Numbers mean something in soccer, and we’re not just talking about the scoreboard; the number on the back of a player’s jersey is important.
From a historical standpoint, wearing a number that means something to the fans is special, and from a player’s number, fans can infer what type of player they could be.
Today we’re looking at the fabled number 7 jersey, worn by some of the most iconic and successful players of all time. A number 7 is a playmaker, a scorer of goals; often, they’re the club talisman.
Taking on the number 7 is a sign that a player is ready for the responsibility of being the architect that makes things happen on the field.
A 7 is often an attacking midfielder, usually a winger that cuts inside and either create chances or scores spectacular goals. So it’s essential that the player has the skill, determination, and broad shoulders to handle the responsibility.
Let’s have a look at the very best 7s of all time.
11. Robert Pires
Robert Pires became an Arsenal legend thanks to his mazy runs, clever passing, and superb talent. A member of arguably the greatest Arsenal team of all time, Pires was a winger whose pace and trickery worried defenders throughout the Premier League.
In his six seasons with Arsenal, Pires won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups and was an instrumental player throughout his career.
A typical number 7, Pires was comfortable on the ball and liked nothing more than driving forwards to set up teammates.
10. Franck Ribery
Franck Ribery was an artist with the ball at his feet, possessing every attribute to be one of the best number 7s in world soccer. Arrogant, determined, and technically superb, the French playmaker roamed both wings in search of goals and assists.
Probably best known for his time at Bayern Munich, Ribery demanded the ball, took responsibility, and scored over a hundred league goals.
In the number 7 role, Ribery is a way for the team to relieve pressure by feeding the ball onto the wings, opponents suddenly having to backtrack as they try to defend against the tricky and talented Frenchman.
9. Kevin Keegan
One of the greatest England players of all time, Kevin Keegan was a two-time Ballon d’Or winner with a thirst for perfection. One of his generation’s most creative and determined players, Keegan took a reasonable amount of talent and an incredible work ethic and turned himself into one of the world’s best players.
A legend at Liverpool, Hamburg, and Newcastle, “King Kev” as he became known, was a gifted playmaker, dropping deep and using the wings to devastating effect.
A three-time League winner with Liverpool, Keegan also won the Bundesliga with Hamburg. A European Cup and a host of individual awards show just how well regarded Keegan was.
You know a player is special when he wins the World Cup, Golden Boot, and the Golden ball, all at the same tournament.
Brazilian legend Garrincha was an outstanding player with the best dribbling skills ever seen. This was despite the Brazilian being born with one leg six centimeters shorter than the other, making Garrincha bow-legged.
Despite his physical condition, Garrincha was almost unstoppable with a ball at his feet, and despite not becoming a professional until his late teens, he carved out an incredible career.
A two-time World Cup winner, Garrincha also won dozens of tournaments with Botafogo, where he spent 12 seasons.
Raul Gonzalez Blanco, or just plain Raul to you and I, was one of the greatest Spanish players of all time. With a goalscoring record the envy of every la Liga player, Raul is a Real Madrid and Spain legend.
In his 16 years with Real Madrid, Raul scored 228 league goals, helping the club to six League titles, four Supercopa de Espana, and three Champions Leagues.
Raul wore the number 7 for both club and country and could play up front or drop deep looking for the ball.
With an eye for goal and the intelligence to be in the right place at the right time, Raul was an elegant, technically superb striker. Raul was so self-assured and composed that he was nicknamed “The Ferrari” by fellow Real Madrid players.
6. Kenny Dalglish
Sir Kenny Dalglish is one of the most revered soccer players in British history, having played for Celtic and Liverpool for a combined 21 years.
Having won a combined ten league titles, three European Cups, and more domestic cups than you can count, Dalglish was one of the best players in Europe for over a decade.
As well as being a superb number 7, creating chances and scoring goals for fun, Dalglish was also a leader on the field, demanding the very best from his fellow players. Dalglish didn’t shout or threaten; he simply played out of his skin every week.
Making the players around him try harder, Dalglish led the Celtic and Liverpool attack with skill, grit, and elegance.
5. George Best
Had it not been for his off-field issues, there is every chance that George Best could have become the greatest soccer player of all time.
