When Antonio Valencia relinquished his number 7 shirt to opt for a more sombre 25, the number he had worn during his first two seasons at the club, he obviously couldn’t imagine that a relatively easy decision could trigger the hopes and dreams of many gullible fans, who were willing to believe that the Ecuadorian’s decision was part of a masterplan that would lead to unveiling a new signing.
Less than 24 hours after Valencia had made the number 7 shirt vacant and appeared at Wembley with the number 25 splashed across his back, Cristiano Ronaldo was reportedly flying into Manchester on a private jet, as confirmed by everybody’s favourite, and most reliable, source: Paddy Crerand.
Now, Paddy has been a great servant to the club and there’s nothing I enjoy the most than his blind faith and bias in the club, but he’s first and foremost a fan, meaning that he’s hardly the sort of reliable source fans would seek informations from during the summer. The plot of Valencia abandoning his number 7 shirt so that Ronaldo can don it again once he returns to the club is as good a story as anything we’ve heard this summer but, alas, it’a story, a fairytale and nothing more.
United fans have grown increasingly desperate for a big signing this summer, and while some would be happy with the likes of Fellaini and Baines, others feel only a player belonging in the elite echelons of Ronaldo and Bale would be good enough. Unfortunately, desperate fans are even more vulnerable to the ITK vultures that infest different social media networks on a daily basis and if some of them are gullible – plain daft? – enough to believe that Ronaldo will walk down Deansgate singing “We love United, we do”, then they’re in for a rather rude awakening.
Furthermore, while at Old Trafford the number 7 shirt has an aura normally reserved to other numbers in football, it’s worth remembering that as little as three years it was donned by Michael Owen who, winner against City aside, did little to continue the romance and, frankly, should be scraped off a list containing the likes of George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The number 7 shirt is likely to remain vacant for at least another 12 months, even though hope springs eternal and Ronaldo and Bale will be linked to the club another dozen of times from here to September 3. However, purely for conversational purposes, let’s imagine that the iconic shirt will indeed be filled, but by a player already at the club, rather than by an expensive signing.
Considering that Antonio Valencia has ruled himself out of the equation and that Ashley Young has already inflicted enough damage to the number 18 shirt, the same Paul Scholes donned throughout almost his entire career, the options appear to be rather limited, but interesting nevertheless, even without including Bebe.
Wilfried Zaha has shown plenty of promising signs throughout pre-season, but the former Palace man has already chosen the number 29 shirt and burdening him with the number 7 would probably add unwanted pressure onto his young shoulders, even though the carefree attitude typical of a youngster could play in Zaha’s favour, were he to be tasked with carrying the famous shirt.
Nani represents a valid option too, and the Portuguese would be the preferred choice of many, considering that he’s unquestionably talented and is thought to be desperate for a fresh start under David Moyes. The number 7 – and, many would suggest, a new contract – could also enhance Nani’s responsibility while, at the same time, represent a last call of sorts for the Portuguese, who has to deliver this season.
On the other hand, placing the number 7 shirts on Nani’s shoulder could spectacularly backfire, particularly considering Nani lacks the swagger his illustrious predecessor enjoyed, and if we are to tolerate his petulance, then we might as well do so without further tarnishing the shirt’s glorious tradition.
For flair and swagger, Robin Van Persie is the perfect player to wear the club’s most prestigious shirt, but the Dutchman isn’t a traditional number 7 per se – neither was Eric Cantona for that matter – and it would be really surprising to see him swap his current number for another, however important it might be.
Will United finally splash the cash this summer and buy the number 7’s shirt a new owner or will it remain vacant for the first time in the club’s history?
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