More stories

  • in

    David Beckham’s amazing £6m Cotswolds mansion is a converted Grade II-listed farmhouse with plunge pool and tennis court

    DAVID BECKHAM loves showing off his stunning £6million Cotswolds mansion on social media.It’s where he celebrated recent birthdays, accompanied by wife Victoria, 48, and three of their children, including once when he was treated to a bacon-and-egg sandwich with presents wrapped in paper adorned by his own face.
    David Beckham poses alongside wife Victoria and their four children outside their Cotswolds homeCredit: INSTAGRAM
    The Beckhams often show the property off on social mediaCredit: Instagram
    The main living area boasts a huge fireplace for the famous family to keep cosyCredit: Instagram
    An outdoor firepit is on hand for family barbecuesCredit: Instagram
    The stunning Cotswolds retreat was a Grade II-listed farmhouse that was converted into the sprawling mansion-like building.
    Purchased in December 2016 for a reported £6.15million, 47-year-old David and Victoria took their youngest children Harper, 11, Romeo, 20, and Cruz, 17, to the country when lockdown was imposed last year.
    The Beckhams can boast a lengthy property portfolio featuring a London townhouse, Dubai beach property and Miami penthouse.
    Home comforts abound inside their Cotswold abode with chandeliers and an enormous roaring fireplace.
    The kitchen hosts long tables, gorgeous stone floors and an Aga oven, leading to a vast outdoor eating area to match the one inside.
    A tennis court can be found outside with a garden that holds a plunge pool and an interesting looking outhouse that could be a sauna.
    Victoria held a party for her family to celebrate her 46th birthday last year at their homeCredit: Instagram
    There is a plunge pool, modelled here by Cruz, in the gardenCredit: Instagram
    The £6m property was purchased in December 2016
    latest football news

    Meanwhile, SunSport exclusively revealed yesterday Beckham has landed yet another multi-million pound pay day for fronting a new Qatar World Cup advertising campaign.
    The ex-England captain is pocketing a seven figure sum with former NFL ace Peyton Manning, 46, to star in TV and print ads for sponsors Doritos.
    Becks and his American Football counterpart shot the campaign in the UK this week.
    The spoof jokes about the differences between the two forms of “football”.
    A source said: “This is a megabucks campaign for two of the most famous sportsmen in the world, centred around the planet’s biggest tournament.
    “It’s huge money for both of them — but fronting anything with a Qatar link is always going to have an element of controversy.”
    Becks’ wrapping paper featured his own faceCredit: Instagram
    Victoria’s birthday sarnie for her husband with special message in tomato sauce More

  • in

    Tottenham billionaire owner Joe Lewis has an amazing £113m superyacht, which features a full sized tennis court

    WHEN you have an estimated wealth of around £4.3billion, you aren’t going to skimp on boys’ toys.And billionaire Spurs owner Joe Lewis is testament to that fact – owning an astonishing £113million superyacht which measures 321-feet long.
    Spurs owner Joe Lewis owns a £113m yacht called AvivaCredit: Tom Stockill
    The Aviva, once seen on the River Thames in 2018, is 321-feet longCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    The East End-born businessman is believed to live on board the Aviva, once spotted docked on the Thames, which has been referred to as his mobile office.
    Better still, it has everything an 85-year-old would need in terms of amenities, including the very first full-size indoor tennis court ever installed on a yacht.
    Join SunSport for a tour.
    Lewis does not need to  be on dry land to get his tennis fix.
    After all, he has an incredible tennis court built into the Aviva – the first of its kind – that he and his guests can play on.
    At 20 metres long and 10 metres wide, the court area goes up to 6.65 metres high.
    And it’s not just for tennis, as the yacht’s designer Reymond Langton explained.
    “It is not only a lifestyle change for the owner but also for the crew as this is also the largest gym of any yacht,” the British design studio told Yacht Harbour.
    Most read in football
    The superyacht is the first boat to have a full-size indoor tennis court
    Crew on board the Aviva have been known to enjoy the tennis court found in the bottom of the boatCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    “The crew is encouraged to play with the owner and guests and when the court is not in use for padel (tennis), the net can be removed and the crew plays football and use other exercise equipment in the space.
    “It is after all a sports hall.”A MOBILE OFFICE
    Lewis, who made his millions in currency trading after running several restaurants and nightclubs from the 1960s, spends most of the year on his boat.
    For the Spurs boss, it’s not just a place where he can enjoy a luxurious life, the Aviva is perfect for working remotely.
    “Communication and information are critical to me.” Lewis said in an interview with regards to his requirements for his floating office.
    “To be effective, I need reliable phones and internet, these have improved much over the past few years, but, it is too expensive, too slow and not consistently reliable.
    “Aviva is more than an office; it is also my home for much of the year. So for me, it is relaxing working from home, wherever Aviva may be in the world.”
    It can also be used to entertain, just as it was when he invited the Spurs team on board in 2013 during their tour of the Bahamas.
    Then-skipper Michael Dawson said: “I had never met him before, so it was nice to go over there and a great experience.
    “What a really nice guy. And that yacht is unreal! But he’s just a normal guy. You could chat to him about anything. He tunes into all the games, he loves it. We just sat there chatting. He made us feel so welcome over there. It was relaxed. A lot of team-bonding together.”
    Lewis lives on the Aviva for most of the yearCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    Lewis has called the Aviva his modern day office in the pastCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    Dotted around its decks are sun loungersCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    It’s mostly in the Bahamas where Lewis – among the richest men in the UK – spends his days as a tax exile.
    And the Aviva, which can house up to 16 guests, is fully equipped for the Caribbean lifestyle.
    The exterior relaxation area features a circular set of lounging pads on the sun deck, as well as smaller lounging pads towards the yacht’s bridge.
    A cool swimming platform can also open up into the sea, that means you can have your own beach area with Aviva’s tenders coming out of side doors.
    Talking about boys’ toys, the superyacht even has a speedboat and jet skis on board.
    The Aviva is Bahamas-ready, has its own speedboat and a swimming platform opens up into the seaCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    The lower deck boasts circular lounging areasCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    The German-built Aviva, the 46th longest yacht in the world, took three years to complete.
    And it’s certainly not lacking in spec, either.
    Powered by an eco-friendly drive system, it can reach a top speed of 20 knots.
    The unique hull design that comes together with an electric propulsions system means that less fuel is used.
    Unbelievably, the Aviva can cruise at 11 knots purely on electric power only.
    Now, where can we get one?
    The Aviva can be powered using just electronic powerCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    The Aviva is the 46th longest yacht in the worldCredit: Abeking Rasmussen
    German-built, the Aviva took three years to completeCredit: Abeking Rasmussen More

