5 legendary footballers whose jersey numbers were retired

Paolo Maldini's #3 jersey was retired by AC Milan out of respect for his achievements
Paolo Maldini's #3 jersey was retired by AC Milan out of respect for his achievements

Over the years, quite a few clubs have retired the jersey numbers worn by the most famous or successful players to have represented the clubs. While not all clubs do it, there are several standout examples of the same.

These include Bobby Moore (West Ham), Raul (Schalke), Roberto Baggio (Brescia) and Franco Baresi (AC Milan), to name a few. The tradition of retiring jerseys seems to vary from country to country, though.

The subject has come to the fore again after Barcelona announced the departure of their most decorated player, Lionel Messi. The Argentine leaves after a 17-season long stint with the club. Widely regarded as one of the best players to have graced the game, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored goals and won trophies galore in the famous Blaugrana jersey.

Despite Messi's stellar exploits with the club, his jersey number is unlikely to be retired by Barcelona. The existing La Liga rules do not permit clubs to have jersey numbers beyond 25. An exception to the rule is made only if reserve-team players need to be drafted to the first team. In these cases, they are assigned a number between 26 and 99.

It remains to be seen if Barcelona will go ahead and retire Messi's jersey number. But here's a look at five legendary players whose jersey numbers were retired by their respective clubs:

#5 Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan) - #4 jersey

Javier Zanetti at Inter Milan
Javier Zanetti at Inter Milan

Javier Zanetti is one of the most decorated players to have played for reigning Serie A champions Inter Milan.

During a near two-decade-long stint with the Serie A giants, Zanetti played a record 858 games. He was a key player for the Nerazzurri side that won the continental treble in 2010, playing over 50 games that season.

The 47-year-old Argentine, who scored 20 goals and won 16 trophies at the club, had his jersey retired a year after he bid adieu to the game in 2014.

Zanetti, who is now a vice-president at the club. was also a standout performer for Argentina, playing 145 games.

#4 Paolo Maldini (AC Milan) - #3 jersey

Paolo Maldini at AC Milan
Paolo Maldini at AC Milan

One of the most decorated one-club men in the history of the game, Paolo Maldini is also widely renowned as one of the best defenders to have played the sport.

During an illustrious 25-season career for club and country, Maldini played over 1000 games, with 902 of these games coming for AC Milan. He won 26 trophies, including seven Serie A titles and three Champions Leagues.

Maldini played his last game for the Rossoneri in 2009, just weeks before turning 41. Milan retired his #3 jersey almost immediately after as a token of appreciation for the player's contributions for the Italian giants.

#3 Johan Cruyff (Ajax) - #14 jersey

Johan Cruyff at Barcelona
Johan Cruyff at Barcelona

Johan Cruyff is the man credited with bringing Rinus Michels' revolutionary Total Football philosophy to life.

The late Dutchman was a prolific goalscorer, but could play literally anywhere on the field. After making his professional debut with Ajax in the 60s, Cruyff lifted the Eredivisie side from obscurity and made them European powerhouses. Ajax won three consecutive European Champions Clubs' Cup titles with the Dutchman leading the charge on the pitch.

Cruyff then moved to Barcelona and reworked his magic at Camp Nou, endearing himself to the club faithful. Years later, as the club's manager, the three-time Ballon d'Or winner would form a dream team that won four consecutive La Liga titles and the European Champions Club's Cup.

More than two decades after he last played for the club, Ajax retired Cruyff's #14 jersey in 2007.

#2 Diego Maradona (Napoli) - #10 jersey

Diego Maradona at Napoli
Diego Maradona at Napoli

Arguably one of the greatest players to have graced the game, Diego Maradona joined Napoli after a failed stint with Barcelona and transformed the fortunes of the Italian club.

After leading Argentina to the 1986 FIFA World Cup title, Maradona played a key role in Napoli winning their first-ever Serie A title in the 1986-87 season. That marked the first time a club from southern Italy had won the league title. Maradona then helped Napoli repeat the feat three years later, while also winning the UEFA Cup in 1989.

Though he was never a prolific goalscorer, Maradona was a playmaker par excellence and was an able leader on the field. During his seven-year stint at Napoli spanning over 250 games, Maradona scored 115 goals and provided 33 assists.

Although the Argentine departed the club in disgrace after failing a drug test, Napoli paid due credence to Maradona's exploits for the club by retiring his #10 jersey. Shortly after Maradona expired last year, Napoli renamed their stadium as the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

#1 Pele (New York Cosmos) - #10 jersey


Pele is widely regarded as the best player to have graced the game and arguably the greatest ever goalscorer.

During a prolific career for club and country, the all-time top scorer for Brazil notched up a barely believable 1283 goals. Despite his diminutive stature, the three-time FIFA World Cup winner was proficient off either foot and strong in the air. His versatility also allowed him to be deployed anywhere in the attacking third.

After a near two-decade-long stint at Santos, a 35-year-old Pele joined American club New York Cosmos in 1975. Though he played there for only two years, Pele was a crowd puller and entertainer. He scored 37 goals in 64 matches for the club.

Pele played his last professional match against his old employers Santos. Shortly thereafter, the New York Cosmos retired Pele's #10 jersey.

Edited by Anantaajith Ra


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