The Curse of the Number 7 Shirt

There is no escaping the history of the prestigious number 7 shirt when it comes to Manchester United. Best, Robson, Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo. All have worn the famed shirt and have elevated the number to near legendary status. It is seen as the ultimate accolade when one is handed the illustrious squad number at Old Trafford. However, since Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit in 2009, the number seems to have been hit with a curse as player after player have failed to live up to the hype that comes hand-in-hand with wearing the famed shirt.

I’m too young to remember the genius of George Best and (just) too young to remember Bryan Robson elevating himself to club legend status. Eric Cantona was where it all started for me, and he is the reason I fell in love with the number myself. Seeing Cantona strut around the Old Trafford pitch with his collar up and the number 7 on his back made me dream of following the Frenchman as the next owner of the shirt. Of course, that didn’t happen, with that accolade falling instead to David Beckham. Becks still remains something of a cult hero at Old Trafford and, upon departing the club for Real Madrid, youngster Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the task of filling the boots of the then England captain.

Ronaldo celebrates another goal for Manchester United
Ronaldo became one of the most famous bearers of the number 7 shirt during his time with Manchester United

During his six years at the club, Ronaldo embraced the history of the shirt, beginning his journey as a lightweight, although fast-footed, youngster before leaving the club as the best player on the planet. However, since then, the shirt has almost died a death.

With his prodigal son leaving for Spain, Sir Alex Ferguson produced what was seen at the time as a masterstroke by bringing Michael Owen to the club from recently relegated Newcastle United, and immediately handed him the number 7 shirt.

Michael Owen in action for Manchester United
Michael Owen scored some important goals, but injury hampered his progress at Old Trafford (Picture: michaelowen.com)

Knowing he would forever be chastised by Liverpool fans, Owen remained excited by the prospect of finally winning a Premier League winners medal (something he later achieved) but injury seriously halted his progress at the club. The former England international will forever be remembered for his injury-time winner against Manchester City in the thrilling 4-3 win in 2009. Despite that, Owen managed just 52 games over three seasons before joining Stoke in 2012.

Then, almost inexplicably, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to make his last owner of the number 7 shirt Antonio Valencia in 2012. We’ll skip over this period swiftly as this remains one of the darkest moments in the history of the shirt, before Valencia himself admitted that the expectation that comes hand-in-hand with the shirt was too much to bare, before reverting back to the number 25, a squad number he still holds to this date.

The number remained vacant during the ill-fated David Moyes tenure before Louis Van Gaal made a huge signal of intent upon his arrival by bringing Real Madrid superstar Angel Di Maria to the club for a then club record £59.7 million. The Argentine was immediately handed the number 7 shirt and gave us all reason to believe that he could live up to the huge expectation which comes with the shirt.

Di Maria left Old Trafford after only one season at the club
Di Maria carried a huge expectation when he arrived at the club (Picture: dailymail.co.uk)

It all started so brightly as well. Some sublime early form was capped with a superb goal against Leicester City in 2014 was one of the goals of the season, leading to some sections of the media to claim that the Premier League had a new best player. However, that form was short lived as injuries, break-ins and personal problems led to Di-Maria becoming disillusioned with life at the club. It soon became clear that Van Gaal was unimpressed, and dropped his record signing for much of the remainder of the season before allowing him to join Paris Saint-Germain the following summer.

Then came Memphis Depay, our current 7. Memphis arrived with a swagger as we all took to YouTube to witness his excellent goal scoring abilities for PSV Eindhoven and we all believed that the Dutchman was the man to raise the number 7 shirt from the ashes. There was some early glimpses as Van Gaal believed in his acquisition but this belief has not been shared by current boss Jose Mourinho who has limited the 22-year-old to only four substitute appearances in the Premier League this term, and has confirmed that he can leave the club should the right offer come in.

As things stand, Everton are thought to be the front runners for his signature, although it is believed that the two clubs differ in opinions when it comes to the specifics of the deal.

So what next for the number 7 shirt? Rashford? Martial? How about a new signing? Griezmann? An unlikely return for Ronaldo?

If the past eight years are anything to go by, maybe the club should just retire the number altogether, save face while they can. What are your thoughts? Have your say below.

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Jason Bowditch
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Would love it to be given to Griezmann to finally break the Number 7 spell. I think he can as he’ll be working that bit harder to not let down… Read more »

Paul Gardiner
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Never retire the number 7! There have been many legends to wear it and there will be many more. I agree with Jason. We should hand it to Griezmann if… Read more »