Chelsea's new No.9 Alvaro Morata controls the ball during the International Champions Cup match against Inter Milan on July 29 in Singapore. Photo: CFP
Shirt numbers should be meaningless but when it comes to the number nine at certain clubs its wearers struggle. There are new men in the shirt at four of England's biggest clubs. Three of them are gunning for a title and one is looking to get his side back to the top flight. This is what has gone before them.
The fact that Tony Cascarino was No.9 at Stamford Bridge when squad numbers were introduced in 1993-94 shows how far Chelsea have come. The Ireland striker left at the end of the season to be replaced by Mark Stein, who had his most prolific days - setting a record by scoring in seven consecutive games - while wearing 21 the previous season. He lost his shirt and his place to Gianluca Vialli ahead of the 1996-97 campaign, and the Italian scored goals when he played but that was limited after a fallout with manager Ruud Gullit. Midway through the next season Vialli was player-manager, taking over from the Dutchman and winning the League Cup and Cup Winners' Cup. He retired at the end of the following season, giving his shirt to new signing Chris Sutton - a man whose misfiring in front of goal contributed to the Italian losing his job. Sutton himself lasted only to the end of the season, the No.9 going to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and the Dutchman showed no signs of the curse of his predecessors in four goal-laden seasons. His replacement was not so lucky. Mateja Kezman lasted one season and scored just four goals while Hernan Crespo failed to live up to his billing and was sent on loan after a season with his shirt going to Khalid Boulahrouz.
The Dutchman was a defender so it was an unusual move. He was also a failure at Chelsea so perhaps it was fitting, and the next wearer of the shirt was another nonstriker - midfielder Steve Sidwell - who also lasted just one season. Young Franco di Santo took the vacant number and kept the streak of single-season occupancy while failing to score a single goal. Record signing Fernando Torres would surely come good? Sadly not. The former phenomenon lost his goal scoring touch in joining the Blues and never bagged double figures in the league in any of his four seasons. That was made to look prolific by Radamel Falcao, though. The Colombian scored just once in his season-long loan. Interestingly, both Torres and Falcao rediscovered their shooting boots since leaving the club. Last season the number was left unassigned but Alvaro Morata has taken it on for this season.
When squad numbers were rolled out it was club legend Alan Smith who wore No.9 for Arsenal. He finished that season with a goal in the European Cup Winners' Cup final win but he retired from injury at the end of the following season. Midfielder Paul Merson took the shirt - having given his No.10 to Dennis Bergkamp - and continued to feature up until his sale to Middlesbrough in 1997 when the number went to a man, well boy, who was even more of a success. Nicolas Anelka was a teenager but fired the Gunners to a league and FA Cup double in his first season in the shirt and finished as top scorer the following season before leaving for Real Madrid, the first of many moves where he never quite settled or lived up to his Arsenal promise.
At the other end of his career and moving the other way was his replacement as No.9, Davor Sukur. The Croatian lasted a season and managed eight league goals before moving to West Ham United. That left the shirt vacant and it remained so for the 2000-01 season before a bright young talent from Everton joined, but sadly for Arsenal it was Francis Jeffers. The fox in the box struggled with form and injury, missing out on both FA Cup final wins during his time as No.9. The shirt went to Jose Antonio Reyes, who had joined from Sevilla, and while the winger shone on occasion during his three seasons, he is best known for being sent off in the 2005 FA Cup final and dropped to the bench for the Champions League final the following year, which led to him leaving for Real to be replaced by a striker going the other way.
The Beast was the nickname Julio Baptista brought with him from his time in Spain but the Brazilian lived up to that name only in the League Cup, struggling to score in the Premier League. Baptista's loan came to an end and another Brazilian took the shirt. Eduardo da Silva was signed from Dinamo Zagreb and hit the ground running but suffered a horrific leg break in the February of his debut season. He was out for a year and essentially missed the whole of the next season. He returned for the 2009-10 season but never hit the heights of his early days and left for Shakhtar Donetsk. The shirt lay dormant before being given to South Korea striker Park Chu-young, who failed to shine in his single season, and then Lukas Podolski, who established himself more as a cult figure than goal scorer. The No.9 shirt had been left unused for two seasons until record signing Alexandre Lacazette took it this summer.
Ian Rush was over 30 but still first choice in 1993-94 when he partnered with the man who would take the No.9 shirt of him when he left before the 1996-97 season. Robbie Fowler was known as God by the red half of the city and for most of the five seasons wearing the No.9 shirt he could do little wrong, scoring with impunity, before he left the club after dropping to the bench. Anelka took the shirt next for his half season on loan at Anfield but didn't score enough to be taken on permanently, with the club opting for El-Hadji Diouf who took the No.9 shirt. The Senegal striker was involved in more controversies than goals in his two seasons at the club before being replaced by Djibril Cisse. The Frenchman won the Champions League and FA Cup in his two seasons despite a horrific leg injury but he failed to carry the goal scoring burden of previous wearers of the shirt and left for Marseille on loan.
Fowler took his shirt back for the 2006-07 season, his last at Liverpool, to be replaced by Torres, who led the line terrifically for five seasons before his fateful move to Chelsea in January 2011. That same day Liverpool replaced him with Andy Carroll who lasted just a season. Since then Iago Aspas, Rickie Lambert and Christian Benteke have all failed to live up to the shirt's former glories with Roberto Firmino set to wear it this season after giving up his No.11 for new boy Mohammed Salah.
Dean Saunders was the man wearing the shirt when squad numbers were introduced and many Villa fans would argue that the club legend was its last true success. Serbian striker Savo Milosevic - soon known as Savo Miss-a-lot-evic for his prowess in front of goal - was next. Villa's then record signing averaged a goal every three games over his three years at Villa Park, including one in the 1995 League Cup final win. Stan Collymore then wore the shirt for a single season and struggled on and off the pitch despite his obvious talent. The number went next to Dion Dublin, who traded his No.14. Dublin broke his neck in his first season in the shirt but wore it until 2004, leaving with a creditable goal ratio of almost one in three and an even more creditable reputation. Juan Pablo Angel took over from Dublin and didn't excel wearing nine - but he had in both 18 and eight during his first four seasons at the club.
Marlon Harewood was largely forgettable, rarely featuring and out on loan for much of the last two of his four seasons in the shirt, while attacking midfielder Stephen Ireland only wore it for a handful of games in 2010-11 before switching to seven in his next season. Darren Bent had impressed on loan for Villa and was given the number nine when signed permanently ahead of the 2011-12 season. He lasted two seasons but had fallen out of favour by the end. His replacement Nicklas Helenius never even found favor, enjoying more loan spells than first team appearances in his three years at Villa. Only his first season was in nine because it was handed to Scott Sinclair who struggled to score in a struggling Villa side that was eventually relegated in 2015-16. Villa struggled for goals in the Championship while Sinclair can't stop scoring for Celtic. His replacement Scott Hogan joined midway through last season having scored 14 league goals in 25 games for Brentford - he managed one in 13 games after joining Villa. He'll need a better return in his first full season to fire Villa back to the big time.