Five simple letters and numbers that resonate globally in soccer and hold significant influence in the evolution of the sport.
The former refers to Portuguese attacker Cristiano Ronaldo, who has donned the No. 7 jersey throughout his hardware-filled career threatening defenders on the right and left flanks along with being a prolific scorer down the middle.
The latter refers to another Ronaldo – Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima of Brazil. The infamous striker donned the No. 9 kit and was always a menace in front of goal thanks to his ballstriking prowess, most famously at the international level.
But beyond the two Ronaldos, jersey numbers in soccer are often associated with what position a player occupies.
Initially introduced by the English Football League in 1939, players had to wear certain numbers designated to their respective positions. And though the rules behind those have altered throughout the decades, a lot of modern football today is still influenced by history.
Let’s take a look at what the jersey numbers 1-11 mean on the pitch ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar:
This position is usually occupied by the goalkeeper, who plays between the sticks and has a primary responsibility to prevent goals from being scored. Today, the best goalkeeper on a certain team is referred to as that team’s “No. 1” in a literal sense.
Top goalkeepers in 2022: Manuel Neuer (Germany), Alisson (Brazil), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Moving right up to the positions in front of the goalkeeper, the No. 2 kit was usually worn by a right-back, who played as a defender on the right-hand side of the field. The number-position combination here isn’t as common anymore.
Top right-backs in 2022: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Kyle Walker (England), João Cancelo (Portugal)
Switching to the left side, the No. 3 kit was usually worn by a left-back. You guessed it – they played as a defender on the left-hand flank. This also isn’t as common.
Top left-backs in 2022: Theo Hernandez (France), Alphonso Davies (Canada), Luke Shaw (England)
Nos. 4 and 5
These two could be interchangeable. The two center-backs playing directly in front of the goalie would typically wear Nos. 4 and 5. Both are still pretty common, along with Nos. 2 and 3.
Top center-backs in 2022: Virgil Van Dijk (Netherlands), Ruben Dias (Portugal), William Saliba (France)
This one has evolved over time, but the No. 6 jersey refers to a defensive midfielder, also known as a holding midfielder. Their job is to protect the backline, retain the ball and recycle possession if need be.
Top defensive midfielders in 2022: Rodri (Spain), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Casemiro (Brazil)
A No. 7 could play on either wing and helped put in crosses into the box or score goals, with players like Cristiano Ronaldo becoming popular figures to emerge with this number.
Top left wingers in 2022: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), Son Heung-min (South Korea)
A No. 8 plays in center midfield and occupies areas a little more advanced than a No. 6. They’re often called “box-to-box” midfielders because they’re adept at attacking and defending.
Top box-to-box midfielders in 2022: Toni Kroos (Germany), Sergej Milinković-Savić (Serbia), Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
The player playing most advanced on the pitch in hunt for goals is a striker that is referred to as a No. 9, which is another hugely common one today.
Top strikers in 2022: Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Harry Kane (England), Lautaro Martínez (Argentina)
Compared to a No. 6 or 8, a No. 10 is usually known for their creative abilities in the advanced areas of the midfield, mostly as a passer, to generate assists to strikers and wingers.
Top attacking midfielders in 2022: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Luka Modrić (Croatia), Neymar Jr. (Brazil)
Just like No. 7s, a No. 11 can also play on either wing and have to supply quality passes or shots in the attacking third.
Top right wingers in 2022: Ferran Torres (Spain), Bukayo Saka (England), Rodrygo (Brazil)