Squad numbers play a strangely important part in a fan’s footballing experience. A badly numbered squad - where the number 4 plays in midfield or the number 16 is starting up front- can breed surprisingly strong responses from supporters. For some, which number a player wears is important and to an extent that is understandable. There is fewer more aesthetically pleasing sights in football than a starting lineup numbered from one to 11.
It is also understandable because often there is more to a squad number than meets the eye. Much like the players they are attached to, squad numbers can carry a historical significance, especially when a string of club legends all don the same number. This number largely differs from club to club, Liverpool have 14 thanks to Steven Gerrard while many Italian clubs have retired the numbers 2 and 3 due to the legendary defenders that once wore them. For Real Madrid, the magic number is seven. The number seven represent the club’s emphasis on attacking football and has been worn by several Bernabeu favourites across the last eight decades. With Eden Hazard becoming the club’s latest number seven, it seemed like a good time to see why the number is so important to Real Madrid by looking at the careers of Hazard’s predecessors.
Raymond Kopa (1956-1959)
Originally, squad numbers were something attached to a position rather than a player with particularly flexible players often wearing several different numbers throughout the season. Hence, club tradition regarding the number seven probably didn’t truly start until it was worn by a dominant figure in the team, that figure being Raymond Kopa.
Born to Polish immigrants in 1931, Kopa used professional football as an escape from the hardship of working in the coalmines. In 1949, he was signed by Angers before moving to Stade Reims in 1951. He won two French league championships while playing for Reims and led them to the European Cup final.
Days before facing Real Madrid in that final, Kopa was signed by Los Blancos due to Bernabeu’s confidence regarding the Frenchman’s quality and fit in the Spanish capital. He was quickly vindicated with Los Blancos winning Kopa’s friendly debut 14-1 against Sochaux. At 5 foot 6 inches, Kopa was nicknamed the Napoleon of football. He had a fantastic ability for dribbling at close quarters and possessed supreme match intelligence, making him a perfect fit on the right wing for Real. Kopa won six trophies in three seasons with Real, he also won the 1958 Ballon D’or, the first Frenchman to do so. He returned to Stade Reims in 1959 and retired from the game in 1967, at the age of 35. He died in March 2017 and is still hailed by some as the greatest attacking midfielder of all time.
Amanico Amaro (1962-1976)
Following Kopa’s departure, several players attempted to fill the void he left at seven. Canario wore it during the 1960 European final mauling of Eintracht Frankfurt while Jesus Herrara wore it in the final defeat to Benfica two years later. It was, however, 23-year-old Amanico Amaro who managed to fill the void.
Of all the players to wear the number seven, Amaro could probably claim to be among the most influential. Following his time at the club, the number seven became more player focused at Real Madrid rather than the positional marker it had been before. He also started building the mystique that now surrounds the number seven.
Amaro was born in October 1939. He began his playing career at Victoria at the tender age of 15, a short four year spell earned him a move to Segunda side Deportivo La Coruna in 1958. It was here that the Galician built his reputation and earned his nickname, El Brujo (the wizard), due to his sublime dribbling skills. In 1961-62, he won the Segunda Pichichi as Deportivo were promoted to LaLiga as Segunda champions. His performances didn’t go unnoticed and Real Madrid signed him for a record fee in 1962.
The Spanish winger proved inspirational across his 14 year stay at the Bernabeu, winning nine league titles and helping Real Madrid to their sixth European Cup, scoring the equaliser in the final against Partizan Belgrade. His willingness to adapt prolonged his playing career in the Spanish capital, eventually retiring at the age of 37. Following retirement, he managed Real Madrid Castilla and famously won the Segunda division title in 1984.
From Amaro’s retirement until Ronaldo’s departure in 2018, the number seven continued to find fitting backs to call home. The first to follow El Brujo was Juan Gomez Gonzalez or Juanito. Juanito came to Real Madrid from Burgos in the summer of 1977. The Malaga native is one in a long list of Real Madrid legends to have started his playing career at Atletico Madrid, however, Juanito’s ambition was always to ply his trade in white.
