Here are our 7 footballers who could’ve succeeded in other sports.
7. Phil Neville – Cricket
There is a long-standing love affair between footballers and cricket, and 12 men have even represented England as both footballers and cricketers at full international level. From Ted Drake and Ian Botham, to John Goodall and Raich Carter, we could fill this seven with footballers who could’ve been cricketers, so instead we’re going to limit the seven to just one entry per sport.
Our choice for cricket then is former Manchester United and Everton regular Phil Neville. A six-time Premier League winner who won 59 caps for England, Phil is the younger brother of fellow England international Gary Neville. As a boy, Phil was probably a better cricketer than footballer. He captained England’s under-15’s at cricket, and was the youngest player to ever represent Lancashire’s second XI at the age of 15. Considered a better cricketer than teammate Freddie Flintoff at the time, Flintoff went on to captain England and win a famous Ashes series in 2005, but Neville turned his back on the sport in favour of football.
6. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Taekwondo
Charismatic LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is well-known to be a big fan of martial arts, and he attended classes at the Unity Malmo Taekwondo club as a child, and he later received an honorary black belt in the sport. Although Ibrahimovic reportedly excelled at taekwondo, a career in football always seemed the most likely outcome. The Korean martial art is characterised by regular head height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, leading many to suspect Zlatan’s studying of the sport has been greatly beneficial to his style as a footballer.
5. Gareth Bale – Athletics
Another player who could accurately be described as world class at his best, Gareth Bale had the option of pursuing a career in athletics as a youngster. An excellent all-round athlete at school, Bale was a talented rugby and hockey player, but it was football and athletics where he was drawing particular attention. As a 14-year-old, Bale ran the 100-metre sprint in 11.4 seconds, so a career in athletics was certainly on the cards. In the end, the Welshman joined the Southampton academy, and he has gone on to star for Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and the Welsh national team as a professional footballer.
4. Bolo Zenden – Karate
One could argue we have included two footballers who could’ve pursued careers in martial arts, but anyone with an interest in martial arts will tell you there is a big difference between the different disciplines such as taekwondo and karate. Having said that, former British youth judo champion Chris Smalling and former Brazilian jiu-jitsu European blue belt title winner Bixente Lizarazu will have to miss out.
A familiar face to most football fans, Bolo Zenden turned out for some of the biggest clubs in the Netherlands, Spain, England and France, as well as Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Capped 54 times by the Dutch national team, away from football, Zenden was a black belt in karate, and according to Phil Bardsley, you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.
3. Gabriel Batistuta – Polo
A man who once said he didn’t like football and never enjoyed it that much, Gabriel Batistuta has had no real involvement with the sport since retiring in 2005. Perhaps Batistuta’s dislike of football stems from the physical condition it has left him in, with no cartilage or tendons left in his ankles. So serious is the pain that the man fans formerly referred to as Batigol once asked his personal physician to cut them both off.
It’s somewhat handy then, that Batistuta has a real fondness and seemingly talent for a sport where one isn’t required to spend any time on their feet. A popular sport among the upper classes of Argentina, Batistuta has turned his hand to polo since retirement, and his team won the Copa Stella Artois in 2009.
2. Ilhan Mansiz – Figure Skating
A little more obscure than some of the others in this seven perhaps, those of you who watched the 2002 World Cup with interest should remember Ilhan Mansiz. A talented forward who starred for the likes of Samsunspor and Besiktas, Mansiz scored three goals at the World Cup finals, including the goal which put Turkey into the semi-finals in only their second World Cup. Mansiz retired from football in 2007, becoming a competitive figure skater, and he competed in qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
1. Max Woosnam – Everything
There have been a few remarkable genuine sporting all-rounders over the years, so it seemed only right to include one here. CB Fry was one, Cuthbert Ottaway was another, but perhaps the finest of the lot was Max Woosnam.
As a footballer, Woosnam turned out for both Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as winning one cap for England. Away from football, Woosnam won gold in tennis at the 1920 Olympics, won the doubles at Wimbledon, compiled a 147 break in snooker and scored a century as a cricketer at Lords. Unfortunately we don’t have many images of Max, but a worthy inclusion – I hope you would agree – nonetheless.