As seems to be the case with absolutely everything in football, the significance and importance of shirt numbers is the subject of many a discussion. To some, the import or lack thereof placed on shirt numbers will be used to define others as real or fake fans, and many traditionalists decry the recent trend among younger players in picking unconventionally higher numbers.
Those traditionalists — assuming they don’t consider Steven Gerrard’s jersey holy and untouchable — will be pleased to learn of newcomer Naby Keïta’s decision to don the number eight next season. Having belonged to the former captain since 2004, the fanbase has speculated about which player — if any — would possess the confidence to claim the shirt of a true legend. It took three years, but Keïta had no reservations.
The Guinean was surprised, however, when, during a visit to Melwood when finalising the deal last August, Gerrard himself showed up to present him with the jersey.
“It was an incredible day for me. He gave me the number eight jersey. When it happened, it was a surprise and I didn’t expect it,” said the former RB Leipzig man.
“When he came in, I looked at him and said, ‘wow’ because he is a legend. He is somebody who always showed respect, who gave his all on the pitch, somebody who is loved here.
“If somebody like that gives you his shirt number, it’s not to play around with, it is to try and do as much as he did – that’s my motivation.”
Music to the ears of those who cherish the importance of a number, and encouraging to anyone who appreciates confidence in their athletes. Naby Keïta will be a force in the Liverpool midfield next year, and seems to possess a notable respect for the history of the club he is joining, to go with a healthy dose of faith in his own significant abilities. If he can indeed live up to his own motivation, and do as much at the club as his predecessor did, well that should leave us purring happily one and all.