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Who is the greatest number seven for Manchester United?

The legendary shirt number has been worn by some iconic players, but who is the greatest?

by Dan Fitzgerald


Not many clubs have a history as rich 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 have graced the game, the number seven.

Squad numbers were first worn in 1928 in the professional game and have been a mainstay of the game ever since. However up until the Premier League era squad numbers were largely used to determine the position on the pitch, with number seven usually reserved for the left or right wing position.

This is how one of the most iconic players to have played at Old Trafford got to wear the shirt. George Best. However synonymous Best is with the number seven he actually only wore it 141 games out of the 470 he played for United, he actually wore the number 11 in more than half of his games. The reason why he is fondly remembered wearing the number seven probably has to do with the 1968 European Cup final win against Benfica.

I think it’s fair to say that the iconic shirt number only really took on its mantle when a new signing from West Brom came along in 1981. Bryan Robson, known as ‘Captain Marvel’ took the number seven shirt from Steve Coppell, and wore it consistently throughout his time at United. Robson, a swashbuckling midfielder in his day, is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have played for the Red Devils and is the first true entry into the great number sevens, however not even Robson could have predicted the impact of his usurper for the number.

Squad numbers were assigned in the 1993/94 season with Robson’s number seven being gifted to a Frenchman with sublime talent and an unmatched sense of rightful arrogance. Entering Old Trafford with a swagger, it’s hard to say that any player has had more of an impact on the Premier League history of United than Eric Cantona.

Coming into the squad late in 1992, the Frenchman changed United’s fortunes in the league and changed the whole attitude of the squad, with Paul ince describing the legend: “He just had that aura and presence. He took responsibility away from us. It was like he said: ‘I’m Eric, and I’m here to win the title for you’.”

As number sevens go, King Eric has got to be up there, not just for his brilliance on the pitch but also his presence off it too, a stunning player and a larger than life, sometimes controversial character.

The mantle of wearing the iconic shirt was then passed to a player who transcended football and became a worldwide celebrity as well as a world class talent.

David Beckham picked up the number once Teddy Sheringham was brought into the team, having worn number ten originally. Sheringham wanted the ten shirt and so Beckham was given the seven shirt instead.

A player of extreme talent and one of the best free kick takers in the modern game, Beckham went from a former Preston loanee to a global megastar at United, all whilst wearing the number seven shirt. In any conversation of who the greatest United number seven is, Beckham has to be in the mix. Extremely talented, a hard worker on and off the pitch, Beckham transcended the sport in a way that few other players have, which ultimately led to his United departure.

From here there’s only one place to go. United’s current number seven, who originally picked up the shirt in his first stint at the club in 2003. Cristiano Ronaldo was so good in his first spell that it prompted George Best to say: “There have been a few players described as ‘the new George Best’ over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me.” Undoubtedly one of the best young players in the world under Sir Alex, Ronaldo has come back to the club a different player yet still deadly in front of goal.

There have been many number sevens in between Ronaldo’s two spells, Owen, Valencia, Cavani, Sanchez, Di Maria, Memphis Depay, but none can claim to have had a lasting impact wearing the shirt. For me, United wouldn’t have been the team they were under Sir Alex without Eric Cantona, he changed United’s fortunes, changed attitudes, added belief to a whole squad, and for that he really is ‘The King’.
 

 

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