  • in

    Ex-Man Utd star Ramon Calliste was dubbed ‘the next Giggs’, but now owns luxury watch business making £5m a year

    BIG things were expected of Ramon Calliste.  The former Man United starlet was labelled the next Ryan Giggs and trained with the first team alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
    Ramon Calliste is owner of Global Watches, a company that rakes in around £5m a year
    Delivering a bespoke service, Global Watches sells high-end time pieces
    However, when it didn’t work out at the Red Devils the former Welsh wizard moved onto Liverpool and became their top scorer in reserve football.
    Frustrated with his lack of first team opportunities, and taking on advice from then-Wales manager John Toshack, he moved to Scunthorpe in 2006.
    But in a cruel twist of fate during his first preseason game Ramon dislocated his ankle, cracking a bone and severely damaging his ligaments.
    After bouncing around at a few clubs, including Farnborough and Cambridge City, Ramon was conscious that the horror injury meant he’d never return to the same level again.
    He turned his attentions to watches, and in 2013 launched Global Watches – a company that sells high-end timepieces, including Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Hublot.
    Ramon’s business is now making around £5MILLION-per-year, selling products to footballers, celebrities and other high-rollers.
    “When I realised football wasn’t going to give me the life I desired, it was about setting up something else and moving fast,” Ramon, 36, told SunSport.
    “I started to get involved in watches through contacts I had in the world of football.
    Global Watches lists timepieces for tens of thousands of pounds
    With a base in North London, business is booming for Global WatchesCredit: Global Watches
    “Once I saw it could become a viable business, I set up Global Watches in 2013 and it’s become a really strong company that’s now turning over millions.
    “The idea is to keep it growing and hopefully sell the company in five or ten years time, just like Watchfinder did recently.”
    Ramon admitted that he was a complete novice when it came to setting up a business.
    But it helped having a contacts book of footballers, who valued his trust because of his past playing career.
    “Running any business is very difficult,” Ramon said.
    “When you’re dealing with high-value goods, there’s a lot of compliance and regulations to bear in mind.
    “We do everything by the book here and it’s very important to be clear on what you’re doing.
    “I was lucky it was very lucrative from the beginning. Some watches we sell can go from £250,000.
    Limited edition and rare Richard Mille watches can be found at Global WatchesCredit: Instagram
    Former footballer Ramon Calliste launched Global Watches in 2013Credit: Global Watches
    Global Watches sell pieces for as much as £250,000Credit: Global Watches
    “Having my footballing history has also helped.
    “I dealt with footballers in the beginning, selling them watches and I already had that trust there.
    “Even today, clients come online and they see it’s me and they feel comfortable buying from me.
    “There might be other companies that are stronger than mine, but because I played the game it does help the business.
    “We have a bespoke service where we go out to the clients, and it’s not just footballers.
    “We started with an office in Mayfair. Now, we’ve got a shop front in North London.
    “When you can take your inventory to a room of footballers, perhaps ten millionaires, that’s better for all concerned.
    “They prefer that service and it’s an easier chance to sell goods
    Ramon Calliste was able to use his footballing contacts to ensure Global Watches started off successfully
    Didier Drogba is just one of many satisfied clients that have bought watches from Global WatchesCredit: Instagram, @globalwatches
    “I have a great relationship with the players and make sure they are looked after.”IT’S A BIG EARNER
    On a regular day, Ramon revealed he sells watches from around £50,000-£70,000.
    Occasionally, he gets a £150,000-£250,000 sale in a market where clients can make money from pieces that are collector’s items.
    “They appreciate, watches have become commodities,” Ramon said.
    “It’s nice for my clients to make money if they’ve bought a watch from me, if they want to sell the watch in the future.
    “I see myself as a consultant. I know watches inside out and try to advise them on what to buy.
    “So sometimes when my clients come to me with what they’ve want, I will tell them straight if it’s a good or bad idea.
    “I don’t want any of my clients to lose lots of money, when they come to sell their timepiece.”
    Some watches are collector’s items that appreciate with age, Global Watches owner Ramon Calliste revealedCredit: Global Watches
    Ramon Calliste hopes to make Global Watches a world-renowned brandCredit: Global Watches
    Going forward, Ramon hopes to open more stores to ensure Global Watches becomes a worldwide renowned name.
