OPINION: Retiring Giggs' number 11 shirt

Ryan Giggs announced his retirement from professional football yesterday, just an hour after being announced as Louis van Gaal’s assistant manager at Manchester United as soon as the Netherlands cease their participation in this summers FIFA World Cup in Brazil. This quickly started a debate on Twitter regarding the number 11 shirt, which Giggs wore for the majority of his career at the club. I personally feel that retiring shirt numbers is not the best way to remember a legend. United have suffered many tragedies in their history, and have had some amazing players represent the club and various other shirt numbers.

After the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, which would have been a fitting tribute to retire shirt numbers, it was not possible as at that time up until the start of the modern football era, shirt numbers one to eleven were the only ones used by teams with the relevant substitutes coming in from number twelve onwards. Then you think about the number seven shirt, as worn by George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, who were the most memorable players to have worn the shirt, you just cannot retire a shirt made famous by a particular player.

Going back to when the Class of 92 were still coming through the academy, those trainees seeing the likes of Robson, Cantona, Hughes, McClair, Irwin, Schmeichel et al playing every week, their aspirations as players would have developed. David Beckham had his heart set on the number seven shirt, one of the most prestigious at the club and him earning that shirt from his debut, to the time he was given the number would have given him the satisfaction that he had earned it. Sir Alex Ferguson famously gave the number seven shirt to Cristiano Ronaldo the summer Beckham left for Real Madrid and Ronaldo did not want the shirt, because of its history. Reported in the Daily Mail last year, Ronaldo said:

“When I arrived, even though I did not want it, he [Ferguson] insisted I have No 7 on my shirt.

“I was adamant that I did not want it. Then, he sat me down and told me about the history of the No 7.

“Sir Alex said, ‘Do you understand what I am trying to say to you? I think you will be worthy of wearing this shirt’. With that, I understood how much confidence he had in me.”

It just shows that players are respectful of the shirt and that they feel the prestige of wearing a famous number at the club, is one to be earned, rather than having a right to wear it. We saw with Antonio Valencia the season before last that the famous number seven carried a big weight on that player’s shoulders.

With the current crop of youngsters earning their places in the first team, what better for them than the history of the shirt numbers at the club. So many great players have worn most of the numbers in the one to eleven range, and again those youth players aspire to be wearing these numbers in the future, after they feel they have earned the right. I think there is one players in the squad right now that has earned the right to take either the vacant number seven shirt or the more recently vacated number eleven, that player is Adnan Januzaj. spoke to club legend Norman Whiteside yesterday about the suggestion that shirt numbers be retired with a player, here are his thoughts on the issue:

“Retiring numbers, especially at a club like Manchester United is nonsense.

“The numbers 1-11 especially are what football is all about. As a player that played for the club in an era where the numbers 1-11 were used, it meant numbers could not be retired, whoever the player was.

“The badge on the front of the shirt is more important than any number on the back, and if anything it takes away the inspiration from any young players coming through the ranks, who have their eye on a particular number in the future.”

The comments from Norman Whiteside justify my personal thoughts on retiring shirt numbers as a load of nonsense. I do believe that a player such as Giggs should be celebrated by the club, as after 963 appearances spanning 23 seasons of football at the same club, it is something that will probably never be repeated again. Giggs has ended one career for another to start and from there we could eventually see him develop his skills in the management role that has been earmarked for him in three years time. At the end of career, I am sure Giggs will be recognised like Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best all were in their own rights, but effectively retiring his famous number 11 shirt, no thanks, I would rather see other talented youth players assume the shirt and see what they can do in it to help the legend of the famous shirt numbers continue.

What do you think on the subject? Please cast your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this article, or you can register for our forum and comment on the thread started for this article.

By Paul Bienkowski

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