Discover the story behind each of David Beckham’s Iconic Shirt Numbers


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David Beckham is synonymous with the number seven shirt.

But he only wore if for a grand total of five club seasons during a professional career that spanned 21 years, while it wasn’t even his first love at Manchester United.

Beckham later wore 23 for both Real Madrid and LA Galaxy, before putting his stamp on 32 during spells at AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain in the twilight of his career.

Now, in a half hour video with Classic Football Shirts that dives deep into Beckham’s personal jersey history dating back to his 1980s childhood, the football legend has spoken – among a range of shirt-related topics – about exactly what was behind wearing the famous numbers that he did.

  • Why David Beckham wore #7 for Man Utd
David Beckham was initially very happy with Man Utd’s number ten shirt

 

The very first shirt that Beckham was assigned during his senior career was Manchester United‘s number 28 in 1993 – he had made his first-team debut the year before wearing 14 when fixed squad numbers weren’t yet a thing in English football.

That became 24 ahead of a breakout season in 1995/96, before then trading down to ten for 1996/97. That was the campaign that really launched Beckham, scoring from the halfway line on the opening day of the new Premier League season and winning PFA Young Player of the Year.

Overall, he finished with 12 goals in 49 appearances wearing ten, but it didn’t last. Beckham would eventually land the coveted number seven, vacated when Eric Cantona very suddenly retired, but he was initially disappointed as his ten shirt had been taken off him by manager Alex Ferguson first.

Beckham had enjoyed wearing ten because it had previously been made famous at Old Trafford by Mark Hughes, one of his idols growing up. The fact he’d also just had an outstanding year helped too.

The 21-year-old Beckham was holidaying in Malta when Ferguson told him he couldn’t wear ten anymore. “We’re signing Teddy Sheringham and we’re taking the number ten,” said the boss, seemingly not saying much else and leaving the youngster gutted.

“That was it and the number ten got taken off me in one of the best seasons I’d ever had. But then I arrived back to training and the boss says, ‘By the way, you’ve got number seven’.”

Sheringham, who was signed to replace the retiring Cantona, had specifically asked Ferguson for the number ten shirt when he arrived in Manchester from Tottenham Hotspur.

“I asked Sir Alex Ferguson: ‘Who’s the young kid who’s got the number ten? What’s the chances of me getting his shirt?'” the ex-striker recalled in a 2015 interview with the Evening Standard.

Teddy Sheringham’s arrival at Manchester United changed everything for Beckham

As it turns out, Sheringham might have considered taking the vacant number seven shirt himself, although that thought never crossed his mind in the end. By his own admission, he wasn’t familiar enough with the history of the jersey at United to actively seek it out.

“I’d never been a number seven in my life, and not being a Manchester boy, I’d never realised how much of an honour it was to wear the number seven shirt for United,” he explained.

Of course, even by then, Beckham was already making England’s number seven shirt his own and had worn it consistently from his debut in September 1996.

  • Why David Beckham wore #23 for Real Madrid & LA Galaxy
Beckham had to choose a new number at Real Madrid

By the time of his 2003 transfer to Real Madrid, Beckham was arguably the most globally famous and marketable player on earth. The number seven, worn with distinction for five years at Old Trafford, was a massive part of his personal brand, but he would never wear it in Spain or at any other club.

Madrid legend Raul had already been wearing number seven at the Bernabeu since 1996. In 2003, he was a three-time Champions League winner, twice the Champions League top goalscorer and also a Ballon d’Or runner-up in 2001 – Beckham had been second in 1999.

“I would never even think of asking for number seven – I would never have got it anyway [laughs],” Beckham said of arriving at Madrid and being tasked with picking his new shirt.

Pedro Munitis, who had spent the previous season out on loan and was locked in talks to release him from his contract throughout the summer of 2003, had 23 when Beckham signed. In late August, Madrid reached an agreement with Munitis and he was quickly snapped up by Deportivo La Coruna.

“I asked what numbers were available and I don’t think 23 was one of them. But I said I’m a huge fan of Jordan, always been a big admirer of him. I asked for 23 and that’s how it all started,” Beckham said.

Beckham continued to wear 23 in Major League Soccer

Rather than switch back to seven, which had always remained his England shirt number, when he joined LA Galaxy in 2007, Beckham opted to stick with 23 for a couple of reasons.

“I loved the thought of wearing 23 in America, the connection with Jordan and how important the 23 was,” he explained. “I felt it was the right thing to do to wear 23. Also, Chris Klein was wearing the number seven at the Galaxy at the time. I always feel bad taking numbers off people and I’ve never really done it, so I wasn’t going to start on my first day at the Galaxy.”

  • Why David Beckham wore #32 for AC Milan & PSG
Beckham’s number choice at AC Milan was also basketball-inspired

During LA Galaxy off-seasons in 2009 and 2010, Beckham joined AC Milan on loan. It didn’t go down particularly well with soccer fans in Los Angeles, or indeed teammate Landon Donovan – a brief spat that is addressed in the insightful Beckham limited series on Netflix. But the England captain saw it as a way of staying sharp, certainly with the intention of staying in the Three Lions squad.

At Milan, he encountered the same problems as with Madrid, where number seven wasn’t available – worn by Alexandre Pato. Nor was 23 – worn by Massimo Ambrosini.

Beckham finished his career wearing 32 for PSG

“When I went to Milan, 23 wasn’t available, number seven wasn’t available, [but] I also love Magic Johnson, who was 32,” Beckham explained, referencing another basketball legend in his shirt choice.

Beckham would end up taking 32 at Paris Saint-Germain as well as he wound down his career with a short-term contract in French football in the first half of 2013. At that time, Jeremy Menez wore seven for PSG and Gregory van der Wiel was occupying 23.

What we know

  • David Beckham speaks about his shirt number history
  • Man Utd legend famously wore 7 at Old Trafford
  • He later sported 23 & 32 jerseys for various clubs.

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