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Greatest Number 21s in Football History

Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Lilian Thuram and more! This article is about the greatest number 21s in football history.

In the world of football, the number 21 jersey holds a unique significance, with players from various clubs making their mark while donning this iconic number. Among the notable wearers, Juventus stands out, turning the number 21 jersey into a symbol of skill and prowess on the pitch. Let’s explore the legacy and impact left by those who proudly wore this number, creating unforgettable moments for fans and leaving an indelible mark on the beautiful game.

Who is the greatest player to wear jersey No. 21? Read this article to find the answer to this question.

Greatest Number 21s in Football history

Who is the greatest player to wear jersey No. 21? Read this article to find the answer to this question.

Honorable mention:

  • Diego Forlan
  • Edinson Cavani
  • Ben Chilwell
  • Andre Gomes
  • Yannick Carrasco

Here’s our list of the greatest number 21s in football history:

Gary McAllister

Let’s start off our list of the greatest number 21s in football history with Gary McAllister. he wore number 21 jersey for Liverpool.

Credit: SkySports

Number 21 has adorned some remarkable footballers over the years. Among them is Gary McAllister, a midfielder with a career spanning nearly two decades.

McAllister’s time at Liverpool began on July 1, 2000, through a Bosman transfer. Despite a relatively short stint, his impact was immense. He played a crucial part in Liverpool’s treble-winning 2000–01 season, with manager Gerard Houllier hailing him as the most inspirational signing.

McAllister notably secured a UEFA Cup semi-final win with a penalty against Barcelona. He also struck a stunning 44-yard free-kick in stoppage time to win the Merseyside derby against Everton. His goals against Coventry City and Bradford City helped Liverpool qualify for the Champions League.

Representing his national team for nine years, McAllister earned 57 caps and netted five goals. His leadership qualities were evident as he served as Scotland captain for four years and Leeds United captain for two. In recognition of his contributions to football, he was awarded an MBE in the 2001 New Year Honours. He was also inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

Read More: Liverpool History- All about the Club

Nemanja Matic

The next in line in our list of the greatest number 21s in football history is Nemanja Matic. He wore number 21 jersey for Benfica, Chelsea, Rennes and the Serbia national team.

Credit: SkySports

Nemanja Matić, the Serbian footballer, known for his defensive midfield role, currently plays for Ligue 1 club Rennes. He initially started as an attacking midfielder but later transitioned into a defensive role during his time at Benfica. Matić is recognized for his unwavering performances and his gritty style of play. Often positioned as a holding midfielder, he acts as a defensive shield while also providing cover for his team’s attacking moves. Before his stint with Manchester United, Matić had an impressive tackle success rate of 75% in 123 Premier League appearances.

In 2009, Matic joined the English club Chelsea for £1.5 million. While his initial spell at Chelsea saw limited opportunities, he spent the 2010–11 season on loan at Dutch club Vitesse. In 2011, he transferred to Benfica as part of a swap deal involving David Luiz. There, he earned the Primeira Liga Player of the Year award for his remarkable performances in the 2012–13 season. Matić returned to Chelsea in January 2014, signing for £21 million. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2014–15 season. He reunited with former Chelsea manager José Mourinho in July 2017 after joining Manchester United.

Matić’s international journey includes representing Serbia at the under-21 level, and he made his senior international debut in 2008, accumulating 48 appearances and scoring twice. He was also part of Serbia’s squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Read More: Nemanja Matić Biography

Frenkie de Jong

Let’s go to Netherlands. The next player in the list of the greatest number 21s in football history is Frenkie de Jong. He wears number 21 for Barcelona and Netherlands. He also wore the jersey at Ajax.

Credit: SkySports

Frenkie de Jong is a vital midfielder for La Liga’s Barcelona and the Netherlands national team. He serves as the 4th captain for FC Barcelona and is widely regarded as one of the world’s top midfielders, known for his remarkable attributes. De Jong’s skill set is incredibly versatile. It allows him to excel in various roles such as regista, defensive-midfielder, central-midfielder, holding midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, and even as a centre-back.

At Ajax, De Jong quickly established himself as one of Europe’s most promising young midfielders. With Ajax, he won domestic double titles and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. He secured the Eredivisie and KNVB Cup, earned the title of Eredivisie player of the season, and played a pivotal role in Ajax’s first UEFA Champions League semi-final appearance in 22 years during the breakthrough 2018–19 season.

Following this remarkable season, De Jong’s move to Barcelona was sealed in July 2019 for a substantial €75 million fee. His exceptional performances led to his inclusion in the 2019 FIFA FIFPro World11.

De Jong made his senior international debut for the Netherlands in September 2018 and quickly became a regular starter. He played a crucial role in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, where the Netherlands finished as runners-up. De Jong continued representing his country at the UEFA Euro 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Read More: Frenkie de Jong Biography

Luis Enrique

Our list of the greatest number 21s in football history continues with one of best current coaches in world. A former player who played for Real Madrid and Barcelona: Luis Enrique. He wore number 21 jersey for Barcelona and the Spain national team.

