In the good old days, soccer players would line up from number 1 (the goalkeeper) up to number 11 (the striker), and if you weren’t in the starting eleven, you’d at best be on the substitutes bench.
As the goalkeeper was designated the number 1 jersey, it would then go to the right back at number 2, and so on.
Therefore, the number 12 jersey would technically be the first substitute player, often a substitute goalkeeper. And for years, that’s how it stayed; if your jersey number was higher than 11, you weren’t going to start the game.
In modern soccer, that’s no longer the case. Players request their lucky number and often build a brand identity around it.
CR7 for Cristiano Ronaldo is a prime example of a player making use of their jersey number to identify with their fans. Ronaldo wouldn’t be seen dead on a soccer pitch wearing the number 6; the CR7 brand is too lucrative.
While the CR7 brand is unusual, players often identify with a particular number and try to keep hold of it. Some even chose it because their soccer idol wore it.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the number 12 jersey, specifically, which seven famous soccer players wore that particular number.
You might assume that our list would be full of second-choice goalkeepers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Only one goalkeeper makes our list, and he was undoubtedly no bench warmer.
Here are 7 of the greatest soccer players that have worn the number 12 jersey.
7. Julio Cesar – Inter Milan & Brazil
It’s only fitting that we start our list with a goalkeeper, given the historical connection between the number 12 jersey and the second goalkeeper.
Julio Cesar was no backup goalkeeper and is regarded as one of Brazil’s greatest-ever shot-stoppers. Cesar was an athletic, bullish player who was agile, quick, and superb at commanding the penalty area.
In a career that spanned over two decades, Cesar appeared in over 450 league matches and won 87 caps for Brazil. The goalkeeper is best known for his spell at Inter Milan, where he would help the club win Serie A titles, three Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana cups, and a Champions League.
Widely regarded as one of the most complete goalkeepers Brazil has ever produced, Julio Cesar was a player whose intelligence allowed him to excel.
His decision-making was superb and allowed Cesar to rush off his line to make the shooting angle smaller for the attacker. He may have had the number 12 on his jersey, but in every sense, Cesar was a quality number 1.
6. Alex Sandro – Juventus & Brazil
Brazil has a long history of producing superb left-backs, and one of the best of recent years is Juventus defender Alex Sandro.
The Juventus number 12 has spent eight years in the Serie A and is considered one of the most well-rounded left-backs in world soccer.
With a Brazilian penchant for attacking, Sandro uses his incredible pace and ball control to fly down the left wing, forcing defenses onto the back foot and giving Juventus a significant attacking threat. Sandro has a superb left foot, and his crosses are used to great effect during games.
A winner wherever he’s played, the Brazilian international has five Serie A titles with Juventus and a Primeira Liga title with Porto.
An attacking Brazilian left-back with an eye for a cross, Sandro is often compared to former Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos. While Sandro doesn’t take free-kicks like Carlos, there’s a similarity in both players attacking intent.
5. John Obi Mikel – Chelsea & Nigeria
Destined for great things from an early age, John Obi Mikel was talent-spotted at the tender age of 12, beating over 3,000 other youngsters to win a place at Plateau United by the Pepsi Football Academy.
Obi Mikel would eventually find himself in Norway, playing for Lyn, where the player would attract attention from some of the biggest clubs in world soccer.
When the defensive midfielder hit 18, it was announced that he would be joining Manchester United, who had agreed on a deal with the player.
Unfortunately for United, they’d bypassed the player’s agents, and the transfer was canceled. The young Nigerian would eventually join Chelsea in 2006 and go on to become a key player over the next 11 seasons.
A tall, strong, and athletic player, Mikel was a perfect defensive midfielder with a solid passing range and excellent off-the-ball movement.
Despite the Chelsea number 12 taking a long time to settle in at Stamford Bridge (Mikel was often late and trained poorly for some time), he would eventually cement himself into the starting lineup.
The move to Chelsea rather than Manchester United bore fruit in the end, with the midfielder winning two Premier League titles, the Europa League, and the Champions League while in London. A three-time FA Cup winner with Chelsea, Mikel also made 91 appearances for Nigeria.
4. Marcelo – Real Madrid & Brazil
It’s not easy to make it into the Real Madrid starting eleven, and even harder to stay there, so for Marcelo to have made the left-back position his own for fifteen years is a huge statement about how good the Brazilian was.
Versatile, quick, and great in offense and defense, Marcelo is regarded as one of the greatest left-backs of all time.
With a trophy list that could fill a book, it’s easier to mention the titles the Brazilian legend hasn’t won; and it seems to be the 200-meter breaststroke is the only achievement missing from his resume.
