It’s no surprise that many great players who have graced the football world with their class and skills made the jersey number they sported, famous. The No.7 being associated with David Beckham, Raul or Eric Cantona while the No. 10 with Pele, Maradona or Zico, and many more in the league. In a more recent history, for legends like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba the No. 14 and No. 11 jersey, respectively, became a part of them making a niche in their club’s history to their names.
Once the player retires, as a mark of respect for him, the club generally retires that particular number too. FC Schalke retired the No. 7 jersey for Raul once he left, stating that the number had been retired ‘indefinitely’. However, the number is now sported by their upcoming young starlet Max Meyer.
So a curious situation arises when a former club legend decides to return to the club, be it for one last time before he hangs up his boots. Does the existing player, sporting the veteran’s jersey number, return it or does he continue wearing it himself?
Here are two stories which shows us the two sides of the same coin :
The Thierry Henry Story
In the winter of 2011, it was announced that Thierry Henry would return to Arsenal for a month long loan spell from his then club New York Red Bulls. The Frenchman made the No.14 jersey extremely popular during his time in Arsenal. By the time he left in 2008, the jersey was handed over to Theo Walcott, who much like many young footballers at that time, idolized Henry. Hence, it was natural to assume that he would quite willingly give up the jersey when the King returned. Only he didn’t. Theo refused to give the No. 14 jersey to his idol stating that ‘things has changed between the two of them’. He was no more the same starstruck footballer who made his way to the senior team of a major football club in the world.
“I’ve obviously played a lot more games now and gained more experience. I’m one of the senior players even though I’m only 22. I’m much more relaxed around the place, but still work hard which is important. I’m not star struck like I was before, I’m just normal now.” said the winger. Sadly for Henry he had to settle for the No. 12 jersey – a number associated with his international career.
The Didier Drogba Story
Even more recently in 2014, it was announced that Didier Drogba was set to return to his old club, Chelsea, from Galatasaray. Having sported the No.11 jersey for many years and making it a part of the Chelsea folklore for many years to come, Drogba decided that his work in Chelsea was done and it was time for a new challenge. In came the Brazilian midfielder Oscar – a promising young talent signed from Inernacional in Brazil, who got the prestigious jersey. In 2014, when Drogba decided to come back to London, Oscar returned his No.11 Jersey to Drogba and took the then vacant No.8 jersey – a jersey worn by club legend Frank Lampard.
“Didier is a Chelsea legend and a senior player. I am happy for him to take 11 and for me to take the 8. Lamps is another legend at this club and I hope i will be as successful in the shirt as he was.” said the Brazilian.
Drogba didn’t hesitate to express his gratitude for the gesture made by Oscar and said, ” I am very pleased to return to the number 11 shirt and I am very grateful to Oscar for allowing me to make this change.”
Both these incidents got a lot of media coverage but for entirely different and obvious reasons. While Theo received flak from the Arsenal faithfuls for his refusal to return the jersey number, on the other hand Oscar didn’t seem to think twice to give back the jersey. What’s more curious is that Walcott looked up to Henry while growing up, Oscar on the other hand had been a part of Chelsea for just two years and yet gave it back without any second thought.
edited by Bhavna Rachuri