The numbers game

THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS
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The Independent Online
Cushioned as they are by handsome salaries, players are by no means immune from the expectations and trepidations that fans experience at the start of any new football season.

And there are few more anxiously awaited events in any dressing-room than the pinning-up of the first-team sheet, the traditional indicator of who is in favour with the management and who can start thinking about a call to his agent.

But if there were few surprises when Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson chalked up his 16-man squad at the Riverside, it was probably because the club had helpfully issued a popularity chart well in advance - by re-allocating squad numbers.

Transfer-listed Jamie Pollock, who started last season wearing No 8 drops 21 places to 29, striker Jan Age Fjortoft, his old No 9 shirt provisionally awarded to Mikkel Beck, is down 14 to 23 and full- back Chris Morris, displaced by Curtis Fleming, falls a staggering 23 places from 3 to 26. Not surprisingly, none figured in Saturday's line-up.

However, if Robbie Mustoe was worried when Fabrizio Ravanelli arrived to take his No 11 he need not have been. Promoted to No 8, he kept his place. Likewise, Derek Whyte, who gave his No 6 to Emerson but got back 3 in return.

Will other clubs take up this ingenious idea? For a sensitive manager, breaking such news face to face has never been easy.

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