Players Who Chose a Shirt Number As an Emotional Tribute

Donny van de Beek
Donny van de Beek has an emotional reason for choosing #34 | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Most players choose the number on the back of their shirt because they personally like it, it is a natural fit for their position, or it is just what they've always worn. But others might look for deeper meaning in their choice and use it to pay tribute to someone else.

Stephen Bywater #43

Stephen Bywater
Stephen Bywater is known for his #43 shirt | Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Journeyman goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is far from a household name - the 39-year-old has been with Burton since 2016 after a spell with Kerala Blasters in India - but the motivation behind his favoured number 43 shirt is a touching story.

As a 16-year-old, he joined ​West Ham where he worked under the coaching guidance of former Manchester United and Aston Villa goalkeeper Les Sealey. The influence was vital to Bywater's development, but Sealey died suddenly of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 43 and the youngster has often worn those digits throughout his career, albeit not since 2015.

​"'[Sealey] was like a second dad to me," Bywater told The Independent in 2007. "He taught me about life. He was mental. He was like that off the pitch as well. Maybe that's why I get aggressive but, to be honest, I've always been like that. Les Sealey was a winner and I think winners have that fire in their belly."

Dani Alves #4

Dani Alves
Dani Alves switch to #4 for Brazil to honour Carlos Alberto | Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

International shirt numbers can be much less fixed that at club level, and Dani Alves sought to honour Brazil legend and 1970 World Cup winning captain Carlos Alberto in the Selecao’s first game after his passing at the age of 72 in 2016.

Alves wore the number four, Carlos Alberto’s famous shirt, for a World Cup qualifier against Argentina a couple of weeks later.

“The confederation made the decision to do this tribute, in respect to the eternal captain, his family. I believe that any tribute is valid, acceptable," Alves said at the time.

The right-back is no stranger to changing his shirt number to honour different people. In 2013, he switched his Barcelona number from 2 to 22 in tribute of close friend Eric Abidal, who had just left Camp Nou. He later took 13 at Paris Saint-Germain to pay tribute to the still living Brazilian World Cup winning player and coach Mario Zagallo, who viewed it as his lucky number.

“I have always liked to change numbers and honour the people who, in a way, have inspired me and made sense to my life,” Alves explained.

Christen Press #24

Christen Press has become synonymous with the number 23 shirt with the USWNT and at club level in NWSL, but her new Manchester United jersey is 24 instead.

It was chosen as a nod to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter, Gianna, and seven other people in January 2020.

“I’m not someone that holds too much luck or significance to a number. But when I wasn’t able to wear my normal number, I chose this with a little nod to Kobe, because I’m an LA girl,” Press said when she was unveiled as a United player.

Donny van de Beek #34

Donny van de Beek
Van de Beek wears #34 for Abdelhak Nouri | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Another Manchester United signing who chose their shirt number as a tribute is Donny van de Beek, who wears 34 for close friend and former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri.

Nouri sadly collapsed during a pre-season game for Ajax in 2017 due to cardiac arrhythmia, leading to permanent brain damage. He spent nearly three years in hospital and is now cared for at home by his family and Van de Beek has stayed in close contact.

“This is a special thing for me because my good friend Abdelhak Nouri...maybe you know the story, he had a heart attack and he’s a good friend of mine,” Van de Beek told his new club’s official website shortly after arriving.

“I’m really close with his family and his brother is one of my best friends and I talk a lot with them. So I decided to take his old number on my shirt and I want to get good memories with this number.”

Van de Beek is not alone in honouring Nouri in this way. Former Ajax players Amin Younes, Joel Veltman and Justin Kluivert have all gone on to wear 34 at other clubs. Other Dutch players likes Kevin Diks and Philippe Sandler, who also knew or played with Nouri at junior international level, have taken 34 at their respective clubs as well.

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