Manchester United's Love Affair with the Number 7

ThomasSenior Writer ISeptember 20, 2008

Manchester United has had great players come and go. Sir Bobby Charlton, Mark Hughes, and Roy Keane just to name a few. However, none of those players wore the No. 7 shirt. Ever since the 1960s, starting with George Best, some of the best United players have had the honor of wearing the No. 7.


George Best, 1963-1974

Maradonna good, Pele better, George Best. Undoubtedly, one of the most exciting players in United history, Best made his Red Devil's debut in 1963, at the age of 17. Dubbed, "the fifth Beattle" for his long hair, Best was a hit both on and off the pitch.

He won one league title and one European Cup with Manchester United before leaving in 1974, at the age of 27. In all, Best recorded 466 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions from 1963 to 1974, and scored 178 goals.

He was also an international for Northern Ireland where he scored 9 goals in 37 appearences. After he left United he went on to play for Fulham, the LA Aztecs, San Jose Earthquakes, and AFC Bournemouth. He retired with AFC at the age of 37.


Bryan Robson, 1981-1994

Unlike Best, Bryan Robson did not begin his career with Manchester United. Rather, he began his career with West Bromwich Albion (WBA). In 1981, Robson went to Old Trafford with then a British transfer fee record of 1.5 million pounds. When asked why he moved to United, he said: "Money wasn't my main motivation. I simply wanted to be a winner."

And a winner he was. He was soon made captain of United and won his first trophy in 1984, when he scored two goals against Brighton to help United win the FA Cup. In the 1990-1991 season, he became the first United captain to win the FA Cup three times. He also won the FA Premiership twice.

His stay at United was not to last though. Despite being the longest serving captain for United, he moved to Middlesbrough in 1994, where he stayed till his retirement in 1996. During his playing career, Robson was an international for Britain. During his 90 caps, he scored 26 goals.

After his playing career, Robson became a manager. He has been in charge of Middlesbrough (1994-2003), Bradford City (2003-2004), WBA (2004-2006), and Sheffield United (2007-2008).


Eric Cantona, 1992-1997


Known as King Eric and famous for putting up his jersey collar, he is probably the most controversial player to wear the No. 7 jersey.

Cantona joined Manchester United from Leeds in 1992, after they had finished 17th of 22 in the newly formed Premier League. Up to that point of the season, United was having a hard time scoring. When that changed as Cantona not only scored goals but allowed space for others to score as well.

In 1994, Cantona was named PFA Player of the Year and won the FA Cup over Chelsea. However, perhaps his most famous time at United didn't deal with scoring a goal at all. During a match against Crystal Palace in 1995, Cantona got sent off for kicking a player out of vengence. As he left the pitch, he stormed at a Palace fan and kung-fu kicked him. Let's just say, not a smart idea.

Image:Eric Cantona kung-fu kick.jpg

He ultimately got sentenced 120 hours of community service and a nine-month ban from football. When he came back in 1995, he looked rusty; but soon he was back to his old self and helped United win the FA Cup against Liverpool. He became the first foreign-born captain to win the Cup.

He retired in 1997, after four English Premiership titles in five years, including two league and FA Cup doubles; he also scored 64 goals in 144 appearances. During his 40 caps for France, he scored 25 goals. After the Crystal Palace incident, he lost his place from the French side for good—replaced by Zinedine Zidane. Cantona's resentment for Aime Jacquet, the French national coach at the time, only got worse when France won the World Cup in 1998.

The French master has had a shaky relationship with Manchester United since his retirement. In 2004, he said he would never want to manager the club. However, he has since retracted that statement and said that United was the only club he would take charge of.


David Beckham, 1993-2003

As King Eric's career was coming to a close, another United player was just beginning. Enter David Beckham. He was already well known in United's youth system and it was only a matter of time when he was chosen for the first team.

Signing with United at the age of 14, Becks would have a flourishing career at United. When he first joined, he wore Mark Hughes's former number, which was 10.

On his Champions League debut against Galatasaray in 1994, he scored a goal as United won, 4-0. For the 1994-1995 season, he was loaned off to Preston North End where he got some first team experience. However, Beckham would be back.

In 1996, Becks became a household name when he scored a miracle goal from halfway line as United beat Wimbledon 3-0. When Eric Cantona left in 1997, Becks took the No. 7 jersey leaving the No. 10 jersey for newcomer, Teddy Sheringham.

Beckham's biggest year came in 1999, when he was part of the squad that won the Treble—the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the Premier League. During his stay at United, Becks scored 62 goals in 265 appearances.

In 2003, Beckham's relationship with Manchester United deteriorated as he increasingly stayed on the bench. Eventually, he transferred to Real Madrid where he stayed for four years, from 2003-2007.

In 2007, he made possibly the most controversial move of the 21st century when he came to the States to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer.

Beckham has also had a fine career with the English national team. He made his debut for England during the 1996 World Cup. He became an automatic inclusion when he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1997. He became captain in 2000 and kept it until 2006. Throughout his international career, he has scored 17 goals in 105 appearances.


Cristiano Ronaldo, 2003-


We've taken a look at Best, Robson, Cantona, and Beckham. Now the latest member of Manchester United to wear the No. 7 jersey is Cristiano Ronaldo. Signed from Sporting Lisbon at the early age of 16, Liverpool originally had interest in them. As a United fan, I am so glad. When he first came to Old Trafford, he didn't want the No. 7 jersey. He said:

"After I joined, the manager asked me what number I'd like. I said 28. But Ferguson said 'No, you're going to have No. 7,' and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour."

Looks like the jersey has motivated him immensely. In the first season with Manchester United, he scored six goals in 40 appearances. However, he quickly improved and last season scored an astonishing 42 goals in 48 appearances. Take that Liverpool! 

With United, Ronaldo has won every piece of silverware possible—the FA Cup in 2004, the League Cup in 2006, the Community Shield in 2007, the Premiership in 2007 and 2008, and the Champions League in 2008. He has been awarded numerous individual awards, including the PFA Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2008.

Ronaldo made his international debut with Portugal in 2003. Since then, he has made 58 appearances and scored 21 goals. On his twentieth birthday in 2007, Ronaldo was made captain of Portugal. To many he was too young, but it was a move requested by the President of the Portugal Football Federation, Carlos Silva, who died two days before Ronaldo's birthday.

According to Scolari, the coach of Portugal then: "Mr. Silva asked me to make [Ronaldo] captain as a gesture...[he] is too young to be captain, but Mr. Silva asked me, and now he is no longer with us."


The Future

Cristiano Ronaldo is the latest player to wear No,. 7. Who will be next to wear that number? Looks like Ronaldo will be United for a few more years, but he could always leave. Who do you think is next? Who will get the honor of wearing the coveted No. 7 jersey of Manchester United?


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