From Beckham to Zidane: We Ask Five Sport Stars Their Greatest Influences

We asked five sporting personalities to pick out their heroes in football
11:00, 24 Apr 2020

In a regular season, football creates heroes almost every weekend and being labelled as such can be a burden of Atlas-proportions. Better, the proof can be exhibited in the success of those who followed, those who took you as their own inspiration and ideal they’d wished to emulate. The Sportsman asked five sports stars, both retired and present, to name their footballing idols that shaped their childhood, their sporting education, and consequently, their careers.


Chris Sutton, 47

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Chris Sutton is a former striker who began his career at Norwich City before moving to Blackburn Rovers in 1994. He was a vital part of Jack Walker and Kenny Dalglish’s 94/95 Premier League-winning team, forming a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer, dubbed ‘SAS’ (Shearer and Sutton) and received the Golden Boot as the joint-top goalscorer of the league whilst at the club in 1998. He also enjoyed a prolific spell in Scotland with Celtic, and since his retirement has continued to pundit on the SPFL and works with both BT and BBC Sport.

  • John Robertson: “Robertson was a genius winger, dribbler, and team player who could destroy any full back in world football on his day.”

  • Trevor Francis: “Nottingham Forest were my team as a youngster and Trevor Francis was just a simply brilliant goal scorer. There’s a reason why he was the first million pound player”

  • Bryan Robson: “An outstanding midfielder who had everything. ‘Captain Marvel’ was tenacious, tough, driven, a proper leader and even scorer of some great goals.”

  • Kenny Dalglish:  “Another footballing great, King Kenny could do everything, he had such a brilliant football brain and was always two seconds ahead of everybody else. For both Celtic and Liverpool, Dalglish threaded everything together and treated fans to so many memorable goals.”

  • Mike Sutton: “Former pro at Norwich, Carlisle and Chester, and my dad. The person I listened to all the way through my career: my hero, my inspiration.”

 

Sam Billings, 28

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Sam Billings is Kent County Cricket Club wicket keeper and lifelong Manchester United supporter. Billings made his first ODI appearance for England in 2015 at Edgbaston. He is also an ambassador for Lord’s Taverners, the UK's leading youth cricket and disability sports charity.

  • David Beckham: “As a huge Manchester United fan, David Beckham was my favourite player growing up, with his wand of a right foot. I tried to mirror his crossing and free-kick techniques, with that high sweeping left arm. And of course, wow, those Predators were on the Christmas list every year!” 

  • Zinedine Zidane: “Zidane remains one of my favourite players with his all round perfect technique. The Frenchman produced something every game to leave you amazed. He was so skillful but, fundamentally, skills that made differences in games, with so many little flicks to open up space for others. It seemed like he had eyes in the back of his head. Also, he wore predators, need I say more…”

  • Iker Casillas: “Being a wicketkeeper I can appreciate the skill level Casillas had with his hands. The Real Madrid team he was part of was phenomenal, with him almost impervious in goal. Whatsmore, he was a fantastic captain and leader as well. He was at the top of the game for a long, long time and that’s the true sign of greatness.”

  • Paul Scholes: “Scholes was the kind of player I enjoyed watching as a kid. However, because he wasn’t ‘box office’ you don’t necessarily fully appreciate a player like this when you’re that age. Now I see the effect he had on me just watching him do the basics better than anyone else. Asthmatic and small but able to dictate and control the pace of any game on his own. Phenomenal, and that united team just made me fall in love with the game.”

  • Eric Cantona: “I had a red room as a kid. Everything was Man Utd. The duvet cover was Man Utd, and right in the middle of it was King Eric Cantona in his iconic black kit. However, one day our house got burgled and the thieves used it as a bag to carry the stuff in. I’m still gutted about that! Cantona was a maverick, genius and partial to flamboyance: the celebration for that iconic chip shot against Sunderland in 1996 was as iconic as the goal itself.”