    He’s also looking at getting into the property business and hopes to retire by the age of 50.
    Looking back at his football career, Ramon spoke of how it all began without any regrets.
    “I was watched by Man United scout Tony Hopkins for two years when I was at a high school in Cardiff.
    “Originally, I signed for Coventry, but I didn’t feel happy there.
    “I got picked for the Wales under-19s aged 13, and Coventry stopped me from playing.
    “I found out that was because someone could’ve poached me if they’d saw me play and I impressed other scouts.
    “I got out of that contract, went back to school and then I was off to Manchester United in 2000.
    In 2000, Ramon Calliste signed a deal with Manchester United
    A promising talent, Welshman Ramon Calliste was once compared to Ryan GiggsCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    “When I got to Old Trafford I met Sir Alex Ferguson, which was an incredible experience.
    “Seeing everything for the first time, I went into the famous room where everyone meets him.
    “It was a special, I wasn’t fazed by much when I was young, but he had the aura of a great man.”
    Ramon didn’t play for the United first team, but he got his chance to train with some of their superstars.
    “We didn’t always train with the first team, but sometimes we’d have five-a-side games.
    “I aspired to train with them permanently, and it was amazing when I did get the opportunity.
    “I trained with Rooney and Ronaldo, which was a big deal.”
    He also saw Gareth Bale’s potential first-hand and knew straight away the winger was a star in the making.
    While he didn’t always train with the first team, Ramon Calliste did occasionally play alongside Wayne Rooney and Cristiano RonaldoCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    But now, Ramon Calliste would rather shift watches over playing football
    “I remember seeing Gareth Bale when we had an under-21 Wales training session at Wrexham’s training ground.
    “I didn’t really know who he was at the time, but knew he was at Southampton.
    “But after training we were having a kickabout and I could see him practising free kicks.
    “You could see from that moment that he was a special player. It was great to play alongside him and some other of the world’s great players.”
    After Ramon was released from Old Trafford, he starred for Liverpool’s reserves.
    He was their leading goalscorer in the 2005-2006 season, but left for Scunthorpe for first team opportunities.
    “It wasn’t initially what I wanted to do, but Toshack told me I needed to play competitive football if I wanted to break into the Wales first team.
    “I thought, let’s do this and took a contract. Preseason I got injured straight away and I never really recovered from it.”
    Global Watches are hoping to expand by launching more shops around the UKCredit: Instagram, @globalwatches
    Ramon Calliste has no regrets that his football career was cut short by injuryCredit: Instagram, @globalwatches
    Ramon’s horrendous dislocated ankle injury with ligament damage and broken bone to boot still plagues the entrepreneur.
    “I have trouble with that ankle today,” he revealed.
    “I see a specialist regularly and I’m probably going to have to have another operation.
    “If I would’ve had the injury at Man United and Liverpool, I might have been alright.
    “But because I had the treatment at Scunthorpe, I don’t think I got the right medical attention.”
    In 2009, Ramon had decided he’d had enough. Spells at Cambridge City and West London Saracens in the Middlesex County Football League followed.
    Man United released Ramon Calliste when his contract expired in 2005Credit: Getty – Contributor
    Ramon Calliste in action in a reserve game against Liverpool at Man United’s Carrington Training GroundCredit: Getty – Contributor
    But by his mid-2os, his heart wasn’t in it.
    “To come back, I would’ve had to look at going into semi-pro.
    “That just wasn’t for me. From being the creme de la creme at the top and then being at the bottom of the chain, it wasn’t something that’s in my genetics.
    “If I wanted to be involved with something, I want it to be the best. I thought, at that point football was just a distraction and I needed to build a real life.
    “In the end, football just wasn’t meant for me. With all the ability I had, it just wasn’t my destiny.
    “I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have met my children because I wouldn’t have come to London at the time I did. That alone is the most important thing for me.
    Setting up Global Watches was Ramon Calliste’s destiny
    Global Watches has given former footballer Ramon Calliste a life he couldn’t have had playing the gameCredit: Global Watches
    “You have to go through a hell of a lot of steps to get through life. I don’t regret anything that happened to me in football, I learned a lot.
    “I still have great friends from that world, but it wasn’t to be.”
    Visit the Global Watches website here More

