Soccer Position Numbers

What do the soccer position numbers mean. The number on each jersey does mean something more than a way to identify a player on the field. To many a jersey number does not appear to play a role in the on field play. But traditionally, it has and their is a system and a mythology behind the numbering.

Soccer Position Numbers

Soccer Position Numbers

The numbering system was developed in 1928 by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, in a match against Sheffield Wednesday. Whiles cast aside for some time by the governing body at the time. It was officially decided in1939 that players should have a number on their shirts or jersey as it later became.

In the Tradition sense a number correspondence with a postion on the field, In the historic sense before the inception of the chnages in formationspositions were tradtionand and for most teams and country a number would corresponcence with the psotion a player actually played.

The Number 10 is famous and if you were to say someone wore a Number 10 jersey for a match, you would automatically think the person is a forward. I don’t think their has every been a case when the Number 10 has been assigned to a defensive player. Just would not seem right.

The Traditional Soccer Position Numbers


#1 – has allows been reserved for the goalkeeper. And in the modern game this hasn’t changed.

  • #2 Left Back
  • #3 Center Back
  • #4 Center Half
  • #5 Right Back
  • #7 Midfielder – Attacking Midfielder
  • #6 Midfielder – Defensive Midfielder
  • #8 Right Wing
  • #9 – Striker
  • #10 – Forward
  • #11 – Left Wing

For many of us that have come from other countries the numbers do means something. Often when listening to an international game such as World Cup game or an internationally friendly you will hear a commentator say that the players is out of position and isn’t for example playing the #6 positions.

So for a traditionalist that loves this game it drives me crazy when I see a youth player with a bizarre number such as #99. There is no #99 in soccer!!

When Soccer Position Numbers were developed it was a strategic move. It allowed players to know where they where in relation to other players on the field and it allowed them to play an organized game. Each player had a responsibility and if each fulfilled their responsibility it meant for a solid game.

The starting eleven soccer players on a team were numbered 1- 11. So what numbers did the players on the bench have. While not as strict for the most part the numbers would restart at #12 with a goalkeeper. But it wasn’t as strict and some teams and players were allotted different numbers.

But as the #1 thru #11 corresponded with position on the field these numbers where more strictly followed.

But where are we today….

For many club and international soccer teams hold less to tradition. And we do se many players with numbers that don’t correspond with what would be consider their traditional position. But for older folks and older commentators that have come of age with the Soccer Position Numbers, the numbers will always be a way for them to communicate a position on the field.

US Soccer has realized he importance of a numbering system and in 2012 established rules around a numbering system.

According to Dave Chesler, currently a performance analysis coach with the USWNT, “A standard numbering system for positions and their roles provides a concise and common method of communicating technical information about individual and team play.  These same tags can be applied to any system and adapted to all levels of play. 

So Soccer position numbers are important. And over the last few years you have seen the developed of this in soccer coaching in youth soccer.

There are several defensive position on the field and each will have its own set characteristic. A player that can play right back or left back does not automatically fit the bill for a center back or sweeper. And communicating this through a soccer position number allows one to better understand the game.

The introduction and developement of a numbering system is great for youth through college soccer.

Soccer Position Numbers In Modern International Clubs

In the modern the numbering system has shifted from the traditional numbering system. There is just much more freedom. The European leagues in the 902 abolished the idea that the starting eleven had to wear #1 thru #11. Clubs can now do as they wish.

In reality many European clubs have retired certain numbers in tribute to historic players that have played for their clubs. So some numbers are just not available. Maradona’s #10 has be retired at the at Napoli the club he played 1984 thru 1991.

And if you every wanted to see a truly beautiful goal with immense skills and strength watch a highlight of Maradona’s goal against England. He picks the ball up in his half and by himself breaks down the field, tribbles the ball all the way to England’s goal, shoots and scores. Just amazing. And for someone that watched it live I can tell you it was truly amazing.

With the freedom that clubs have today and the individual personalities of high level players we have truly seen a shift away from the importance of Soccer Number Positions.

For Major League Soccer MLS, they have a shorter history and the started in 1998 with 10 teams and so they came of age when the shift had already begun, you don’t see that tradition of having your starting elven playing #1 thru #11.

Famous Soccer Players Jersey Numbers

PeleSantos (Brazil)#10
RolandoManchester Utd#7
MessiParis Saint-Germain#30
Neymar Paris Saint-Germain #10

The reality are that Soccer positions are soccer positions and the numbers on a jersey don’t change the position. If each player understands their position and plays and fulfill the responsibility of the role then the a team can play a cohesive game.

This begs the questions if one just puts any number on a jersey that the only purpose the number plays is a way for the referee to easily identify a layer during a game. A referee can easily see the number of a player that committed a foul. But any marking on a jersey can potentially play that role so long as there are not two of the same on the same jersey of the same Teams. Where are we headed.