Counting down the Premier League's best ever players by shirt number (40-31): Grealish, Kane...

Grealish, Sterling and Kane all feature in the first of our four-part countdown ranking top-flight players according to what was on the back of their shirts.

What's in a number? Well, a lot when it comes to shirts apparently. Whether it be Phil Jones' refusal to hand over his No. 4 shirt or Edinson Cavini stepping aside so Cristiano Ronaldo can reclaim the famous 7 at Manchester United, shirt numbers have been a big deal this summer.

But it's not just about 1-11 any more. We look back through the history of the Premier League to choose the best player for every number, and we start where every countdown should begin, at 40.

40 - Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish Aston Villa May15

Manchester City's £100million man was handed the No. 10 shirt at the Etihad having worn it at Aston Villa.

However, he was only awarded the 10 shirt at Villa ahead of the 2017/18 season having previously worn 40 on debut in 2013/14.

Grealish faced little competition for the best No. 40 accolade, with Chris Sutton having worn it during his short spell at Birmingham City in the mid 2000s and QPR midfielder Luke Amos having made one two-minute appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in 2018.

Chelsea goalkeeping coach Hilario played 20 times for the London club wearing 40.

Nevertheless, had Grealish been a Birmingham City player they would have retired the No. 40 shirt by now.

39 - Nicolas Anelka

Nicolas Anelka Michael Ballack Chelsea Sep08

Anelka wore his famous 39 shirt at Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea and West Brom. The reason being that at Manchester City only three numbers were available and 39 was one of them, so he took it and stuck with it.

It did the trick as the France forward bagged a Golden Boot while at Chelsea after scoring 19 goals. He also won the title with them in 2010.

The charismatic striker is part of the 100 club, scoring 125 Premier League goals in 364 appearances.

Scott McTominay is currently the most prominent player in the league with the number, while Darren Bent enjoyed goalscoring success in the shirt.

38 - James Milner

Milner's first ever squad number at hometown club Leeds United was 38 and since then the evergreen midfielder has gone on to make over 550 top-flight appearances. In fact, when he made his debut for Leeds, he became the second youngest player to make an appearance in the Premier League at just 16 years and 309 days.

In 2012 and 2014 he won the Premier League title with Manchester City and then again in 2020 with his current club, Liverpool. He has also lifted the Champions League trophy with the Reds in what has been a hugely successful career for the Leeds-born utility player.

Not surprisingly, memorable No 38s are in short supply, although Leicester City's midfield enforcer Hamza Choudhury will be hoping to change that in 2021/22.

37 - Harry Kane

After graduating through the Tottenham Hotspur academy, Kane spent time on loan at Leyton Orient, Norwich, Millwall and Leicester in the Football League before making his Spurs league debut in 2012/13.

He changed to his more familiar number 10 in 2015 and England's top marksman has gone on to bag over 150 Premier League goals.

No other 37s have come close to Kane's success, although Martin Skrtel did wear the shirt for almost 10 years at the heart of Liverpool's defence.

36 - Kyle Walker

Kyle Walker Aston Villa 2011

Another of England's current squad makes it onto the list and perhaps in a controversial manner.

Walker took on the shirt number when playing 15 times on loan for Aston Villa during the second half of the 2010/11 season.

The defender has since gone on to win three Premier League titles, edging out former Newcastle and Middlesborough number 36, Mark Viduka.

The Australian scored an impressive 92 Premier League goals, producing his best form in the white of Leeds United.

35 - Oleksandr Zinchenko

Attacking midfielder turned left-back Zinchenko joined Manchester City as an unknown quantity in 2016.

Five years on and the experienced Ukraine international has three Premier League titles, four League Cups and an FA Cup to his name. He took over the number 11 shirt in 2019 after it was vacated by fellow left-back Aleksandar Kolarov.

Jermain Defoe donned the 35 shirt for West Ham United during the 2000/01 season, only appearing once as a substitute.

34 - Ashley Cole

Maybe the best full-back to ever grace the Premier League, Ashley Cole started his Premier League career wearing number 34.

He only made one appearance in that shirt number and it was the No. 3 where Cole had his best moments.

He played over 100 times for England and 384 times in the Premier League for Arsenal and Chelsea. He won the league on three occasions and holds the record for most wins of the FA Cup as a player (seven).

The most prominent player wearing the shirt number now is another Arsenal player, Granit Xhaka, with 34 already pre-filled in referee's notebooks.

33 - Vincent Kompany

Vincent Kompany Manchester City Mar09

Signed from Hamburg, Kompany was initially deployed as a defensive midfielder. However, he was quickly moved to centre-back and went on to become one of the greatest defenders the Premier League has ever seen.

A Manchester City legend, he helped the club to their first Premier League title in 2012 and went on to win three more titles at the club.

A statue of the former City captain was unveiled outside the Etihad in August 2021.

32 - Carlos Tevez

Involved in some of the most controversial Premier League transfer sagas, Tevez takes the No. 32 shirt.

He joined West Ham alongside Javier Mascherano in a deal that was shrouded in mystery. And went on to move from the red side of Manchester to the blue side, causing massive uproar, all the while keeping his No. 32 shirt.

He featured 202 times in the English top flight, scoring 84 times and registering 41 assists.

Theo Walcott wore the shirt number at the outset of his career, while Victor Valdes wore it for Manchester United between 2014 and 2016, although it was mainly covered by a tracksuit.

31 - Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling Liverpool v Chelsea Nov12

After starting his career at QPR, Sterling moved to Liverpool as a teenager and made an instant impact at Anfield. Part of a front three containing Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the 'Triple S' were a force to be reckoned with and Sterling established himself as a star.

In 2015, he joined the rising force of Manchester City and since then he has gone on to even bigger and better things, adopting the No. 7 shirt and going on to be a star for both club and country.

However, not before accidentally signing his Liverpool squad number of 31 on a ball during his early days at the Etihad.

READ MORE: Edinson Cavani’s iconic moments for Man Utd, PSG and Uruguay

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