  • in

    Top 25 Barcelona youth players from La Masia academy, including Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Mauro Icardi

    IN 1979, Barcelona decided they wanted a steady stream of homegrown talents to one day blossom in their first team.They launched their now famed La Masia (Catalan for “The Farmhouse”), a state-of-the-art academy designed to train youngsters the Barca way, and has since produced a slew of top-class footballers.
    Lionel Messi (in the mask), Cesc Fabregas (back row, second right) and Gerard Pique (back row, third left) are Barcelona youth productsCredit: PA:Press Association
    They were schooled at Barcelona’s famous La Masia AcademyCredit: Simon Jones – The Sun
    Many have gone on to become legends at the club, while others have slipped away and grown at pastures new.
    Here are their best 25 best academy trainees.
    The Spanish left-back, 26, is one of the most sought-after defenders in world football at the moment.
    Currently starring at Benfica, he has been linked with a move to Tottenham previously.
    Barcelona let him go for £1.5million in 2015, without playing a game in the first team.
    Originally, he was plucked from Valencia in 2008 – spending four years with the Catalans until he was sold.
    Alex Grimaldo has made his name at BenficaCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    24. DANI OLMO
    The Spanish 24-year-old international midfielder, who moved in January 2020 to Bundesliga club RB Leipzig, arrived at La Masia aged just nine.
    But in a surprising move, Olmo decided to leave Barca when he turned 16 and signed for Dinamo Zagreb.
    Barcelona were rumoured to be looking at bringing him back to Catalonia before he moved to Germany.
    He has since starred in the Bundesliga and is a regular in the Spain squad.
    Dani Olmo gambled with his career leaving Barcelona aged 16 for Dinamo ZagrebCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    23. NAYIM
    Arsenal fans won’t want to be reminded of Nayim’s most famous moment in his career.
    But before he was lobbing David Seaman from the halfway line, he was a young hopeful at La Masia.
    He joined Barcelona aged 12 – leaving his hometown Cueta.
    But his chances were limited in a team that was managed by Terry Venables.
    He later joined the former Three Lions boss at Spurs.
    Former La Masia product Nayim scored the winner the Cup Winners’ Cup final against ArsenalCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    The former Liverpool midfielder had two spells with Barcelona.
    First as a 12-year-old youth player, where he starred in their reserve team.
    But having failed to break into the first team, he was sold to Atletico Madrid in 2002.
    However, after impressing with Atletico, Barcelona exercised a clause in Garcia’s contract to buy him back a season later.
    Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez moved for the playmaker in 2004 – having had him at Tenerife on loan in 2000-01.
    Luis Garcia had two spells at Barcelona but never made the gradeCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Another surprise, keeper Andre Onana had a spell at Barcelona from 2010 to 2015.
    He joined the club after starting out at the Samuel Eto’o Academy, but failed to make the grade there.
    Five years ago he signed for the Dutch giants, and has since become their No1.
    He was suspended for 12 months for a doping violation, returning to first-team training last November, but the Cameroon international left Holland for Inter Milan this summer.
    Goalkeeper Andre Onana had five years at La Masia before moving to AjaxCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    It was right-back Ferrer’s dream to play for Barcelona – having grown up in the city.
    And he appeared in 221 LaLiga games during nine seasons with his boyhood club, after he was signed as a 13-year-old.
    In 1998 he moved to Premier League with Chelsea in a £2.2m deal, where he retired aged 33.
    Albert Ferrer was a local lad who got to represent his boyhood clubCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    19. PEPE REINA
    The son of former Barcelona goalkeeper Miguel Reina, Pepe was always destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
    He joined La Masia in 1995, and from 1999 he was playing for their reserve side in the third tier of the Spanish football pyramid.
    Reina was never more than an understudy at the Camp Nou, and was told he could leave in 2002.
    The Liverpool legend is still playing now aged 40 after recently returning to Villarreal.
    Pepe Reina was surplus to requirements to Barcelona in 2002 after being an understudy for yearsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    most read in sport
    Benidorm-born Amor became one of Barcelona’s most important players under Cruyff in the 1990s.
    He joined La Masia in 1980 – winning five league titles and a European Cup.
    With Barcelona in his blood, it is unsurprising he is now responsible for the club’s youth system.
    Former youth product Amor now manages Barcelona’s youth set-upCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    The Arsenal full-back might speak like a cockney, but he’s Barcelona through and through.
    Bellerin was also eight when he joined the club – but after eight years at La Masia he moved to the Gunners.
    He was vice-captain of the Premier League giants, until moving back to LaLiga with Real Betis on loan last term.
    However, he is now living his dream after re-joining Barcelona in the summer from the Gunners.
    Hector Bellerin left Barcelona for Arsenal and played against his old side several times before returning to the Nou CampCredit: PA:Press Association
    16. SERGI
    The marauding Spanish left-back joined Barcelona in 1988, and went on to become a club legend – appearing 382 times and winning three league titles.
    He was handed his Barca debut by Cruyff in a heated Champions League match away at Galatasaray
    From then on, he became a mainstay before he was sold to Atletico Madrid. He hadn’t lost that nastiness that made him a tricky player to play against either – earning 33 yellow cards in his three seasons there.
    Sergi won three La Liga titles after coming through La MasiaCredit: Icon Sport – Getty
    Barcelona never really saw the best of Motta.
    Like Pedro, he was signed late – aged 17 from local side Clube Atletico Juventus – and was assigned to the B side.
    He made his debut in 2001, but his time at Barcelona was robbed from him by a serious knee injury.
    Eventually, he found himself at Inter Milan, where Jose Mourinho got the best out of him – winning the Champions League in 2010 before heading to PSG.
    Thiago Motta never fulfilled his potential at BarçaCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    The hype around De La Pena, nicknamed “Little Buddha”, was immense when he was a teen.
    The child prodigy joined La Masia in 1991 from Racing Santander and initially looked to have a big future at the club.
    But fallouts with Cruyff and Van Gaal, who were frustrated with his work-rate, saw his progress curtailed and he had more success with city rivals Espanyol.
    De La Pena had fall outs with Johan Cruyff and Louis Van GaalCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Wolves winger Traore has finally shown the potential Barcelona youth managers believed he had.
    He joined the Spanish champions aged just eight, making his debut aged 17, but failed to break into the first team under managers Gerard Martino and Luis Enrique.
    The speedy winger then moved to England, and had an ill-fated spell at Aston Villa before rediscovering himself at Middlesbrough and then starring for Wolves.
