Squad Numbers == Card Numbers
The basics of the cards are very simple. The squad number of any player becomes the number of the card in the deck. When you think of certain players, a number can involuntarily register – Alan Shearer has and will always be the classic number 9 for Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle and England. Ashley Cole will be number 3, whether playing in London, Rome or Los Angeles. Sometimes there are options – Steven Gerrard at Liverpool is obviously number 8. But for England he is equally obviously number 4.
Understandably, this format creates issues, what with there being 11 players in a team and possibly 30+ in a squad, coupled with the fact that in a standard deck of cards, the numbers only run from 2 to 10. And this is where the picture cards come into play. There are some legendary players you couldn’t even apply to a standard, numbered deck. Johan Cruyff is eternally number 14. Jamie Carragher (perhaps less eternally) is number 23. What of Mario Balotelli’s strange penchant for the number 45? You couldn’t feature Chelsea without John Terry, who held the chronically unhelpful squad number of 26 for twenty years. It’s fairly easy to remedy any of that by doing this…
Jack – Squad player with number 11+
However, once that’s sorted, the goalkeepers also attempt to spoil the party. Not only is there not a number 1 in a standard deck of cards (we don’t count the Aces, as we’ll need those for later), goalkeepers are often not even number 1. Thibaut Courtois will invariably be number 13. Tim Howard was number 24 for almost a decade. Pepe Reina? 25 all day long. We solve this by doing the following…
Queen – Goalkeeper
Which covers a full team adequately enough, leaving the King and the Ace cards left over. These cards are usually reserved for the best players in the team or suit and can be ‘standard’ numbers or 11+ numbers. Let’s use Germany as an example: Jürgen Klinsmann fits perfectly as a Jack, as his international number was 18. Fitting Miroslav Klose (three World Cups and 16 goals as number 11) wouldn’t be a problem, as Klinsmann moves to King to accommodate him taking the Jack spot. You could argue that Lothar Matthäus, with his 150 (West) Germany caps over nine major tournaments and national team captaincy spanning eleven years would befit King status more than Klinsmann, but he spent the vast majority of his international career flitting between numbers 8 and 10, so can keep the harmony by occupying either of those ‘standard’ numbers (this does pose a problem with featuring other 11+ greats like Michael Ballack and Thomas Muller (both Germany 13s), but those two would probably fight it out in a suit of Bayern Munich, should that ever be created. Basically, the Germans have far too many good players, and lots that are are 11+). Anyway, there are options…
King – Best player / Squad player with number 11+
The Aces, simply put, are the best players. Often picking themselves and often freeing up space elsewhere if they happen to be ‘standard’ numbers. Mohamed Salah for Egypt. Luka Modrić for Croatia. Robert Lewandowski for Poland. You get the picture…
Ace – Best player
And finally (and simplest of all)…
Joker – Manager
That’s the crux of any card you will see. Much research goes into choosing the right player to represent the right number or picture card within the alloted suits. But what of the suits, I hear you say?
it doesn’t stop there. Players aren’t chucked together for no reason. As an example, the Russia 2018 pack suits are organised by World Cup groups…
♥ Groups A & B (Players from a pool of: 🇷🇺 🇸🇦 🇪🇬 🇺🇾 🇵🇹 🇪🇸 🇲🇦 🇮🇷 )
♦ Groups C & D (Players from a pool of: 🇫🇷 🇦🇺 🇩🇰 🇵🇪 🇦🇷 🇮🇸 🇭🇷 🇳🇬 )
♠ Groups E & F (Players from a pool of: 🇧🇷 🇨🇭 🇨🇷 🇷🇸 🇩🇪 🇲🇽 🇸🇪 🇰🇷 )
♣ Groups G & H (Players from a pool of: 🇧🇪 🇵🇦 🇹🇳 🏴 🇵🇱 🇸🇳 🇨🇴 🇯🇵 )
The World Elite pack has a unique set of categorisation per suit (see graphic)…
♥ Leadership (Fabio Cannavaro #5 for Real Madrid & Italy)
♦ Money (Kaka #8 for Real Madrid & Brazil)
♠ Controversy (Luis Suarez #9 for Barcelona & Uruguay)
♣ Loyalty (Carles Puyol #6 for Barcelona & Spain)
Each pack has its own set of rules and critera. Everyone is where they are for a reason.
Where the time is really spent…
The pictures, then. These are individually drawn vector portraits of players that adhere to the rules set out above. Yes, that’s 54 separate designs per pack. Don’t be going thinking I don’t know how much value for money that represents. Weighing in at an average draw time of 3.5 hours per card, that’s a total of…it’s a lot of hours.
If GCSE maths taught me anything (aside from quadratic equations and parabolas), it’s all about showing your working out. So there’s a lot of this…
Additional design quirks that you might notice:
- Standard numbered cards are looking off camera
- Picture cards (including Aces) are looking to camera
- Ace cards are drawn as ‘clean’ vectors
- Joker cards are laughing or smiling
Admittedly this may not be if any relevance to you, but I use these rules in an attempt to differentiate the elements of the deck further – the cards are meant to be collectible pieces of artwork, but they’re also designed to work as a playable, functioning pack of cards. Basically buy two – one to collect, one to play with. Yes, that’s the hard sell right there.
Nothing for a Pair, Not in This Game
Players only appear once across all packs. Partially due to not wanting to compromise by duplicating drawings, but partially because utilising a player in a specific pack frees up other numbers in other areas. For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona feature (understandably) in the World Elite pack. Which means neither would be eligible for the number 7 spot in the North West England pack (for Manchester United). Which frees up the space for either Bryan Robson or David Beckham. Likewise, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t feature in the Russia 2018 pack, despite being one of the most high profile players in the tournament. It gives a chance to feature more players.
There’s method behind the madness and invariably any missing iconic players (George Best, Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, etc.)) will feature somewhere along the lines in future packs.
Each card has a star rating, which denotes how god a player is. I choose this based on numerous factors such as international caps, trophies and / or awards won, major tournaments played and so forth. Or sometimes I can just like (or dislike) a certain player more. There are plenty of five starred cards littered about and thus far I only have a single one starred card. See if you can find it.
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