Juanito brought something different to the number seven. Though a very talented forward (winning the Pichichi in 1984/85), it was more his heart rather than his skill that won him legendary status at the Bernabeu. The fan favourite was aggressive, outspoken and often played with his heart in his sleeve. This approach was a double edged sword, on one hand his time at the club was supremely successful, winning five league titles, two Copa del Reys and two UEFA Cups. It also made him a leader within in the squad, particularly when Real Madrid looked down and out. On the other hand, it was this same attitude that persistently got him in trouble with Spanish and European officials and eventually ended his Real Madrid career after he was banned from European competition for five years for stamping on Lothar Matthaus.
Juanito finished his playing career with Malaga and was coaching Mérida when he was killed in a car crash aged just 37. He is remembered by the Bernabeu on the seventh minute of every home game.
Emilio Butragueño (1985-1995)
Butragueño began to break into the senior ranks just as Juanito’s time at Real was ending. The Madrid born striker also nearly played for Atletico Madrid after multiple failed trials at Real. His father, a Real Madrid socio, managed to secure his son one last trial on the right side of town. Though the young Butragueño claimed he flunked that trial, he had actually hugely impressed the youth coaches and was signed by the club almost immediately afterwards.
From there, he began a meteoric rise up the youth ranks with the early highlights of his young career including a Segunda division title with Castilla, finishing top goalscorer despite not playing a second division game after February. Nicknamed El Buitre (the vulture) for his tendency to swoop in and finish moves, Butragueño led Real Madrid’s Quinta del Buitre era, starting in 1985 when he and his cohort affirmed themselves into the senior team and ending in 1990 with their fifth league title in a row.
Butragueño was a supremely elegant player and an efficient goalscorer. He scored over 120 goals for Real in all competitions making him one the club’s all time top goalscorers despite spending a large chunk of his career facilitating Hugo Sanchez.
The Vulture remained at Real Madrid into the 1990s, scoring in the 1993 Copa del Rey final. Ultimately, the arrival of Jorge Valdano and Raul’s rising stock spelled the end of Butragueño and he left for Mexico in 1995. He retired the year after and currently works on Florentino Perez’s board as head of public relations.
The hand over of the seven jersey from Butragueño to Raul is a rather lowkey event in Madrid’s history thanks to the quiet nature of The Vulture’s exit. Raul’s career, on the other hand, greatly contrasts with this changing of the guard. Another footballer that could have ended up at Atletico Madrid, Raul burned through Madrid’s youth ranks going from Real Madrid C to Castilla in a season. He made his debut for the club against Real Zaragosa at the age of 17, scoring his first goals for the club during the following game against Atletico Madrid.
From there, Raul’s career is a story of goals, he scored 9 in his first season, 19 in his second and 21 in his third. Between his debut and 2004, he scored 20 goals every season but one, winning three Champions Leagues and four league titles. Despite a surprising decline following 2004, Raul still managed to find the back of the net and broke Alfredo Di Stefano’s 45 year old record in 2009 to become Real Madrid’s all time top goalscorer.
Faced with less and less playing time, Raul left for Shalke in 2010 where he continued to add to his record as Europe’s all time top goalscorer, becoming a fan’s favourite in Germany. He retired with the New York Cosmos in 2015 and is currently Real Madrid Castilla manager.
Cristiano Ronaldo (2010-2018)
Ronaldo’s place in this article is more a bookmark as I’d be concerned if Madridistas needed a recount of the Portuguese superstar’s stellar career. Statically the greatest player to wear the number seven and perhaps the Real Madrid shirt full stop, Ronaldo’s stint with the famous number could be described as all his predecessors rolled into one insultingly good footballer.
He possessed the heart, skill, goals and trophies that made all the number sevens that came before him club legends. We still aren’t far enough removed from assessing what sort of impact Ronaldo’s has had on the story of this incredible shirt number, but it is undeniable that he is a near impossible act to follow and, after the ill fated spell of Mariano, that is exactly the task now facing Eden Hazard. The Belgian undoubtedly has the quality to match his predecessors but, as this article has hopefully demonstrated, it takes more than skill to be a memorable number seven at Real Madrid.