Credit: Barcelona.com

Luis Enrique was highly regarded for his remarkable versatility and unwavering consistency. He displayed the ability to perform in various positions on the field, with the exception of central defender and goalkeeper. He was known for his strength, courage, boundless energy, and tireless work ethic, which made him a valuable team player. Luis Enrique possessed excellent technical skills, creativity, and remarkable stamina.

Luis Enrique’s playing career spanned from 1991 to 2004, during which he played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. He achieved both individual and team success, participating in over 500 official games and scoring more than 100 goals. He also represented the Spain national team in three World Cups and one European Championship.

In his managerial career, Luis Enrique returned to Barcelona in 2014 and achieved remarkable success. He won the treble in his first year as manager and the double in the second. In 2018, he was appointed as the head coach of the Spain national team, but he resigned in 2019 due to family reasons. He later returned to the position and led the team to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and a second-place finish in the 2020–21 Nations League, ultimately resigning at the end of the 2022 World Cup. Currently, he is the head coach of PSG.

Paulo Dybala

Juventus has four players in our list of the greatest number 21s in football history. The first one is an Argentine: Paulo Dybala. He wears number 21 jersey for AS Roma and Argentina. He also wore this jersey at Juventus in his early career.

Credit: SkySports

Paulo Dybala shows his incredible skills as an attacking midfielder or winger for Serie A club Roma and the Argentina national team. He is celebrated for his extraordinary dribbling ability, quick footwork, and goal-scoring instincts. Dybala is a quick, creative, elegant, and agile player with exceptional technical skills and a low center of gravity. His strengths include powerful and accurate long-range shots, impressive dribbling abilities, balance, and close ball control, making him a standout performer in tight spaces.

Dybala earned the nickname “La Joya” (“The Jewel”) during his prime. In 2015, he signed with Juventus and enjoyed tremendous success, winning numerous league titles and Coppa Italias. He received accolades such as Serie A Most Valuable Player and featured in the Serie A Team of the Year multiple times. In 2022, Dybala made a move to Roma. At club level, he is one the best number 21s in soccer history.

On the international stage, Dybala made his senior debut for Argentina in 2015 at the age of 21. He has since earned over 30 caps and participated in major tournaments like the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 2019 Copa América, and the victorious 2022 World Cup.

Read More: Paulo Dybala Biography

Lilian Thuram

Another Juventini. He was great in defense and attack. Our next choice in the list of the greatest number 21s in football history is Lilian Thuram. He wore number 21 jersey for Parma, Juventus and Barcelona.

Credit: Getty Images

Lilian Thuram was a defensive force known for his dominance, athleticism, and unwavering focus. During his prime, Thuram earned recognition as one of the world’s premier defenders. Thuram’s toolkit included strength, pace, and stamina, making him an intimidating presence on the field. His exceptional physical, tactical, and technical skills, coupled with his intelligence, enabled him to excel in reading the game and locking down opponents with aggressive tackling. He was a standout in one-on-one situations and exhibited prowess in aerial duels.

Thuram was one of the best football players with the number 21. He embarked on his professional football career with Monaco in his homeland and went on to play in top-flight leagues across France, Italy, and Spain for over 15 seasons. Notably, he had stints with Serie A clubs Parma and Juventus before concluding his career at Barcelona. At Juventus, Thuram was part of a great squad that won 4 Serie A title in 5 seasons.

Internationally, Thuram played a pivotal role in France’s 1998 FIFA World Cup victory, and he was part of the triumphant squad in UEFA Euro 2000. He also contributed to the team’s runner-up finish in the 2006 World Cup. Thuram held the distinction of being the most capped player in the history of the France national team, amassing 142 appearances between 1994 and 2008. Hugo Lloris surpassed this record in 2022.

Read More: Lilian Thuram Biography

David Silva

Another great player from Spain. David “El Mago” Silva. He is one of the most famous football players who wore number 21s jersey. Last season, Silva wore number 21 jersey for Real Sociedad. He also wore this jersey at Valencia, Man City and Spain.

Credit: SkySports

David Silva was a central or attacking midfielder, but also showcasing his skills as a winger or second striker. His remarkable passing ability and knack for retaining possession earned him nicknames like Merlin and El Mago, a reference to the legendary wizard Merlin. Silva is widely regarded as one of the finest midfielders of his generation and stands among Manchester City’s all-time greats.

Silva enjoyed seven fruitful years at Valencia from 2004 to 2010, securing the Copa del Rey in 2008. His move to Manchester City in 2010 marked a new chapter in his career, where he made over 400 appearances for the club. During his tenure, he contributed to four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and five League Cups. Silva was a fixture in the PFA Team of the Year and earned recognition as the youngest player to achieve 200 Premier League wins. In 2020, he bid farewell to Manchester City and returned to La Liga with Real Sociedad, adding another Copa del Rey to his list of honors.

