1) James Ward-Prowse
As a massive Southampton fan, I was desperate to include our captain and midfield maestro in ‘Play Like Your Football Heroes’, but Seth wouldn’t let me. Only joking, JWP just didn’t quite fit in amongst the Ronaldos and Messis of the football world, even though he is an absolute free-kick king (more on practising those in the ‘Train Smart’ section of the book). So instead, I’ve been able to include him here in this blog post. Thanks Toppsta!
Other than his set piece skills, my two favourite things about JWP are his work-rate and dedication. He’s not the biggest or the fastest player on the pitch, but you can guarantee that he will never stop running and tackling. When it comes to dedication to his team, JWP just won’t be beaten. He really is the ultimate pro. We’re talking about a guy who played every single minute of the last two Premier League seasons in a row; who has been at Southampton since he was eight (even though he’s from Portsmouth – Boooooooooo!) and who has just signed a new five-year contract. He’s a club legend already, and he’s only 26.
Oh and one final thing to end this love letter to JWP – his boots are the best. Forget flashy orange or neon blue; he always goes for old-school, classic black. Now that’s my kind of football hero.
2) Virgil van Dijk
‘Another Saints player, Matt!’ you might be thinking, but that’s not why he’s here, I promise. I love Virgil because he’s exactly the kind of defender I wish I could be when I’m out on the football pitch –calm, quick, powerful, and brilliant on the ball. But instead, sadly I’m the exact opposite – stressed, slow, weak and sloppy in possession!
Never mind, enough about me; back to Virgil. He’s one of those footballers who confuses the line between hero and superhero, because he’s absolutely amazing at everything: heading, tackling, blocking shots, outmuscling strikers, playing long passes, reading the game, telling teammates what to do. Everything! Maybe he isn’t human; that would make sense, actually. Anyway, I shouldn’t say any more about Virgil because he’s in our book, ‘Play Like Your Football Heroes’, and Seth won’t be happy if I spoil it.
3) Wendie Renard
From one world-class centre-back to another. Some people actually call Renard ‘the French Van Dijk’, but has Virgil ever scored 14 goals in one season? I don’t think so! Wendie has and not once, but twice. At 6ft 2in, she certainly has height on her side, but what makes her so brilliant is that she’s as skilful with her feet as she is with her head. In total, she has almost 150 goals for club (Lyon) and country (France), to go with 14 Division 1 Féminine titles and seven UEFA Women's Champions League trophies. Wendie is a born winner, that’s for sure, and a born leader too. Her calm personality and organisation skills make her the perfect captain.
Plus, her remarkable courage and strength, which are reflected in Renard’s own life story. She was born in Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean Sea, where ‘The boys and I would take off from school at the end of the day and we’d head to the beach and swim, and then play football. But even then I knew: I needed to play twice as hard, twice as smart, to get respect.’ When Wendie was eight, her father sadly died, and it was the beautiful game that gave her a purpose and a dream to work towards. A professional football player – that was what she was determined to become when she was older, even if that job didn’t really exist for women at that time.
Seven years later, Wendie flew to France for a trial and she was so terrific that Lyon signed her straight away. And look at her now – captain of Lyon, captain of France, a seven-time European champion playing in defence alongside Virgil Van Dijk in my fantasy football heroes 5-a-side team. I wonder if she would outscore even…