    He returned back to Barcelona on loan for the second half of last season but they decided against signing him permanently in the summer.
    Adama Traore moved to England to get first team footballCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    The Arsenal manager is best known for his time in the Premier League playing for both the Gunners and Everton.
    But before he made it in England, Arteta dreamt of becoming a pro in San Sebastian playing football on the beaches with childhood friend Xabi Alonso.
    He joined Barcelona aged 15, but struggled to break into the first team – joining PSG on loan before starring at Glasgow Rangers and returning to play for Real Sociedad with Alonso.
    Mikel Arteta struggled to break into the Barcelona first team
    Valdes is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the club’s history – having played 535 games and winning 21 major titles, including LaLiga six times and three Champions Leagues.
    But it looked like his time at the club had come to an end in 1995 when his family moved to Tenerife.
    However, Barca re-signed him and quickly progressed through the youth teams – making his debut aged 20.
    Victor Valdes left La Masia academy only to return three years laterCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    10. PEDRO
    The ex-Chelsea winger was a late-comer when it came to joining La Masia.
    Pedro arrived from Canary Islands team CD San Isidro aged 17 in 2004.
    But soon, he became a key member of the first team once he was promoted by Pep Guardiola.
    In the 2018-19 season Pedro became the first player to score in six different club competitions during a single season and in the same year.
    Pedro was a late-comer to La Masia, joining aged 17Credit: PA:Empics Sport
    Argentina striker Icardi, 29, had a spell at La Masia from 2008-11, after rejecting overtures from Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool.
    But the poacher failed to show his class in Spain and was shipped out on loan to Sampdoria in 2011, which became a permanent move six months later for just £400,000.
    He has since become one of the most sought-after strikers in European football, boasting a remarkable goalscoring record.
    Icardi always stood by his decision to leave Barca, because it ultimately benefited his career, although he is now on loan at Galatasaray after falling out of favour at PSG.
    Super poacher Mauro Icardi failed to impress at La MasiaCredit: FC Barcelona
    Another one that got away, but returned to become a hero.
    Pique, 35, played in the same youth teams as Messi and Fabregas from 1997, although he was deployed as a defensive midfielder in his early years.
    Manchester United snapped him up in 2004 on a pro-contract, without having to pay a fee.
    In 2008, he returned to Catalonia for a fee of £5million and has gone on to play over 500 times for the club and is still at the Nou Camp now.
    Pique returned to Barcelona after a spell at Man Utd and bagged a celebrity missus in ShakiraCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    One-club man Busquets has become one of the greatest defensive midfielders of his generation.
    At youth level though he bounced around a few teams playing for the likes of Badia, Barbera Andalucia, Lleida, and Jabac Terrassa, before settling at Barcelona in 2005,
    Guardiola promoted Busquets to his first team in 2008, but it’s his former international manager Vincente del Bosque who provided this accurate quote about his abilities.
    He said: “If you watch the whole game, you won’t see Busquets – but watch Busquets, and you will see the whole game.”
    Sergio Busquets has established himself as the best defensive midfielder of his generationCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Fabregas trained at La Masia for six years before making the bold move to Arsenal in 2003, believing his chances would be limited at the Nou Camp.
    With the Gunners, he soon established himself into one of the Europe’s most promising players – replacing Patrick Vieira in the heart of their midfield, before eventually being named captain.
    In 2011 he returned to Barcelona for £35m, and in three seasons played 96 times for them before moving to Chelsea for £30m in 2014.
    Cesc won the World Cup and the Euros twice, and has been capped 110 times by Spain.
    Fabregas returned to Barcelona after making his name at ArsenalCredit: Action Images – Reuters
    most read in football
    Johan Cruyff called the Man City boss one of the best midfielders of his generation, and it’s hard to argue with that seeing he was a major influence in playing style of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
    Guardiola joined La Masia at 13, and within six years the deep-lying playmaker made his debut against Cadiz.
    In 1998, Louis van Gaal made him captain, but in 2001 he left for Serie A side Brescia after years of injury problems with a troublesome calf.
    Pep Guardiola became Barcelona captain after making it through their youth ranksCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    Arguably the most un-Barcelona-like player.
    But Puyol became a cult hero as an inspirational captain with his uncompromising style of defending.
    He joined La Masia in 1995, playing as a defensive midfielder before converting to full-back and then centre-half.
    But Puyol almost left the club three years later when Barca accepted an offer from Malaga after deeming him surplus to requirements.
    However, seeing Xavi getting a chance in the first team encouraged Puyol to stay, and the rest is history.
    Puyol became a cult figure at Barcelona but nearly left the clubCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Plucked from Albacete at the age of 12, Iniesta never looked back.
    He steadily climbed up the youth ranks, making his debut aged 18 in 2002.
    Iniesta would go on to become the most-decorated Spanish footballer in history – winning 35 trophies, including nine LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues.
    Famously, he helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup – scoring the winner against Holland.
    Iniesta joined La Masia as a 12-year-oldCredit: Rex Features
    2. XAVI
    The greatest playmaker of his generation, and the embodiment of their tiki-taka passing style, Xavi joined La Masia at 10.
    At that age though it wasn’t Michael Laudrup he idolised, but in fact British-based stars like John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, and Matt Le Tissier.
    “I’ve been lucky enough to be brought up on the Barcelona ethos,” he once revealed.
    “Which has taught me the value of being part of a team. ‘Today for you, tomorrow for me.’ Those qualities are essential for life in general.”
    After a spell in the Middle East, Xavi returned to the Nou Camp in November 2021 to take over as manager.
    Xavi idolised Paul Gascoigne, Matt Le Tissier and John Barnes growing upCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Without doubt the best youngster to come from Barcelona’s youth set-up, and the best to ever play for the club.
    Messi joined the LaLiga giants in 2001 from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, who he had trained with since the age of six.
    Realising they had such a prodigious talent on their hands, Barcelona agreed to pay for his treatment after he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency.
    However his love affair with the club came to an end in the summer of 2021 as he moved to French giants PSG amid Barca’s financial difficulties.
    Messi graduated from La Masia to become Barcelona’s greatest ever playerCredit: Getty Images – Getty More

