CHAPECO, Brazil, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Chapecoense, the Brazilian football club devastated by an airline crash, will sign up to 20 players for the new season and are reserving shirt numbers for two of the survivors in the hope they can play again, their director of football said on Tuesday.
Almost all the team’s senior players were killed when their plane crashed in Colombia on Nov. 28.
The small club from southern Brazil were heading to Medellin to play Atletico Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana when their plane crashed into a mountain, killing 71 people.
Centre back Neto and fullback Alan Ruschel survived, as did reserve goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who had part of his leg amputated.
Director of football Rui Costa said all three still had a role to play at the club.
“No player this season will use the shirts that were worn by Jackson Follmann, Neto or Alan Ruschel,” Costa told reporters.
“More than a tribute, we expect Alan and Neto to come back and wear them. Follmann sadly won’t be able to but he will certainly be back here with us in some capacity. The only ones that can wear those jerseys are them.”
Costa said the club would sign between 18 and 20 new players before they start their season on Jan. 26 with a home game against Joinville.
Chapecoense’s rivals rallied to their aid after the crash, promising to loan them players in order to help them retain their top-tier status.
“We are resorting to a lot of loans,” Costa said. “That is a tool for bringing together quality, speed and budget. Many clubs are being partners in this.”
The squad will begin pre-season training on Friday, with some junior players joining the new signings and the handful of players who did not travel on the fateful flight to Colombia.
“We looked at 90 players, we whittled that down to 50 and finally had a list of 38 players that got down to the number of players we have today,” Costa said.
“We have a group ready to start pre-season training. We’ll probably have between 25 and 27 players.”
The club, who were awarded the Copa Sudamericana and a place in this year’s Copa Libertadores, have rejected proposals that would give them immunity from relegation from Brazil’s Serie A for three years. (Reporting by Luiz Barp; Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Toby Davis)