day he shocked the world by retiring from football. Dragging a team of youngsters to multiple Premier League titles throughout the mid-90’s (and turning Alan Hansen’s “you can’t win anything with kids” quote into one of the most famous pieces of punditry in history), Cantona will always be considered a Manchester United legend.
With the No.7 emblazoned on the back, Cantona followed in the footsteps of the legendary Bryan Robson, continuing the legacy that had already been written in that football shirt. Because it was Robson that had worn it before “King Eric”, this was the first time any significance was attached to a specific player wearing United’s No.7 shirt.
After Cantona came David Beckham, a local lad that had supported Manchester United since he was a small child. Quite naturally, he was adored at Old Trafford, as fans fell in love with his wicked free-kicks and pinpoint crosses. A key part of the famous “Class of 92”, we all know just how much success Becks enjoyed at Old Trafford, becoming an integral factor in Fergie attempting to “knock Liverpool off their perch.”
After marrying Posh Spice, though, Beckham became much more than just a footballer, and was the first player to really take on the celebrity status that’s so rife in the game today. With a new hairstyle every week, countless advertising and endorsement deals, and constantly finding himself in the papers- it was Becks that expanded the No.7 phenomenon to a global scale.
When Beckham’s time was up at Old Trafford, United went ahead and signed a young lad from Portugal that nobody had ever heard of, with pundits alike commenting that the youngster had “a famous name and a famous number.”
Cristiano Ronaldo took the world by storm in the No.7 shirt at Old Trafford, and we’d argue that he’s the greatest player the Premier League has ever seen. We don’t even need to talk about him much here- because we all know exactly what he’s achieved and just how good he was at United. Ronaldo has even trademarked the “CR7” brand, as No.7 becomes the most famous number in world football- even if he wears it at Real Madrid now.
But the No.7 has become something of a curse in recent years. Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Memphis Depay have all failed to fill the void left by Ronaldo, and so the legacy of the No.7 shirt has stagnated a little- particularly following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Valencia famously said that he couldn’t handle the pressure of wearing the No.7, and promptly switched to No.25 after a particularly difficult season. Since then, he’s become one of the best right-backs in the world and is one of the most experienced players currently at the Old Trafford club. In short, the No.7 shirt was a weight on his shoulders that he just couldn’t carry.
So now Manchester United have no No.7 at all, as Jose Mourinho waits until he can find a player that’s capable of handling the pressure and will flourish under the spotlight. After a move for Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann collapsed earlier in the summer, we’ve got our money on the French superstar donning the No.7 this time next year instead.
But only time will tell on that one. The only thing for certain is that the No.7 will be returning soon, and we all look forward to seeing the next chapter of its legacy.
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