  • in

    Cristiano Ronaldo’s super fleet of cars worth £17m, including £8.5m Bugatti and new £200,000 Aston Martin

    CRISTIANO RONALDO certainly knows how to treat himself.The Manchester United star added a £200,000 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera to his staggering car collection after his hat-trick heroics against Spurs back in March.
    Ronaldo drove his Aston Martin into Carrington after his brilliant Spurs hat-trickCredit: Eamonn and James Clarke
    The Portuguese star rewarded himself after his match-winning efforts back in MarchCredit: Zenpix
    Cristiano Ronaldo drives his Bentley Flying Spur to training with Manchester United
    Ronaldo is also believed to be one of 10 people lucky enough to buy the incredible Bugatti Centodieci, which costs £8.5m
    The amazing Bugatti is truly a one of a kind motorCredit: Bugatti

    Ronaldo has reportedly spent £1.4m on an amazing Ferrari MonzaCredit: Alamy
    It joins a limited edition £8.5million Bugatti Centodieci – of which only ten have been made, he added to his incredible fleet last year.
    Ronaldo, 37, regularly takes his new motor for a spin as he arrives at training at United’s The AON Carrington Training Complex back in M
    While in 2020, he was spotted taking a tour of Ferrari’s Maranello company, where he posed for a picture with a F1 car and ordered himself a Ferrari Monza worth £1.4million.
    That puts his car collection now at around roughly £17million – with Bugattis being his favourite.
    Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo has a Bugatti Chiron and a Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse as part of his huge hoard.
    He has ‘CR7’ embroidered on the headrests of his other two Bugattis, but his latest model he bought is believed to be a tribute to the legendary Bugatti EB110 – Centodieci is Italian for 110.
    The Centodieci boasts an 8 litre W16 engine, with special models having 1600hp – some 100hp more than the Chiron and, overall, three times the price of that model.
    It can do 0-62mph in just 2.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 236mph.
    The Portuguese superstar has supercars likes Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces, admitting to Piers Morgan in an interview he likes to have two of everything.
    Join SunSport in revelling in just some of Ronaldo’s collection that his fortune can afford.ASTON MARTIN DBS SUPERLEGGER, £200,000
    The Manchester United ace turned heads at Carrington as he rocked up to the gates in an amazing Aston Martin DBS Superleggera convertible.
    The Aston Martin DBS Superleggera boasts a 5.2 litre twin-turbocharged V12 engine, providing a mind-boggling 715 hp.
    It has a top speed of 211mph, and can also go from 0-60mph in just 3.4 seconds.
    The car is certainly a worthy addition to Ronaldo’s stunning motor collection.
    Credit: Eamonn and James Clarke
    What do you buy your boyfriend if he has everything?
    Well if you’re Georgina Rodriguez you get a massive, gift-wrapped Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
    The gorgeous former shop assistant made sure CR7’s had the best 35th birthday ever – gifting him a stunning Mercedes G Wagon Brabus that can cost as much £600,000.
    And the brilliant SUV can reach top speeds of 137mph.
    Cristiano Ronaldo was the lucky recipient of a Mercedes G Wagon Brabus for his 35th birthdayCredit: Instagram @georginagio
    In 2017, Ronaldo’s need for speed saw the mercurial forward splash the cash on a stunning silver Bugatti Chiron.
    Incredibly, it can reach speeds of 260 mph, and does 0-60 in just under 2.5 seconds, not that Turin will allow him the opportunity to drive it that fast with the city’s busy traffic.
    As we said, he likes two of everything – and this was the second Bugatti he bought, although he has denied buying a third  – the Bugatti La Voiture Noire – which was reckoned to be the most expensive car in the world EVER at £9.49million, and was snapped up by a mystery buyer last year.
    The 37-year-old loves posting images of his cars to social media, including the Bugatti ChironCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Only 450 Veyron 16.4 Grand Sports were built, so of course Ronaldo wanted a slice of that rarity pie.
    It cost him £1.7m, and the Portuguese legend bought the car as a treat after winning Euro 2016 with his country.
    Though the car was involved in a crash in June 2022 in Majorca. The driver, who was reportedly not Ronaldo, lost control and the car skidded into a wall.
    The front of the Bugatti was believed to have been wrecked with investigators revealed no other vehicle was involved.
    The driver of the car did not suffer any injuries and signed an accident report.
    Cristiano Ronaldo poses outside his former Madrid home on his £1.7m Bugatti VeyronCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Simply because a Bugatti Veyron won’t fulfil Ronaldo’s love of fast cars, in the same year he bought that motor he splashed on a Lamborghini Aventador.
    Made in 2011, it’s the most celebrated model by the Italian car designer – and owned by footballers all over the world, not scared of the outlandish price.
    Ronaldo celebrated his purchase on Instagram in 2016, with a picture with the caption: “Bom dia (good morning)”.
    Ronaldo has a matte-black Lamborghini Aventador worth over £200kCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Ronaldo loves having two of every brand and has a separate LamborghiniCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    In 2020, Ronaldo added a Cullinan to his collection, having previously owned a Rolls Royce Phantom worth around £363,000.
    Showing his loyalty to his new employers, CR7 even personalised the interior with black and white leather.
    Standing at five metres long, the Cullinan boasts a V12 engine and a horse power of 571.
    It is the only SUV Rolls Royce have ever produced.
    Ronaldo arrives anywhere in style with his Rolls Royce among the collectionCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Maybe he learned something from Sir Alex Ferguson about American cars, after all the former Manchester United boss drove a Chevrolet to training when he was Red Devils manager.
    A more economic motor than others in his garage, the Camaro has a 6.2-litre V8 engine that delivers 453 horsepower.
    It’s cheaper than anything else he owns, and was bought in 2016 as a family car.
    Ronaldo arrives at his old Madrid home in his white Mustang convertibleCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    FERRARI F12 TDF, £350,000
    In 2017, Ronaldo bought an F12 TDF – another collector’s item with only 799 made in the world.
    It is certainly one of the favourites he owns, and is zippy with a top speed of 211 mph, and capable of doing 0-62 in 2.9 seconds.
    Needless to say, pet-friendly Ronaldo won’t let his pooches in though.
    The Portuguese superstar’s red Ferrari may not be the most appropriate car for his dogsCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    The Ferrari F12 is one of Ronaldo’s favouritesCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Ronaldo poses on the boot of one of his white FerrarisCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    RANGE ROVER SPORT, £100,000
    A staple for every footballers’ garage, the Range Rover Sport is the ultimate SUV for the rich and famous.
    The model that Ronaldo drives is, of course, is the special edition, SVR.
    It’s Ronaldo’s go-to motor when he drove to the Continassa training ground in Turin.
    Ronaldo’s garage has also includes a giant Range RoverCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    MERCEDES AMG GLE 63, £127,000
    In 2016 Ronaldo filled his garage with supercar after supercar.
    His AMG GLE 63 was a gift to himself for Christmas, and some present it is.
    The SUV has a 612 horse power engine, and it can reach a top speed of 155 mph.

    Ronaldo has one of the most impressive car collections in footballCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    A car made as a dedication to the legendary Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna, it would’ve set Ronaldo back around £1million – with only 500 models ever made.
    So enamoured by its performance on Top Gear, former presenter Jeremy Clarkson said of the McLaren Senna it has ‘rewritten the supercar rule book’.
    Powered by a twin-turbo charged V8 engine that produces 800 horse power, it can hit 0-62 mph in just 2.8 seconds.
    Mika Hakkinen is another sports star who owns one of these beauties.
    Ronaldo’s six years in Manchester saw him take a liking to McLarensCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Ronaldo is believed to have started collecting cars from around 2009, when he was a Manchester United star.
    He had a penchant for Bentley Continental GTs in those early days, and collected several during his time at Old Trafford.
    Ronaldo’s was the GT Speed model, which was naturally the most expensive version ever.
    The interior was lush, filled with magnolia leather.
    And because it was a convertible, Ronaldo was often spied with the roof down – even in rainy Manchester.
    Ronaldo began to have a collection of supercars during his time at United, including this Bentley convertibleCredit: Cavendish
    Ronaldo’s car collection is worth around £17mCredit: Instagram @cristiano
    Cristiano Ronaldo ‘splashes out £8.5million on limited edition Bugatti Centodieci’ – with just ten models ever created More

