At clubs all around the world, special significance is given to certain shirt numbers – the number nine at Newcastle United and Real Madrid for instance thanks to the likes of Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer on Tyneside, and Alfredo Di Stefano and Raúl at the Bernabéu.
It can often take a long time for the shirt to find its spiritual successor – only now, six years after Shearer retired, do the Toon have a worthy number nine in Papiss Cissé.
But at United, the shirt that has taken on mythic proportions is the number seven, worn by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has who has inherited the number seven shirt has usually had to be a pretty special player, and those mentioned above are arguably some of the greatest footballers ever to grace the Premier League.
So it was surprising when Owen was handed the number seven after Ronaldo’s departure to Madrid, particularly given he was an out-and-out striker.
The number is usually assigned to a player who can conjure something out of nothing, with a hint of brilliance possessed in their toes, qualities Owen had long since lost before arriving in Manchester.
Owen leaves with a couple of good memories – a stunning injury-time derby winner against City and a hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the Champions League – but for the most part his time at United was devoid of magic.
It is time for Sir Alex Ferguson to once again restore the number seven shirt to its former pride, but looking at the United squad, there is not a player worth handing it to.
Nani is probably the best candidate but the Portuguese has blown hot and cold for all of his United career and has yet to display the consistently high standards demanded of the shirt.
Antonio Valencia recently cleaned up at United’s player of the year awards with Fans’ Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Best Goal of the Season but his direct and uncompromising talents don’t seem a natural fit.
The best thing for United would be to wait for the number seven’s natural successor to either arise from the youth ranks or arrive at the club instead of giving to just anybody.
It seems like a pretty insignificant detail, but things like this matter to fans and ultimately to the history of the club – it makes them more than just any other old side.
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