Every young footballer grows up idolising a handful of top players, the ones whose style they try to copy and would give anything to be like.
But only a few ever have the opportunity to actually line up alongside their childhood hero and play in the same team as them.
Here's a look at eight footballers who have done just that and played with their heroes.
8. Ansu Fati & Jesus Navas
Fati is training and playing with Lionel Messi at Barcelona daily, but he got the chance to play alongside a more surprising childhood hero in September 2020 when he featured in the same Spain team as Sevilla living legend Navas.
Fati grew up in Sevilla and started out there before he joined Barcelona’s La Masia youth ranks in 2012. It was recently revealed that he adored Navas and even wore the same boots as his idol.
7. Arda Turan & Andres Iniesta
Despite only being three years younger than Iniesta, Turan described the Barcelona star as his ‘all-time idol’ when he made the move to Camp Nou in 2015 and was delighted to line up alongside him.
“People sometimes point out that I am only three years younger than him, but he is my point of reference,” Turan told Radio Catalunya at the time. “I think I made the right decision to join Barcelona to play alongside him. I always felt bad when I played against him and fouled him.”
6. Ronaldinho & Henrik Larsson
Ronaldinho can reel off a list of Brazilian icons as his idols – Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, all three of which he played with at international level – but another of his childhood heroes was Larsson, who he first took notice of at the 1994 World Cup.
Larsson was part of the Sweden side that lost to Brazil in the semi-finals when Ronaldinho was 14 and they wound up playing together a decade later at Barcelona.
The veteran striker recalled that Ronaldinho used to call him ‘idolo’, while the player himself said of Larsson: “When he came to Barcelona, Henrik said nice things about me but by the time he left he was my idol. In fact, he was my idol even before that. I remember him playing for Sweden in the 1994 World Cup. Henrik taught me a lot about football and I learned even more from him as a person.”
5. Wayne Rooney & Duncan Ferguson
Rooney was Everton through and through when he was growing up, which made Toffees cult hero Ferguson the player he most looked up to and dreamed of emulating.
As a schoolboy, Rooney would often wait outside the club’s training ground for a glimpse of Ferguson and perhaps an autograph or a picture.
By the time Rooney graduated to the first-team as a 16-year-old, the pair soon became friends, to the point where Ferguson became a mentor to the youngster and a life-long pal.
4. Bruno Fernandes & Cristiano Ronaldo
When he signed for Manchester United in January 2020, Fernandes revealed he had been following the club ever since Ronaldo made the same move from Sporting CP 17 years earlier. Fernandes was just eight years old at the time and watched his fellow countryman transform into one of the best players in history in the years that followed.
Although Fernandes took the road less travelled to the top, venturing to Italy at 17 to play in Serie B before making his way back to Portugal and on to England, he rubbed shoulders with Ronaldo for the first time when he was called up to the national team in August 2017.
The pair eventually played their first game together when Portugal faced Egypt in March 2018.
3. Jordan Henderson & Steven Gerrard
Henderson grew up watching Gerrard and eventually got the chance to play alongside him when Liverpool paid Sunderland £20m for his signature in 2011.
Henderson had been an eager teenager when Gerrard first reached world class level in the mid-2000s and eventually spent four years as his Liverpool teammate.
“I watched Steven Gerrard when I was younger and then went on and play and train with him. That was massive for me and still is. He’s had the biggest influence on my career. He's a fantastic role model,” Henderson said back in 2014.
He has even gone on to surpass Gerrard, from whom he inherited the Liverpool captaincy from in 2015, by lifting the Premier League trophy in 2020, something Gerrard never did.
2. Andrea Pirlo & Roberto Baggio
AC Milan, Juventus and Italy legend Pirlo grew up wanting to be like Baggio, who helped make Serie A the best league in the world in the early 1990s.
Not only did Pirlo have the chance to play with the 1993 Ballon d’Or winner at Inter, he also later did for boyhood club Brescia during a loan back home in 2000/01.
“Baggio was and will forever be my idol, and I always hoped one day to become like him. Having the chance to play with him at Inter is something that I will never let go of,” Pirlo said in 2009.
1. Paulo Dybala & Lionel Messi
Dybala has long been keen to play for the same club as Messi, telling the Italian press back into 2016 that he wanted Juventus to sign his childhood hero.
“He's my idol,” the Juve star Corriere della Sera. “He does things that no one else can do. Since Ronaldinho doesn't play anymore, I would like Messi [to join Juventus].”
Messi was already the best player in the world when Dybala started his career. While the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has never made the move to Italy, Dybala has at least realised his dream of playing with Messi at international level for Argentina since 2015.
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