Silva represented Spain from his senior team debut in 2006 until his retirement in 2018. His midfield partnership with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta played a crucial role in Spain’s three consecutive international tournament victories – UEFA Euro 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup, and UEFA Euro 2012. He also made significant contributions as the fourth-highest goalscorer and the second-highest assist provider in Spain’s history.

Read More: David Silva biography

Philipp Lahm

We reach the top 3 in our list of the greatest number 21s in football history. Number three is a German legend: Philipp Lahm. He wore number 21 jersey at Bayern Munich. He also wore the jersey for Germany in his early career. Lahm is one of the most famous football players with the number 21.

Credit: Getty Images

Philipp Lahm, the legendary German full-back, is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the position. Despite being right-footed, his tactical intelligence, crossing prowess, and versatility allowed him to excel on both sides of the pitch. Lahm initially played as a left-back during the early stages of his career, later transitioning to a right-back. His small stature earned him the affectionate nickname “Magic Dwarf.”

Under the management of Pep Guardiola, Lahm displayed his versatility by occasionally featuring as a central or defensive midfielder in a pivot role. His ability to dictate play and act as a playmaker, while also winning back possession, made him an invaluable asset. Lahm held the captain’s armband for Bayern Munich, guiding them to numerous honors, including the 2013 UEFA Champions League as part of a historic Treble. He also captained the German national team to victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Among his extensive list of honors are eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokal victories, a DFL-Ligapokal, three DFL-Supercup triumphs, and international successes including a UEFA Champions League title, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup with Bayern Munich. Lahm’s individual excellence was reflected in his inclusion in multiple World Cup teams of the tournament, UEFA Team of the Tournament selections, and UEFA Team of the Year recognitions.

Read More: 30 Best Defenders of All Time

Andrea Pirlo

Our choice for the second spot in the list of the greatest number 21s in football history is Andrea Pirlo. The Italy legend is one of the best number 21s in football history. He wore the 21 jersey number for the most of his career at club level.

Credit: SerieA

Andrea Pirlo is widely celebrated as one of the best midfielders of all time. He is acclaimed for his exceptional vision, ball control, technique, creativity, passing, and free-kick ability, leaving an indelible mark on the world of football.

Pirlo transfered from Inter to AC Milan in 2001. At AC Milan, Pirlo blossomed into a world-class player, achieving remarkable success with two Serie A titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues, and various other accolades. He later joined Juventus in 2011, adding four consecutive Serie A titles to his collection. Following his Italian journey, Pirlo ventured to Major League Soccer (MLS) with New York City FC. He played for two years before retiring in 2017.

Pirlo represented Italy with distinction, earning 116 caps. He made his senior debut in 2002 and played a pivotal role in Italy’s victory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He received the Bronze Ball and earning a place in the Team of the Tournament. Pirlo also guided Italy to the UEFA Euro 2012 final and featured in multiple European Championships and World Cups.

Throughout his career, Pirlo received numerous accolades, including top-four finishes in the IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker award, UEFA Best Player in Europe recognition, Serie A Footballer of the Year honors, and selections to various teams of the year. In 2019, he was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.

Read More: Andrea Pirlo Biography

Zinedine Zidane

who is the Greatest player to wear jersey number 21? There has to be only one answer: Zinedine Zidane. The French myth wore the number 21 jersey for Juventus.

Credit: Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane is one of the greatest footballers in history. He was celebrated for his remarkable skills, including elegance, visionary passing, ball control, and technique. His contributions on the field earned him numerous accolades, such as FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003, along with the 1998 Ballon d’Or.

Zidane possessed an extraordinary first touch and was lauded for his dribbling abilities, adept use of feints, and graceful ball control. He was equally skilled with both feet, despite his natural right-footed preference. Zidane’s preferred role was a classic number 10, offering his creativity and playmaking abilities behind the strikers.

In 1996, Zidane moved to Juventus in Italy, claiming several trophies, including two Serie A titles. At his peak, he was the best football player in the worls. His next chapter took him to Real Madrid in 2001, in a world-record transfer deal worth €77.5 million.

As a member of the French national team, Zidane earned 108 caps and was a pivotal figure in their 1998 FIFA World Cup victory, notably scoring twice in the final. He was recognized with the Legion of Honour and was named to the All-Star team. Zidane was also a key contributor to France’s UEFA Euro 2000 win and received the Player of the Tournament award. In 2006 World Cup, He helped France to reach the final. They lost to Italy on penalties, But Zidane won the Golden Ball as the Player of the Tournament.

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Alex Lundy
Alex Lundy
A lifelong football fan, Alex loves to dabble in its history, especially FIFA World Cup. But his love for sports doesn't end at football since he loves watching NBA and Formula1 too. Reading novels and watching classic films takes the rest of his time.
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