Rarely mentioned in the same breath as Pele or Maradona, Best was arguably as gifted as both, and with the added caveat that the Irish star played in a more competitive league.
The perfect number 7, Best combined power, balance, and sheer skill, and at his peak, was almost impossible to defend against; he rarely fell over, and opposing players had to go through him to stop him. A Manchester United legend, Best was instrumental in the club winning the 1968 European Cup.
George Best was one of the most gifted players in soccer, with a talent for dribbling, scoring, and passing.
Often kicked mercilessly by opponents, Best nonetheless rarely went to ground, relying on his incredible balance to be able to ride challenges and keep moving forwards with the ball. Defenders were routinely substituted when he was on fire to save them from further embarrassment.
4. David Beckham
Quite possibly the most famous number 7 of them all, David Beckham was as well known for his celebrity lifestyle as he was for his incredible soccer skills.
Which is slightly unfair; the London-born Manchester United superstar was an excellent winger, combining one of the best passing ranges in soccer history with a determination to succeed that’s often overlooked.
A typical number 7, Beckham was often the creative outlet for what was already a superb Manchester United team.
Bending pinpoint crosses into the area for the strikers to score, Beckham was also one of the best free-kick takers in history, scoring vital goals for club and country. Easily one of the best number 7s of all time, Beckham’s legacy is secure.
3. Luis Figo
Portugal’s legendary winger Luis Figo was one of the best wingers of his generation, and even 13 years after his retirement, there has only been Lionel Messi who has created more chances in La Liga than the Portuguese star.
He was a divisive figure in Spain thanks to his acrimonious move from Barcelona to their hated rivals Real Madrid in 2000.
Regardless of his jersey color, the number 7 on the back told you everything you needed to know; Figo was a creative genius with the ball. A winner wherever he played, Figo won two La Liga with Barcelona, two with Real Madrid, and four consecutive Serie A with Inter Milan.
As strong as a bull but with a grace that allowed him to pass players easily, Luis Figo will be remembered as one of the most technically adept players of all time.
A Portugal legend, Figo also made 127 appearances for his country in what’s still regarded as a golden era in Portuguese soccer.
2. Eric Cantona
As mad as a march hare, with a temper that bordered on out of control, Eric Cantona was also one of the greatest number 7s in history, almost carrying Manchester Untied to titles.
After a surprise move to Manchester from Leeds, Cantona became one of the team’s oldest players, becoming a hero figure to players including youngsters David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Nicky Butt.
Cantona could score, create, bully and threaten and was so utterly sure of himself that he would stride around the pitch as if he owned it. One of French soccer’s most gifted yet underrated players, Cantona became a club legend at Manchester United.
It can’t be overstated how unlikely the next two decades of dominance would have been if Eric Cantona hadn’t arrived at Old Trafford; he was that good.
Even a lengthy suspension for his infamous Kung-Fu kick into the stands at Selhurst Park didn’t dampen the fan’s love for their talismanic number 7.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
With a career like the one Cristiano Ronaldo has had and a brand name that’s called CR7, there was no one else who could occupy the top spot on our list. The greatest number 7 of all time, and one of the greatest players of all time, Ronaldo is beyond the reach of most soccer players.
With more trophies and records than almost any other player in history, Ronaldo became the best number 7 in history thanks to his incredible drive, phenomenal skills, and his need to be the best.
A five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Ronaldo has 32 trophies to his name and is the most capped Portuguese player of all time.
In European competition, Ronaldo is unsurpassed, with the most appearances in the Champions League, the most goals and assists, and five trophies won. One of the most skillful players ever, Ronaldo, at full speed, was unstoppable; creative, direct, and ruthless.
Ronaldo became a more complete player at Manchester United, learning from some of the best wingers in England under the watchful eye of the Premier League’s most outstanding ever manager, sir Alex Ferguson. Upon moving to Real Madrid, Ronaldo became a global superstar and still worked harder on the field than anyone else.
Without a doubt, one of the top three players in history, Ronaldo is the best number 7 of all time. It’s doubtful that many of his records will ever be surpassed, and it could be decades before we see a number 7 with such a complete dedication to being the best player on the planet.