In British soccer, the number nine takes on extra significance for an elite attacking player. Historically a center forward, at certain clubs the number has a legacy all its own. Previous Everton #9 Duncan Ferguson had a tattoo of the number and it's normally associated with the player most representative of the club.
That's why US National Team player Landon Donovan was so taken aback when he was introduced as Everton's new #9 for his ten-week loan with the club in 2010. Louis Saha last had the number full-time, but he asked to be switched to #8 to represent his birthday, August 8th. Since then, the number has been vacant. When Donovan returned to Everton in 2011, he once again was given the #9 shirt.
All you need to do is take a quick look at Everton history to see why it's such an honor. Start naming Everton's greatest players, and that squad number begins to show up.
Andy Gray wore the shirt when Everton won the FA Cup in 1984 and the league title and Cup Winners' Cup in 1985. Graeme Sharp also wore the number in the 80's. Bob Latchford had the number in the mid to late 70's, and was Everton's leading scorer from 1975 thorough 1978. Now known to most fans for his managerial career, Joe Royle was Everton's #9 when he made 231 appearances and scored 102 goals from 1966-1974. Fred Pickering had it in the mid 60's.
It's pre-War soccer where the number got its mystique for Everton. Tommy Lawton wore it in the late-30's, scoring 65 goals in 87 games. But it was his predecessor who had already established being Everton's number nine as something special.
Dixie Dean, one of the most incredible attacking players ever. In 399 games for Everton from 1925 through 1937, he scored 349 goals. Everton won the league twice with Dean, 1928 and 1932. That '32 win came in their promotion year, the season after winning the old Second Division. In an era when National Team games weren't as frequent, Dean scored 18 goals in 16 games for England. In a quirk of history, Dean was also the first number nine in English soccer, getting the jersey for the first game English clubs used numbers – the 1933 FA Cup final.
To put it mildly, Landon Donovan now carries a substantial legacy when he puts on that shirt. Fortunately for Everton, they have a player well aware of history.