The No 7 shirt has been vacant in Manchester United’s men’s first-team squad since Cristiano Ronaldo left in November.
Best. Cantona. Beckham… it’s a prestigious list to follow.
So who should wear it next? Is there a fitting name in the current squad or do United need to dip into the transfer market to fill it?
A check has been made on Goncalo Ramos at Benfica, while Alejandro Garnacho has made it perfectly clear which shirt number he desires. Antony and Jadon Sancho are two other potential candidates.
Our Manchester United writers have their say — and let us know what you think in the poll and comments below…
Carl Anka says… give it to Antony
Ex-pros, pundits and fans are all joined in the same view: the United shirt comes with a lot of pressure. Not everyone can handle it.
Ideally, a club of United’s size and resources should do everything in their power to make shirts as light as possible, taking care of all the off-field life admin for their players so members of the senior team (and beyond) can focus on just playing football.
A shirt should just be a shirt. But *Gary Neville voice* this is Manchester United and sometimes things just mean more.
The No 7 shirt should go to one of the team’s best contributors, so it’s not even a question that the number on the back could be a distraction. However, for 2023-24, it’s probably best to give the shirt to a player with such unremitting self-belief that the No 7 won’t knock him off course.
So here’s Antony. The £86million ($106.7m) winger who is reluctant to use his weaker foot but absolutely trusts himself to bend it into the top corner from the edge of the box with his left.
“I refused to bow my head to anyone. I would elastico the drug dealers. Rainbow the bus drivers. Nutmeg the thieves. I really did not give a fuck,” wrote Antony about playing football on the streets of Inferninho in Sao Paulo — also known as ‘Little Hell’.
He wears No 21 but he’s already got the energy to wear No 7.
Laurie Whitwell says… give it to Goncalo Ramos
In 2003, one of Manchester United’s iconic No 7s had left Old Trafford and the club responded by signing an exciting young replacement from Portugal and handing him the same shirt. Should a repeat happen 20 years on, United would be in a good position at the start of next season.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the prodigious talent two decades ago, arriving to soothe the pain of David Beckham departing, but now Ronaldo is the one leaving the seven-shaped void behind. In his place, why not bring his compatriot, the 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos?
Harry Kane is Ten Hag’s primary choice for the centre-forward role, but Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s stubbornness over a sale may prove too difficult to overcome. Kane wears No 10 anyway.
Ramos, meanwhile, has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign at Benfica, scoring 26 goals in 46 games in all club competitions, including seven in the Champions League. He also, of course, scored a hat-trick at the World Cup against Switzerland, when Ronaldo was dropped.
United have asked about Benfica’s position regarding Ramos and should they complete a transfer, giving the No 7 to a hugely promising new signing could work again.
Ramos (who currently wears 88) seems ready, both in terms of mentality and ability.
Mark Critchley says… give it to Alejandro Garnacho
A few hours after Alejandro Garnacho had secured all three points against Wolverhampton Wanderers from the substitutes’ bench earlier this month, his brother took to Twitter.
Roberto Garnacho tweeted a Photoshop edit of the Manchester United teenager wearing a ‘Garnacho #7’ shirt. With his current No 49 shirt in one hand and a sword in the other, Garnacho was pictured kneeling before the Iron Throne from the series Game of Thrones. Sitting on it was his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.
For anyone still wondering where this 18-year-old sees himself in the lineage of great United No 7s, that image left little doubt. It’s not been the only clue.
A tattoo on the inside of Garnacho’s left arm features a small boy in a No 7 shirt. He has recently liked tweets about taking up the most glaring vacancy on United’s squad list. The number is tagged onto the end of his social handles, too. And is it any coincidence he chose No 49 (or 7 x 7)?
So yes, he would like to wear the No 7. Whether he is ready for it is a separate question. Despite signing a new five-year contract last month, Garnacho has still only started 10 games in total. At times, Ten Hag has felt it necessary to publicly question his attitude and keep him in check.
But as big as the No 7 shirt is, watch that cameo against Wolves back and there is a swagger about Garnacho that suggests he will fill it.
The comparisons to Ronaldo have been incessant since Garnacho’s breakthrough and a little excitable, so you hesitate to make another, but Sir Alex Ferguson had no problem with handing an 18-year-old newcomer the No 7 shirt back in 2003. It did not work out too badly.
Dan Sheldon says… give it to Jadon Sancho
When Manchester United tried to sign Jadon Sancho in 2020, they agreed to give him the No 7 shirt. But the move broke down, Edinson Cavani arrived instead and was given the iconic shirt.
Fast forward to June 2021, Cavani is staying for another season and the club completes a £73million deal to sign Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and he takes No 25 (two plus five?). Skip a few months to September and Cristiano Ronaldo returns.
Ronaldo, who previously wore No 7 during his first spell at United, is given the famed shirt once more, with Cavani agreeing to take No 21, the number he wears for Uruguay.
Sancho, 23, would no doubt be the first to admit he is yet to justify the price tag since his transfer, but he still has three years remaining on his contract and everyone knows how devastating he can be. This is the player who scored 50 goals and set up 64 others in 137 games for Dortmund.
Wearing the No 7 shirt, three years later than he expected, could be the spark required to ignite a United career that is yet to hit the heights many hoped it would.
What do you think?
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(Top photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)