Players

A journeyman pro in his adopted country, Junior Agogo became a star back in Ghana, even getting the better of Didier Drogba – before returning to League One. Chris Taylor reports

The host country’s Cup of Nations campaign was looking like it was coming unstuck. It had taken a last-minute goal to overcome Guinea in their first match and now, in their second, Ghana were labouring to make headway against the debutant Namibians, who had been hit for five in their opening encounter against Morocco. But when Quincy Owusu-Abeyie crossed from the right, Ghana’s powerhouse centre-forward was on hand to flick the ball into the net from four yards out. Junior Agogo’s goal proved to be the winner and in that moment he went from the popular spearhead of Ghana’s attack to national hero and sex symbol.

Al Needham has met a fair few footballers in Nottingham but the experience has been far from rewarding

Whenever a friend of mine gets into a pub argument about Manchester United (which is often), he relates the following story: when he worked in one of Nottingham’s trendier clothes shops in the early Nineties, the only place that had Timberland boots in stock, Roy Keane came in. After a nod from his manager, my friend mentioned the obligatory 25 per cent discount. “And he didn’t say thank you or anything, he just walked out the shop with the boots under his arm,” my friend says, his face screwed up in a righteous sneer, as he prepares to unleash the killer line. “And he had his fucking jumper tucked into his jeans, the… the twat.”

Phil Ball has had some dodgy encounters from Grimsby to Spain

My encounters with footballers got off to a bad start. Back in the Jurassic period, when players were still awarded testimonials for ten years’ service (they would now simply be accused of being unambitious), Grimsby’s goalkeeper Harry Wainman was fortunate enough to count on the presence of one Frank Worthington for his particular bash, invited to play because his less famous brother, Dave, was Grimsby’s full-back at the time. I was 15, and had just bagged Worthington’s sister (Julie) as my girlfriend. It still remains my only achievement in life.

The PFA has celebrated its centenary at a time when players aren’t held in especially high regard. But that doesn’t mean the union’s battles weren’t worth winning, says John Harding

In December 1907, a group of Manchester United players entered a hotel in the city centre and created admiring headlines by forming a union. One hundred years on almost to the day, another group of United players, at another city-centre hotel, created altogether different headlines, ones that must have had PFA chief executive Gordon ­Taylor weeping tears of frustration.

Massimo Bonini turned down Italy to stay true to his native San Marino, reports Paul Virgo

Massimo Bonini was the strong, silent type behind Juventus’s success in the 1980s. His running and tackling in midfield provided a platform for the headline-grabbing exploits of Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek further forward. Indeed, when the late Juve chairman Gianni Agnelli pulled Platini up for having a cigarette one day, the Frenchman famously quipped that “what really counts is that Bonini doesn’t smoke”.

Oleguer Presas is not Barcelona's biggest name, but the politically minded Catalan is certainly a big noise. As Martin del Palacio Langer explains, the defender's views have divided a country – but not a region

Even an armchair fan would recognise the players in the Barcelona starting line-up: Ronaldinho, Messi, Henry, Zambrotta. But there is one name that seems rather out of place among the world stars: Oleguer Presas.

A German player refuses to play against Israel – because he was born in Iran. But Ashkan Dejagah, who has dual nationality, has picked up sympathy in some unexpected places, as Paul Joyce explains

Tattooed on the neck of VfL Wolfsburg midfielder Ashkan Dejagah is the motto “Never forget where you’re from”. On his right forearm is the word “Teheran”, the German spelling of the city where he was born in 1986; on his left “Berlin”, where he grew up and played for Hertha. Not that anyone will forget where he comes from after he withdrew from a Germany Under-21 game against Israel in Tel Aviv in October. “There are political reasons for this,” he told the paper Bild. “Everyone knows I’m a German-Iranian.”

In the old days you had to wait for the Shoot! questionnaire to find out the likes and dislikes of your favourite players. Now, as Glen Wilson is alarmed to discover, such information is just a click away

Somewhere in my childhood, on a caravan park near Penarth, I kicked a ball about with a kid who told me his uncle was Clayton Blackmore. “Don’t ask my Nan about it,” he said pointing to the beige static home behind him, “she’ll tell you I’m lying.” Obviously I was impressed. As a child, perhaps due to one too many Hot Shot Hamish comic strips, I was convinced that footballers were some sort of super breed; bigger, stronger, more athletic than I could ever be. The fact that someone my age could know or be related to one of these people, even ­Clayton Blackmore, stunned me.

After three years in jail, Lee Hughes is a footballer once more. Oldham fan Dan Turner reports on the reaction from Latics and supporters elsewhere to the signing of someone who caused death by dangerous driving and the difficult questions about the rehabilitation of prisoners the case raises

Few events in modern football arrive right out of the blue. A much ridiculed post on a message board, a conversation in the pub with someone who knows someone… there’s usually at least a rumour that signals there’s a story knocking about. But not this time. When, in May, the news broke that Oldham Athletic were to sign Lee Hughes subject to his gaining parole from prison, nobody saw it coming.

It’s not about money, of course. But occasionally players wonder if their clubs are as eager to win trophies as they are – and if not, whether they should consider a move. Harry Pearson sympathises

The arrival of the British summer used to be heralded by the swooping of a swallow. These days, though, the most reliable signal that it is time once again to stand around a barbecue with rain dripping from your nose is a chorus of football’s top names wondering aloud in the press if “this club’s ambition matches my own”.

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