With six La Liga titles, five Champions League medals, FIFA Club World Cup, and UEFA Super Cup, Marcelo was instrumental in Madrid staying at the very top of the soccer pyramid.
A technically superb, quick player, possessing the skills to recover the ball and then carry it far upfield while beating opposing players, Marcelo was praised by some of the true greats of world soccer for his all-around ability.
Regarded as the heir to Roberto Carlos, it can be argued that Marcelo was even better; his passing, crossing, defending, and overall contribution to Real Madrid was even greater than that of Roberto Carlos.
Wearing the number 12 jersey throughout his career, Marcelo even named his company DOZE (“Twelve”) in honor of the number he’d worn for almost 18 seasons.
3. Olivier Giroud – Arsenal & France
One of the greatest target-men in history, Olivier Giroud has been one of the most consistent and reliable strikers in world soccer for over a decade.
The France and AC Milan striker is big, strong, and has an unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time. Often underrated, Giroud has a superb scoring record, often underrated, especially in big games.
With 120 caps for France and 53 goals, he’s his country’s all-time leading goalscorer and fourth on the list for appearances. A striker holding up the ball and then doing something meaningful with it is worth their weight in gold, and nobody does it better than Giroud.
Physically imposing and strong, but with a superb touch, his ability to hit the target, especially with his head, makes the forward a dangerous opponent.
Now 36, you’d be forgiven for thinking Giroud was at the twilight of his career, but he’s never run that fast, even when in his prime, preferring to just be in the proper position.
Giroud is still as important a player now as he was when at Arsenal; he scores goals, brings other players into the game, and leads the line with a calmness that makes his age irrelevant. If anything, Giroud has only improved as he’s matured.
2. Thierry Henry – Arsenal & France
Not many soccer fans won’t have heard of the former Arsenal, Barcelona, and France striker, Thierry Henry.
One of the most electrifying, lethal strikers ever, Henry ran like a racehorse and had a clinical finish that marked him out as one of the greats. A graduate of the Clairefontaine academy in France, Henry first made his mark at Monaco before an ill-fated move to Juventus in 1999.
After only one year in Italy, Juventus sold Henry to Arsenal; the player had been unhappy at Juventus, and new Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw Henry’s potential as one of the best strikers in the Premier League.
After being played as a winger at Juventus, Henry jumped at the chance, though even he didn’t envisage becoming the greatest Arsenal player of all time.
Henry chose the number 12 jersey for Arsenal and France, as he wished to emulate his idol, Marco van Basten. While the two players had completely different styles, both were elegant, clinical players who dominated their leagues.
Playing primarily as a lone striker, Henry had to use his pace, guile, and excellent ball control to collect the ball and make darting runs at defenders.
His pace scared the life out of opponents and forced them further back into their half of the pitch, allowing the Gunners to push men forward.
Henry is a superb example of a player wearing the number 12 and only beaten by his idol into the number one spot.
1. Marco van Basten – AC Milan & Holland
Despite a career blighted by injury, Marco van Basten was a three-time Ballon d’Or winner, won the European Cup three times with AC Milan, four Serie A titles, and three Eredivisie titles with Ajax.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest players ever produced, van Basten was an artist with the ball at his feet.
Wearing the number 12, the mercurial Dutchman played for just two clubs; Ajax, from 1981 until 1987, where he scored 128 goals in 133 league games, and AC Milan, from 1987 until 1995.
Van Basten made his debut for Ajax in 1982, coming on as a substitute for the legendary Johan Cruyff, a fitting passing of the baton from one of the greatest players of all time.
Marco van Basten would mature quickly and become one of the most complete center forwards of all time.
Elegant on the ball, great in the air, and a scorer of some of the most incredible goals you’ll ever see, van Basten had everything. The tall Dutch international was creative and was equally adept at setting up goals as he was at scoring them.
After moving to Milan in 1987, van Basten became part of one of the greatest club sides Italy had ever seen. Playing alongside fellow Dutchmen Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, the three players would transform the club into the most dominating side in Serie A.
Because of his incredible skill and goalscoring ability, van Basten was often a target for opposing players. Stop van Basten, and you had a chance of winning the game.
The horrific tackles, especially the high tackles from behind as defenders chased the goalbound striker down, meant he suffered several appalling injuries.
Forced to retire in 1995 after missing several seasons of soccer due to his injuries, van Basten turned to management. While his managerial career was solid, it’s incomparable to his astonishing playing career.
Voted sixth in a FIFA Player of the Century poll in 1998, van Basten has to go into the books as the most significant number 12 of all time.