Cristiano Ronaldo has been handed back his No.7 shirt at Manchester United this season after making his sensational return to Old Trafford — and he has new team-mate Edinson Cavani to thank.
The Portuguese star wore the iconic shirt number during his six-year stint with the club before joining Real Madrid in a then-world record £80million transfer in 2009.
Even if he briefly took the No.9 shirt with the Spanish club, Ronaldo reverted to his favoured digit when Raul left the club.
He also continued the tradition when joining Juventus in 2018 and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner picked up where he left off in terms of goals.
But after sealing a stunning return to Manchester on transfer deadline day, the 36-year-old faced the disappointment of lining up in another number.
That was because as of last season, Uruguayan striker Cavani had followed in the footsteps of Ronaldo, Eric Cantona and David Beckham by taking the iconic jersey when signing in 2020 on a free transfer.
It was not as simple as switching the players around because the deadline to submit numbers for the 2021-22 season had already passed.
Premier League rules state that players who are registered must keep their attributed number for the rest of the season unless they are sold.
Cavani had already donned the No.7 jersey when he came off the bench in the 1-0 win over Wolves on Sunday.
But fortunately for United, there was an opening after all. The club agreed a deal to sell Daniel James to Leeds United for £25m, meaning the Welshman’s No.21 jersey was vacant.
Coincidentally, it happens that Cavani wears that number when representing his country and the 34-year-old, recognising the seriousness and tradition at United, kindly agreed to step aside.
Now Ronaldo has been confirmed as United’s new No.7 for the new season and shirt sales are expected to skyrocket as a result.
However, the move will come at a small cost for the club, with Premier League rules stating that fans who purchased a shirt with ‘Cavani 7’ on the back must now be provided with a replacement.
Cavani has been praised for his gesture of goodwill towards Ronaldo and the man himself paid tribute after learning of his sacrifice.
“I was not sure if it would be possible to have the number seven shirt again,” Ronaldo said.
“So I would like to say a huge thank you to Edi for this incredible gesture.”
Bizarrely, it is not the first time shirt numbers have caused an issue for the club this season.
Raphael Varane may have expected the No.4 shirt to be waiting for him to take when he made the £35m switch from Real Madrid earlier in August.
He had worn the number at Real Madrid and for France at international level, so giving it to their marquee signing seemed to be a logical decision.
But The Manchester Evening News report that Phil Jones, the current occupant of that particular number, refused to budge for Varane.
The 29-year-old has not featured in a senior fixture for the Red Devils since January 2020 but is under contract on a deal worth £100,000-a-week until 2023.
The former England international has worn the shirt since he arrived at the club from Blackburn in 2011.
In the end, the Frenchman was forced to settle for No.19 — last worn by Ivorian starlet Amad Diallo — when he made his debut against Wolves.
But Varane’s imperious display at the back on his debut at Molineux goes to show that in this case, perhaps the number on the back of the shirt is not the be all and end all for a footballer.