That may well be the question that immediately comes to mind when you first come across the title of this paper. Guess what? Indeed, shirt numbers matter. If they do not, why is it that several players insist on specific shirt numbers through most of their career? A shirt number does not only serve as an identifier, it may also give an idea as to how a player wants to play, who he wants to model his game after, among other implications. Because of player insistence on wearing a specific number, we have chosen to look at players in recent times (from the late 1970s) to date and locate the most productive and most accomplished players based on shirt numbers.
While the top goalkeepers have worn jersey number 1, other players have selected numbers that do not readily identify the positions that they played on the Nigerian national team. For instance, Christian Chukwu, one of Nigeria's most accomplished player was identified with number 12 most of his national team career. Surprisingly, number 12 has rarely been a choice number for starters on the national team. The next player to have extensively used the number is Kalu Uche but even then, he has worn number 16 more times than he has worn 12. We suspect that his shift to number 12 followed a national team decision to change the shirt number for reserve goalkeepers from 12 to 16. Joseph Yobo kept the number 2 shirt even after he moved from right back to central defense.
It is important to note that some players were identified with multiple shirt numbers. Muda Laval, for instance, wore both numbers 4 and14 for most of his 90 games for the country. Chukwu wore both numbers 5 and 12 while Humphrey Edebor wore 11 and 13. For our analysis, we used the shirt number worn over 50% of time by a player. In other cases, some players wore several shirt numbers and none of the numbers was worn up to 50% of the player's career e.g. Samson Siasia. In such cases, the player was left out of the compilation.
NOTE: Though the table shows several players with 100% wearing a jersey number, it is important to interpret such data with extreme caution. First, the data represent a rough estimate and there is likelihood that while the actual percentage may be high, it is unlikely to be 100% if all data were to be available for analysis.
One of the surprising result is that while number 10 is reportedly the most popular and preferred shirt internationally for top players, that is not the case with Nigeria's national team. The jersey number 4 appears to be the most worn by top players in Nigeria. That shirt was worn by Muda Lawal, Nwankwo Kanu, and Stephen Keshi -- all Nigerian icons. At the moment, youngster Kenneth Omeruo (included here with number 22 shirt), has begun to make a shift to the number 4 shirt. He has worn that number in his most recent appearances.
On the table, we have bolded players who are currently active. Note that some numbers (above number 11) are not popular with players. The result is that players only use those numbers when they assume low ranking on the team's hierarchy. However, they quickly switch to a preferred number later in their career and when assuming higher ranking as demonstrated in the case of Omeruo. The higher digit numbers, which are least preferred, are therefore mostly blank on our data table because few known players have worn those numbers for a significant part of their career (i.e 50% +).