Oscar doesn't deserve the hallowed #11! The #25 should be retired! What was Hazard thinking in taking Bosingwa's number 17? Benayoun should be knighted for giving Mata the #10! And so on.
As fans, we place an undue amount of emphasis on this shirt number business. On some level, it's understandable since we associate various qualities with various digits. For example, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Angus Young liked the combination of 36-24-36. We call that a Gary Cahill sandwich. Lately, DPeezy has enjoyed the 17-11-10 in various orderings when watching the football and a simple, solitary #6 when playing the football. So I get it.
However, it's also none of our business in the sense that unless we are privy to the thoughts and feelings of the players, we really have no idea what a certain number may mean to certain players. Maybe Oscar really does like the #11 more than the #10 and he gave the iconic Brazilian shirt number to Neymar with a hug and a smile. Maybe Mata would've been twice as good wearing #25 or #99 or something other than #10. And who knows what Didier Drogba would've become had he stayed with #15. We'll never know!
With that said, let's see what the latest developments are in the cutthroat world of Chelsea shirt numbers as spied at the training ground thanks to AP's photo database (but no thanks to the watermarks and copyright).
MICHAEL ESSIEN - (Mambo) #5
"But Essien already had the #5 shirt," you might say. And you'd be correct, except for the fact that the official Chelsea website does not list him as such for whatever reason. Of course they still slot him in between David Luiz and Oriol Romeu, so there's very little mystery here. Even though Essien has reclaimed his hallowed "best midfielder in the world" number five, we probably should temper our expectations of him once again being one.
ANDRÉ SCHÜRRLE - (Unspectacular) #14
Even less of a mystery than Essien's number considering that he held it up when signing with the Blues. Of course, he'd much rather prefer to just wear a suit but I think that's against regulations. Sorry, André.
The number itself has had a highly unspectacular history at Chelsea. The last person to wear it was Claudio Pizarro. That's a baseline expectation that should be easy to exceed. Utility man Geremi and Graeme Le Saux also wore it, although the former mostly did so to the bench, while the latter often just lied down on it in the treatment room.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE - (14 + 1 =) #15
When De Bruyne played with the first team in last year's tour of the USA, he wore the above mentioned #14. Now that he's back from loan and is one year older, he apparently has gone with #15. I hope he makes this a thing and wrests #16 away from whomever (spoiler alert: Marco van Ginkel) next year.
Fifteen has had an up and down career at Chelsea since its introduction. Discarded by future legend Didier Drogba, it found solace just south of the ever-creative and ever-changing hair of Florent Malouda. FloMo loved and cared for the broken psyche of #15 and together they reached heights unseen in 2009-10. An unfortunate side effect of such an extreme altitude was that the fall back down to exile was a bit of arduous one...
MARCO van GINKEL - (... is Einhorn?) #16
Our latest TLA has a bit of a Bieber thing going on, but sporting a freshly minted #16 training kit means that he will have to step up his hair game to brand new levels of awesome. After all, he has a certain Raul Meireles to follow and the only act that may be tougher to one-up than a hair ferret is a SPIDAH.
Moving beyond the hair, MVG has plenty of actual football to live up to now as well with the likes of Roberto Di Matteo and Arjen Robben impressing in the shirt in years past.
ROMELU LUKAKU - (Return of the) #18
Seemingly not one to care much for shirt numbers - having worn 36 and 14 at Anderlecht and 20 at West Bromwich Albion - Lukaku goes back to his old number 18 that he wore in his ill-fated first season with Chelsea. I think this time it will work out better for him. Quite fittingly, two times nine is 18.
As far history or legacy, it's all up to Lukaku to carve some out. Previous wearers of the shirt included Yuri Zhirkov, Wayne Bridge, Ricardo Quaresma, and Gabriele Ambrosetti. Eddie Newton was the first to wear it permanently, but he may be more associated with #24 thanks to that FA Cup goal.
DEMBA BA - (Return of the) #19
While the official site still has him with #29, the pictures from training claim otherwise. It's the number that brought him so much success at Newcastle, so we can only hope he rediscovers his scoring boots as well.
Should he do so, he could be well on his way to living up to the cult hero status of the #19, previously seen on the backs of Tore André Flo and Paulo Ferreira, one of whom is already back at the club in a coaching role while the other would be welcomed back with all the open arms.
JOSH McEACHRAN - (Return of the) #20
Much like Lukaku, McEachran already had number 20 once, two seasons ago. Now he's back and ready to make an impact. Hopefully it works out better for him as well.
Unfortunately, the number itself doesn't exactly have an illustrious history. While Deco was a fantastic player at one point, that point was not with Chelsea. Paulo Ferreira also had it for a while, so that's nice, but before him it languished on the shoulders of Juan Sebastián Verón. Whoops. Wannabe star player Jody Morris also had it, which is giving me bad flashbacks and terrible omens for young Josh...
LUCAS PIAZÓN - (it's just a number) #30
Benjamin Button-style, going from 35 to 30 for one reason or another. I doubt he'll wear it too long anyway; his loaning club (ITK, ITK, ITK) will give him something else.
That said, the last time Yossi Benayoun gave up a number, it turned into Juan Mata.
WALLACE - (cold as ice) #32
TOMÁŠ KALAS - (spine-tingling) #33
The backup fullbacks union stipulates that all of its members must wear numbers in the mid-thirties. Thus, Ryan Bertrand is #34 and now Tomáš Kalas is #33 and Wallace is #32. Kalas is going to have to work on his free kicks though...