Footballers who played alongside their heroes.

Every young footballer grows up idolizing a handful of top players, whose style they try to emulate and as they give everything.

But only a few get the chance to stand next to their childhood hero and play on the same team as them.

Here’s a look at eight footballers who did just that and played alongside their heroes.

Ansu Fati sculpted Jesus Navas while growing up in Sevilla/Socrates Images/Getty Images

Fati trains and plays with Lionel Messi on a daily basis in Barcelona, ​​but he got the chance to play with a surprising childhood hero in September 2020 when he joined the same Spain team as Sevilla legend Navas.

Fati grew up in Sevilla and started out there before joining the youth ranks of Barcelona’s La Masia in 2012. It was recently revealed that he adored Navas and even wore the same shoes as his idol.

Arda Turan was grateful to play with Andres Iniesta at Barcelona/PAU Barina/Getty Images.

Despite being just three years younger than Iniesta, Turan described the Barcelona star as his ‘all-time idol’ when he visited Camp Nou in 2015 and was delighted to line up alongside him.

“People sometimes say that I’m only three years younger than him, but that’s my reference,” Turan told Radio Catalonia at the time. “I think I made the right decision to join Barcelona to play with him. I always felt bad when I played against him and fouled him.

Ronaldinho first saw Henrik Larsson in 1994 / LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Ronaldinho can rattle off a list of Brazilian icons as his idols – Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, all three of whom he played with at international level – but one of his childhood heroes was Larsson, whose He first gained notice in the 1994 World Cup. .

Larsson was part of the Sweden team that lost to Brazil in the semi-finals when Ronaldinho was 14 and they were injured a decade later playing together at Barcelona.

The veteran striker recalled Ronaldinho calling him his ‘idol’, while the player himself said of Larsson: “Henrik spoke well of me when he came to Barcelona but by the time he left, he was my idol. Actually, 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 look up to him as a person. Learned even more.

Wayne Rooney and Duncan Ferguson became close friends / PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Rooney was Everton through and through growing up, making Toffees cult hero Ferguson the player he most looked up to and dreamed of emulating.

As a schoolboy, Rooney often waited outside the club’s training ground for a glimpse of Ferguson and perhaps an autograph or photo.

By the time Rooney broke into the first team aged 16, the pair had quickly become friends, with Ferguson becoming the youngster’s mentor and lifelong friend.

Bruno Fernandes was eight when Cristiano Ronaldo joined Man United / Dan Mohtaropoulos

When he signed for Manchester United in January 2020, Fernandes revealed that he had been following the club since Ronaldo made the same move from Sporting CP 17 years earlier. Fernandes was only eight years old at the time and saw his compatriot transform into one of the greatest players in history in the years that followed.

Although Fernandes traveled the least, traveling to Italy aged 17 to play in Serie B before returning to Portugal and England, he first rubbed shoulders with Ronaldo when he was called up to the national team. Team in August 2017.

The pair finally played their first game together when Portugal faced Egypt in March 2018.

Jordan Henderson replaces Steven Gerrard as Liverpool captain / Clive Rose / Getty Images

Henderson grew up watching Gerrard and finally got the chance to play with him when Liverpool paid Sunderland £20m for his signature in 2011.

When Gerrard first reached world-class level in the mid-2000s and eventually spent four years as his Liverpool team-mate, Henderson was a keen youngster.

“I watched Steven Gerrard when I was younger and then went and played and trained with him. It was huge for me and still is. He has had the biggest impact on my career. He is a fantastic role model,” Henderson said back in 2014.

He has even surpassed Gerrard, from whom he inherited the Liverpool captaincy in 2015, by lifting the Premier League trophy in 2020, something Gerrard never did.

Andrea Pirlo plays with Roberto Baggio at Inter and Brescia/Alessandro Sabatini/Getty Images

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 get to play with the 1993 Ballon d’Or winners at Inter, he also later played for boyhood club Brescia during a loan spell back home in 2000/01.

“Baggio was and always will be my idol, and I always hoped to be like him one day. To have the chance to play with him at Inter is something I will never pass up, Pirlo said in 2009.

Paulo Dybala wanted Juventus to sign Lionel Messi / Sandro Pereira / Getty Images

Dybala has long been keen to play for the same club as Messi, telling the Italian press in 2016 that he wanted Juventus to sign his childhood hero.

“He’s my idol,” Juve star Corriere Della Serra. “He does what no one else can do. Since Ronaldinho doesn’t play anymore, I would prefer Messi. [to join Juventus]”

When Dybala started his career, Messi was already the best player in the world. While the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has never made it to Italy, Dybala has at least fulfilled his dream of playing alongside Messi at international level for Argentina since 2015.

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