 

Matt Le Tissier, 51

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Matt Le Tissier, 51, is arguably the seminal one-team man of 1990s English football. Nicknamed ‘Le God’ by devoted Southampton fans, Le Tissier was a deadly marksman who had an almost unblemished spot-kick record and scored produced some of the best, most blistering goals ever seen in the Premier League. He never strayed from Saints, with whom he won the English Football Goal of the Season award in 1994 as well as inclusion in the Premier League team of the year in 1995.

  • Glenn Hoddle: “Glen Hoddle, with his effortless grace on the pitch, made me a Tottenham Hotspur fan. More than anyone he was the player I tried to emulate”

  • Liam Brady: “Arsenal great Brady’s left foot made me practice mine more from a young age.”

  • Pat Jennings: “I fancied myself in goal too and he made collecting crosses look easy!” 

  • Frank Worthington: “Worthington was the ultimate showman with absolutely ridiculous skills”

  • John Robertson: “ There was always brilliant wing play from Robertson even though he wasn’t that quick!”

 

Tymal Mills, 26

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Tymal Mills, 26, is a fast-bowler from Yorkshire who plays for Sussex County Cricket Club. Mills has also spent part of his career playing in Australia and New Zealand, and the Bangladesh and Pakistan Super League. He made his debut in the England international setup against Sri Lanka at Southampton in 2016.

  • Dion Dublin: “It was a struggle growing up a Norwich City fan when I did. We weren’t very good at all but a personal highlight for me was watching the centre half pairing of Dion Dublin and Gary Doherty both switching to centre forwards for the last five minutes of a match for the team to pump long balls to and try and snatch an equaliser, or, pray, a winner. Glorious.”

  • Nemanja Vidic: “You’ll notice a theme with my picks. I like an ‘old school’ footballer. No nonsense, tackles, headers and a bit of blood and bite now and again. Man Utd were my ‘Premier League team’ growing up and I just loved the way Vidic played the game. You could just tell strikers didn’t fancy going up against him”

  • Didier Drogba: “What’s not to like about Drogba? He had pace, power, skill, goals. The lot. If I could be any striker it would probably be him”

  • Ruud Van Nistlerooy: “RVN, the man who scored 150 premier league goals but only ever one from outside the box. You have to respect that! Again, this poacher fits my old school mentality and he was a pure goal scorer.”

  • Paul Scholes: “Yet another Man Utd player, but at the time I was growing up watching football they were the biggest team in the world. I loved watching my local side Norwich in the stands and United on TV. Scholes was often the best player on the pitch by some margin and I could watch a highlight reel of his best goals all day long. He also loved a late tackle!”


Matt Jarvis, 33

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Matt Jarvis is a winger currently playing for Woking. The midfielder experienced a long spell playing at the highest level, most notably with Wolverhampton Wanderers between 2007 and 2012. In his penultimate year with Wolves, Jarvis was awarded both Supporters' Player of the Year award and Players' Player of the Year awards. He has made over 200 Premier League appearances, scored 20 goals, and received a cap for England.

  • Gary Lineker: “The Leicester, Spurs, and Barcelona striker, and England’s first World Cup Golden Boot winner, was the first forward I started to watch. I loved watching the VHS of him scoring 48 goals for the Three Lionson repeat”

  • Ryan Giggs: “Giggs was my favourite player growing up. He played the same position as myself and was lucky enough to play against him! Nevermind the amount of medals I won, f or him to play at the highest level for so long is an achievement in itself”

  • Zinedine Zidane: “Zizou was such a fluid, elegant midfielder who could just make everything look so easy, so simple. What an incredible player”

  • Marco Van Basten: “Van Basten’s jersey was one of the first football shirts I bought on holiday as a kid. Fantastic player and, I’ve got to admit, it was a fantastic shirt!”

  • Peter Schmeichel: “When I was young I was a Manchester United fan and the Great Dane between the sticks was just outstanding. Schmeichel could make himself so big and imposing, fearlessly diving out at everything and, of course, making incredible saves. As a result, I had quite a few goalkeeper tops as a kid.”