  • in

    Chelsea stars Reece and Lauren James become the first brother and sister pair to play for England and are ‘living dream’

    IN the case of the James clan, it’s very much about keeping it in the family.This weekend, Lauren James earned her first cap for England – coming as a substitute against Austria as Sarina Wiegman’s European Champions booked their place at the World Cup with a 2-0 win.
    Chelsea stars Reece and Lauren James are the first brother and sister to play for EnglandCredit: EPA
    Reece and Lauren James have become professional footballers with the help of dad NigelCredit: Instagram / @rjames
    James made her debut for the Three Lions against Austria over the weekend
    In doing so, she joined her famous brother Reece in becoming a full England international. They are now the first brother and sister to play for the Three Lions, in what is a remarkable achievement.
    While Reece has just signed a new five-year deal with the Blues

    It’s astounding that two talented footballers of the men’s and women’s game are even playing professionally, not to mention representing their country.
    But the London-born pair are living the dream. Part of their success is due to their incredible father, Nigel.
    Read more in sport
    A motorbike accident halted his promising career, after spells at Luton Town and Southampton.
    Nigel found his true calling through mentoring youngsters and later set up Nigel James Elite Coaching programme.
    It’s testament to him, his son and his daughter would eventually become pros.
    Reece, 22, and Lauren, 20, grew up in London with football an ongoing backdrop in their lives.
    Most read in Football
    As well as a father with footballing aspirations, their elder brother Joshua was on the books of Fulham and Reading. Their mother Emma worked admirably for the NHS.
    If the three siblings weren’t kicking a ball against a wall, they would be down the park honing their skills.
    Often, their dad who would pass on his knowledge and put the three through training drills and exercises.
    Lauren and Reece have always shared a tight bond together
    The siblings grew up in London with football as their backdrop
    Reece and Lauren enjoy a kickabout togetherCredit: Instagram @laurennjjames
    Dad Nigel coached Reece, Lauren and their brother Joshua in the local park
    “We grew up as a three,” Reece of Chelsea proudly told the Blues official website.
    “Obviously, Josh learned from my dad and then it just passed its way down. I started playing because my brother played, and my sister played because I played.
    “We all used to play every day together at the park and over time we all gradually got better. There was a field behind my house, with two pitches, and every day I’d be playing football, either in the field or in the street.”
    Lauren, who joined her brother at Chelsea this summer, echoes the sentiment that the beautiful game dominated their lives.
    “All I ever knew was football, football and football,” she told The Telegraph.
    “My brothers got me into football. Whether it was when Josh was at Fulham or when Reece was at the Chelsea academy, I was there kicking the ball against the fence.
    “I’ve always had a football and it has just taken me to where I am now.”
    Reece was an early bloomer when it came to his footballing talent.
    By the age of six he joined Chelsea’s impressive development academy, where he progressed through the ranks.
    James joined Chelsea’s youth set-up aged six
    James progressed through Chelsea’s youth teams and won a FA Youth CupCredit: Getty – Contributor
    However, it took him some time to find his best position. He started off as a striker, moved into midfield and then had to learn the art of defending.
    Once he cemented the right-back as his own, there was no stopping him. In the 2017-18 season, he appeared for England at U18, U19 and U20 level.
    A loan at Wigan Athletic the following campaign saw Reece named as their Player of the Year.
    Once he made his debut against Grimsby in the EFL Cup in 2019, scoring one and assisting two, he could no longer be ignored for a first team spot.
    Lauren might be slightly younger than Reece, but her achievements are just as impressive.
    At 13 she joined Arsenal, and because of her experience with playing with her brothers was encouraged to train with the boys’ team.
    Two years later, the prolific forward made her first team debut for the Gunners women’s team – beating Reece to the punch there.
    She created history in the process becoming the youngest player in Arsenal’s history male or female to make their bow for the club.
    In 2017, she moved to the newly reformed Manchester United women’s team to take on a new challenge in a city she never knew.
    In 2017, Lauren James joined Manchester United’s newly formed women’s teamCredit: Getty
    Since joining the Red Devils, James has thrived scoring 27 goals in 54 gamesCredit: Getty
    But that didn’t deter the brave teen, who scored 14 goals in 18 league games as the Red Devils won promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking to the Women’s Super League.
    This summer, Lauren joined Reece at Chelsea – where she has scored once in her five games so far this campaign.
    As is a sad indictment of our times, both Reece and Lauren have been targeted with online racist abuse.
    They are united in their efforts to encourage social media companies to do more with their platforms in stopping racism.
    “When we both get messages like that, we turn to each other and discuss it,” Reece said.
    “I think everyone agrees and knows that what’s happening with social media and racism is wrong. Everyone says they want to change, but not many things are changing.”
    Although they share a competitive nature on the pitch, Reece and Lauren only have a mutual respect for each other’s achievements.
    But Lauren knew she had to emulate her brother by following his footsteps into the England squad.
    “We are not usually competitive,” she revealed.
    “When he got his senior England call-up, it was like, “Right, he got his, I’ve got to get mine now. That’s probably the only time and I laugh about it now.”
    Reece earned his first cap against Wales last October, while a month later Lauren received a senior national team call-up as part of a 29-player training camp at St George’s Park.
    Despite their careers mirroring one another, Reece is adamant they can’t be compared.
    Reece James has become a regular in the England squad since his first call-up last OctoberCredit: Marc Aspland – The Times
    His sister Lauren James celebrated an England call-up last November when she was included in a 29-man squadCredit: Getty
    “I wouldn’t say there’s competition,” he said.
    “You know, she is my sister. Our games are the same, our professions are the same, but it’s still different. I play men’s football when she plays women’s football, you can’t compare them.”
    No. But you can applaud their success. They are, after all, living the dream. More

