Sixth century Greek mathematicians believed four to be the perfect number. And many ancient cultures deemed the earth to be constructed of four main elements: earth, air, fire and water. Four-leaf clovers are lucky in much of the western world while in East Asia there are those that live in fear of the number.
On the football field, this mystical number is usually worn by players in a defensive role, often at centre back or in a deep-lying midfield position. However, more attack-minded players have also worn the shirt, England’s Steven Gerrard being a prime example.
The No. 4 shirt has been worn by legendary players such as Jürgen Kohler, Patrick Vieira, Pep Guardiola and, more recently, Sergio Ramos.
You can read RealSport’s best number fives feature HERE.
In this piece, we will look at some players who will hope to excel in the No. 4 role when the World Cup gets underway in Russia next week. Our selection includes some of the best but also some who have an interesting tale to tell.
Here are RealSport’s pick of the No. 4s going to Russia.
1 Vincent Kompany (Belgium)
A familiar figure to viewers of the English Premier League thanks to his ten-year spell at Manchester City, Vincent Kompany is the thinking man’s number four. An avid reader, a student of politics and a charity campaigner, the 32-year-old brings intellect and strength to the role.
As captain of his club and country, Kompany is one of the best defenders in the world. There are few centre backs who can boast his mix of physical presence, aerial prowess and ability on the ball.
INTERESTING FACT: Kompany is the owner and chairman of Belgian fourth division side BX Brussels.
His fitness remains a concern and he may miss the opening games but he could still play a key role if Belgium reach the knockout stages.
2 Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Ivan Perisic may wear the number four for his country but his style of play is far from defensive. Often deployed as winger, the versatile midfielder can also play in the centre or operate as a support striker.
The former Hajduk Split youth player moved to France aged 17 where money earned from a contract with Sochaux helped to save his father’s chicken farming business. From there, his career went from strength to strength taking him to Belgium, Germany, and Italy where he now plays for Serie A side Internazionale.
INTERESTING FACT: Perisic also competes as a professional beach volleyball player.
The 29-year-old has netted 31 times in 107 appearances for his club side and scored 18 goals in 54 starts for his country. He played a key role in Croatia’s qualifying campaign which saw them finish second in Group F before beating Greece 4-1 on aggregate in the playoffs.
3 Raphael Varane (France)
It is now seven years since then-club advisor Zinedine Zidane first contacted Raphael Varane to persuade him to sign for Real Madrid.
The centre back has since made 233 appearances for the Spanish giants and collected 15 honours including four Champions League winners’ medals.
INTERESTING FACT: When he first received a call from Real Madrid, he asked Zinedine Zidane to call him back because he was revising for exams.
At the last World Cup, he started four of France's matches despite being just 21 years of age. He received criticism in some quarters following his teams defeat to Germany but also walked away with the ‘Best Young Player’ award. He missed Euro 2016 through injury but should play a key role once again in this summer’s tournament.
4 Sergei Ignashevich (Russia)
Sergei Ignashevich will be as surprised as anyone to be on this list. The 38-year-old centre-back retired from international football two years ago and was planning to watch the World Cup from the comfort of his armchair.
That was until Ruslan Kambolov got injured and he received an unexpected call from coach Stanislav Cherchesov asking him if he would step in. The offer to take part in a World Cup in his homeland was too good to turn down.
KEY STAT: Ignashevich has made more appearances in the Russian Premier League than any other player (479) and is the most capped Russian player of all time (122).
The CSKA Moscow man is one of the best Russian defenders of all time and will be a big influence on and off the pitch. He featured in the warm-up games against Turkey and Austria and will be expected to start in Russia's opening game against Saudi Arabia on June 14.
5 Nico Elvedi (Switzerland)
Nico Elvedi will be a familiar name to those who follow the German Bundesliga where he plays for Borussia Monchengladbach. The youngster forced his way into Lucien Favre’s starting XI after arriving from FC Zurich in 2015.
The 21-year-old has already made over 100 appearances for the German club playing either at centre-back or on the right side of a three-man defence.
He has only recently broken into the Swiss senior setup but was in the squad for their qualifying campaign, making two appearances. He also started in their 6-0 demolition of Panama back in March and played 45 minutes of their 2-0 friendly win over Japan on Friday night.
INTERESTING FACT: Nico’s twin brother Jan is also a centre-back and plays for FC Wohlen in the Swiss second tier.
Elvedi is one of the most exciting defensive prospects at the tournament and there will be plenty of big clubs keeping an eye on him should he start in Russia. Inter have already shown an interest although ‘Gladbach would want somewhere near €30m to part with a player who just penned a new contract keeping him at the club until 2021.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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