Why does OSM assign squad number 4 to a midfielder?

02 November 2018

“A Gamebasics blog!” is what I said to myself on a rainy afternoon in a beach club in Noordwijk. The end of the brainstorm afternoon was near. Thirty minutes left and Head of Marketing Dave tried to squeeze out the last bit of creativity. On a normal day, a blog wouldn’t pass as a very creative idea. But the limited external communication was bothering me for some time now. Head of Texts Luuk en Head of Data Michiel were hyped as well and we put blogging back on the list. So let’s do it. I’ll just need a topic. Just one topic. A topic please..

Five weeks later. A multidisciplinary team was formed to build an old hackathon (18 months ago) feature for OSM. Nice! And to top it off, a real football feature! A feature that I pitched together with Head of Texts Luuk. A couple of weeks with full focus on one feature has a big advantage: room for attention to the details of the feature. During the first planning, the idea to write a blog already surfaced. Happy days!

So which football feature am I talking about? Messi = Barcelona = 10. Mbappé = PSG = 7. Salah = Liverpool = 11. Hazard = Chelsea = 10. However, if you line-up your players in OSM, the squad numbers are linked to their position on the pitch. And that’s just not done, at least in the eyes of the purists. Let’s give players a fixed squad number, just like in real life. \o/  

What if our managers (or clubs without managers) don’t assign squad numbers to their players? Squad number-less players in official matches isn’t allowed. In a friendly match maybe, but that’s as far as we will go. So we thought we’d create an algorithm that assigns squad numbers automatically.

Next question, which player gets the number 7 shirt? Normally we would say that’s reserved for the right midfielder or the right winger in the starting eleven. But OSM doesn’t categorise players as playing on the right or left side of the pitch.

The solution: Goalkeeper (1), defenders (2,3,5,6), midfielders (4,7,8,11), forwards (9,10). This dates back to football in the 20’s when the formation 2-3-5 (yes, 5 forwards) was commonly used. During those days, squad numbers were officialized, based on that formation, left to right. The 2-3-5 formation evolved into the WM formation, 4-2-4 formation and finally the 4-4-2 formation. The squad numbers, however, stayed the same. (source)

Conclusion: assigning number 6 to a defender and number 4 to a midfielder makes perfect sense.

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