Football isn’t what it used to be. While this may sound like an ‘old man yells at clouds’ rant about how the game’s gone soft or something of the sorts, you’ll need to go elsewhere for that discussion. This is about something far more important than an overall shift to the style of play, physicality in the game and VAR decisions. This piece is all about numbers. Not statistics that many—especially Chelsea fans—modern day football supporters are so obsessed with, nope. We’re talking about kit numbers.
Football as a whole has changed drastically over the years when it relates to the numerals on the back of players’ shirts. Those on the pitch used to wear numbers one through 11 based on their positions, and that was all there was to it. Gone are the days where strikers wear the No. 9 all the time, we’ve now got Kai Havertz, the Blues’ No. 29, leading the line. There are also individuals such as Gianluigi Donnarumma (No. 99) and Phil Foden (No. 47), who were sent from the heavens above to annoy the yer das every matchday. This has added a personal element to the game.
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Kalidou Koulibaly will be the first one to wear Chelsea’s No. 26 since John Terry
It may sound silly to claim that shirt numbers add an emotional aspect to the game of football. However, players are now able to wear numbers meaningful to them on the back of their shirts everywhere they go. This allows them to also be remembered by the clubs in which they dedicate their blood, sweat and tears to over the course of their careers. Retiring numbers has become a common practice in football—even if unofficial.
The Blues have a couple of unofficially retired numbers. For example, nobody has donned Gianfranco Zola’s famous No. 25 shirt since he departed the club in 2003. John Terry‘s No. 26 kit has gone unworn since the day he left Chelsea following its 2016/17 title victory. Now, for the first time since the days Antonio Conte roamed the touchline in west London, the No. 26 shirt will be worn by a player for the Blues during the 2022/23 campaign.
New signing Kalidou Koulibaly will continue wearing the number, which he’s worn throughout his career. The Senegalese centerback revealed in a video posted to Instagram on Monday that he rang the legendary Chelsea captain upon signing with the club to discuss the shirt. Terry—who can be heard on the other end of the line in the aforementioned video—was appreciative that Koulibaly had the respect to call ahead and ask about something so dear to him. Of course, as you may have guessed, he gave the former Napoli man permission to wear the shirt with the Blues.
Chelsea has yet to officially release its kit numbers ahead of next season—instead opting to send out a statement about the new signings’ numbers in preseason. There is still a lot of shuffling to be done ahead of the September 1 transfer deadline, so it’s easy to understand why the Blues have waited so long to make final decisions regarding this matter. Nevertheless, it’s expected that Koulibaly will be named Chelsea’s newest No. 26 ahead of the match against Everton on Saturday. After all, it’s the shirt he wore during his first two preseason appearances over the last few weeks.
Here’s to hoping the Blues’ latest signing will live up to the high expectations that come with putting on the legendary royal blue shirt.