People are Mad Online that Arsenal gave #14 to Eddie Nketiah. Like mad, mad. Levels of mad that I can hardly comprehend about the number on a piece of laundry. As we all know, Thierry Henry wore #14 at Arsenal. He’s got a statute outside the Emirates. He’s kind of a big deal in club history. He may have been the best player to ever wear the shirt.
Some supporters think #14 should be retired at the club, period. Others are upset that the number is being given to a mostly unproven 23-year old striker. Eddie Nketiah ain’t Thierry Henry. Then again, neither was Theo Walcott nor Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. I struggle to understand those types of supporters — who go through life seemingly looking for something to be upset with their “favorite” club about. It must be exhausting.
I really don’t care one way or another. I just don’t have the capacity to get worked up about something so insignificant. There are countless other things that come before kit numbers in the pecking order of Arsenal things to care about, for me. You could say that’s because I’m a godless American who doesn’t care if the centerback wears #6 or #26. Go ahead, level your best insult at me about it. I promise that won’t bother me, either.
I get the appeal in retiring numbers. It’s a way to say “this guy was special, he means something to the club” and to create / honor club history.
But you know what’s also cool? Attaching pride and prestige to wearing those numbers and building traditions around them. Instead of retiring a number, keep it in reserve and give it to someone who “deserves” it by whatever criteria you assign as a club.
For example, Tony Adams, Mr. Arsenal, wore #6. How sweet would it be if wearing that number meant something more? If that number wasn’t necessarily worn every season, but bestowed upon a team leader, a guy who embodies what Arsenal football club is all about.
In that way, giving numbers to players could also be a show of faith and support. A “we think you’re going to do great things” in this shirt message from manager and club to player. That’s how Arsenal talked about it when Emile Smith Rowe got #10 last summer. Perhaps that’s the intent with Eddie and #14, too.
And at the end of the day, it’s a number on a jersey. What the guy does on the pitch is infinitely more important.