We’ll find out on Monday whether Juan Mata is going to wear the iconic number 7 shirt following his £37.1 million move from rivals Chelsea but the question would he be a worthy successor? While the number might have lost some sheen since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2009 and was worn by first Michael Owen and then Antonio Valencia, the previous owners were legends like David Beckham, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona. The number can be daunting for some as poor Antonio found out and he decided to switch back to his old number 25 after a difficult 12 months in number 7.
Now with the number 7 comes a burden that most can’t bear and it’s status in Old Trafford folklore is iconic and that’s why some want youngster Adnan Januzaj to get the number next season since he has shown glimpses that he is going to go on to become a world beater but perhaps it might be too much pressure to hand Januzaj the shirt right now. Here are some names Mata will have to live up to if he does get the shirt:
It’s often mistakenly said that George Best was the first Manchester United world-beater to exclusively wear that famous shirt. The truth is that in those days, everyone wore the number corresponding to their position (number 7 is right wing) and Bestie would wear 7, 8 or 11 depending on the position that he was playing in. That being said, George Best was definitely one of the most talented to ever play football.
The first proper celebrated United Number 7 who had the squad number was Bryan Robson who wore the shirt for a decade until he passed it on to Eric Cantona in November 1992. Robson was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first captain and a box-to-box midfielder who set the foundation of success for coming generations of Manchester United players.
Le Roi, French for the King, was Cantona’s sobriquet that the Manchester United faithful bestowed on their erstwhile favourite and he was the final piece of the puzzle which kick-started Manchester United’s dominance in the Ferguson Era. Cantona was simply majestic, doing things very few would dare do on a football field and the fans absolutely loved his defiant charisma.
Cantona passed on to his shirt to David Beckham form the Class of 92 and Beckham only added to the number 7 lore with his amazing performances in the shirt. Also, his global status increased the stature of the shirt and it was a real blow for Manchester United when he left.
Sir Alex Ferguson did the unthinkable when he handed over the iconic shirt to an unknown Portuguese but Ferguson explained the significance of wearing the shirt to the young lad. 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.’ And he certainly lived up to the expectation going to win the Ballon D’or twice – okay once with Real Madrid – and is now hailed as one of the greatest players to play the game.
So can Juan Mata live up to these names – it’s a tough task and we still don’t know whether he will be given the shirt or opt for another number – but if he does get it then he should know that he is following in the footsteps of the some of the greatest Reds to ever put on that shirt (Owen and Valencia) notwithstanding!