Shirt numbers, they mean so little, but mean so much. Since squad numbers were introduced, players have become attached to their chosen numbers, and it helps play a part in their marketing and general ego maintenance.

Many players include their shirt number in autographs, some have it tattooed, many more have it used in their marketing and lucrative commercial contracts, and it’s obviously used in social media handles and general promotion.

Therefore, to have it taken away would be a blow to the ego, especially if you considered yourself to be an important player at a club. Anthony Martial is one of the most important players in Manchester United’s future, on what he’s showed since arriving he’s going to be very important long term.

Manchester United will hope to keep Martial for the next decade, with of course there already being claims of interest from the likes of Real Madrid… although there appeared nothing in those reports.

Given all of that, it seems strange Manchester United took his number 9 away and gave it to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It seems even stranger they apparently did so without consulting the Frenchman, and a little embarrassing for him.

Of course it’s not the biggest deal in the world, but, in modern football, it is a big deal. And for Manchester United to do anything which may upset Martial seems like self harm.

RMC’s very well connected Mohamed Bouhafsi, reported on Saturday that Martial hadn’t even been informed. It’s worth noting it was Bouhafsi and RMC who broke the story that Martial was signing for Manchester United in the first place.

Some Manchester United fans quickly rushed to stamp on the fire and explain how it didn’t really matter and everyone was making too much out of it.

Comments like ‘Who gives a f***?’ were thrown around… the answer of course being Anthony Martial.

Anthony Martial gives a f***.

Jose Mourinho’s period of grace, and status as saviour of the club means no criticism is allowed and must be discredited, it’s all a bit North Korea at the moment.

Anthony Martial


Still, it does seem Martial has been at least a little hurt. His social media all brands him as a number 9 and he’d been pushing his own AM9 brand, with a logo made. It’s the theme for his website, and he probably felt that with his status at the club that his number would be his for as long as he wanted it.

RMC say it shows Martial is ‘struggling to accept’ what’s happened. Whilst it doesn’t change his thoughts on playing for Manchester United, the whole thing could, and should, have been avoided.

If shirt numbers don’t mean so much, and it’s not about status, then why couldn’t Zlatan Ibrahimovic have just accepted a vacant one? This is absolutely about status and shows that Zlatan walks into Manchester United as the main man, others put in their place accordingly.

Martial has got the number 11 shirt now, with Adnan Januzaj further seeing his prominence falling. There’s the argument that Martial is now a winger so suits the 11 best, but that spectacularly misses the point of how numbers are held these days.

Martial is seen as a striker long term, Manchester United’s long term number 9. Or 11.

A storm in a teacup, perhaps, but a storm nonetheless, and one totally of Manchester United’s own making.