  • in

    Barcelona idol Quini was kidnapped to stop the Spanish side winning LaLiga and held hostage for 25 days four decades ago

    “QUINI is free — and Spain win at Wembley for the first time.”March 25, 1981 is a date Spanish football will never ever forget.
    Quini is held up by authorities following release after 25 days as hostageCredit: YouTube
    Four decades ago, Barcelona legend Quini, who passed away in 2018 aged 68, was at the centre of one of the darkest episodes in football history.
    In 1980, the Nou Camp giants signed one of the best strikers in Spain as they looked to win their first title in six years.
    Quini was a three-time top scorer in Spain’s top flight with Sporting Gijon — even netting 21 as they finished bottom in 1975-76.
    In 11 seasons at the club, only once did ‘Quinigol’ fail to hit double figures, and cost Barcelona around £450,000.
    He started off the season superbly but, on March 1, 1981, his life would change forever.
    Barcelona had just hammered Hercules 6-0, with Quini netting two, and the striker then went home to get changed before heading off to the airport to collect his wife, who was returning from a holiday.
    However, two men turned up to his house — and took him away at gunpoint.
    A tearful Quini waves to crowd following release from kidnappersCredit: YouTube
    Quini was part of the Spain squad which travelled to 1978 World Cup finalsCredit: PA:Press Association
    Quini talks to former Spain manager Luis Aragones back in 2005Credit: Reuters
    His wife’s confusion at not finding her husband at the airport as expected turned to concern when she got home and found the lights still on.
    Most Read in football
    Enrique Castro ‘Quini’ scores some classic goals for Barcelona
    She called the club and the police before filing a formal missing persons report the following day.A CALL FROM THE CAPTORS
    Later that day, she received a phone call from Quini’s captors, who were alleged to have been members of a group known as Batallon-Catalan-Espanyol, and insisted they did not want Barcelona to win the ‘separatists’ league.
    On March 8, one week later, they were due to face leaders Atletico Madrid.
    Barcelona were two points behind — at a time when it was two points for a win — and were the form team ahead of the fixture.
    Quini embraces Bernd Schuster as he rejoins the Barcelona team after kidnapping
    Quini was a three-time LaLiga top goal scorer before joining Barcelona in 1980Credit: Getty
    It appeared the timing of the kidnapping was to ensure he would not play in the match, and several Blaugrana players claimed they were not in the right frame of mind to face the Rojiblancos.
    Spain was in the midst of a tense political atmosphere, which didn’t help matters, and police were besieged with prank phone callers claiming to be the captors.
    In the days leading up to the match, Barcelona’s president and several players were looking after Quini’s wife and children, fearing for their safety — which was not ideal preparation for the biggest match of the season.
    Quini in action for Spain at 1982 World Cup, which came after kidnapping ordealCredit: Getty
    “Freedom for Quini” — fans across Spain plead for release of Barcelona strikerCredit: YouTube
    Quini in action for Spain during a friendly against Scotland in 1982Credit: Getty
    As there was no sign he would be released, the match went ahead and Atletico won 1-0. Then things started to completely unravel for the Catalans.
    They would take just one point from the next five games to completely fall out of the title race.
    Spain was in a state of shock, with fans in stadiums across the country holding banners begging for the striker’s release.
    Three weeks after his disappearance, and with fears  growing that he would never be seen again, one of the kidnappers contacted team-mate Jose Ramon Alexanko and claimed a sum of around £500,000 deposited into a Swiss bank would see Quini released unharmed.
    Quini sadly passed away at the age of 68 after suffering a heart attack in 2018Credit: Getty
    Quini refused to press charges against his captors following releaseCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Quini has a shot saved by Dino Zoff in an international just months after releaseCredit: 1980 AP
    As pressure mounted, the police acted and transferred the money into an account which reportedly belonged to one Victor Manuel Diaz Esteban.
    The authorities waited patiently and, on March 25 — the same night Spain won at Wembley for the first time in their history — a man withdrew around £5,000 from that account.
    This allowed the police to trace and seize three unemployed Spanish men in a garage in Zaragoza, where Quini had been kept.
    Juan Mata meets former Barcelona striker Quini back in 2012Credit: Reuters
    Quini was held captive for 25 days before eventually being releasedCredit: PA:Empics Sport
    Just months after release, Quini helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey final
    Aside from his beard being significantly longer, the Barcelona striker was in decent health and amazingly refused to press charges against his captors — even after they had been sent to jail.
    He would never even claim his personal damages award of £25,000.
    Even more incredibly, Quini was back playing just weeks later, where he received rousing ovations at every ground, and would astonishingly go onto finish as top scorer that season, helping the Catalans win the Copa del Rey.
    A year later, he scored the winner in the Cup Winners’ Cup final and would be part of Spain’s 1982 World Cup squad that summer, having finished the campaign as LaLiga’s top scorer once again.
    In 1984, he returned to Sporting Gijon, where he remained for three years before retiring. More

  • in

    How Man Utd’s ex-Chinese starlet Dong Fangzhuo went from next big thing at Old Trafford to reality TV facelift freak

    WHEN Chinese starlet Dong Fangzhuo signed for Man United in 2004 for a potential fee of £3.5 million big things were expected.He was the first East Asian player to move to Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson believed he had the “speed and physicality” to make it in the Premier League, calling the forward an “explosive” talent.
    Dong Fangzhuo was supposed to be the next big thing at Man United
    However, a spectacular fall from grace culminated in Fangzhuo appearing on a Chinese reality TV show undergoing plastic surgery
    But after a failing to live up to his promise, even after former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo tried to help him revive his career in Portugal, he ended up on football’s scrapheap.
    In 2015, at the age of just 29, Fangzhuo was without a club and was struggling to stay fit.
    Overweight, he appeared on a Chinese TV show where he underwent plastic surgery on his jowly face.
    Now 37, Fangzhuo’s story is one of a rapid rise, followed by a swift decline that resulted in a devastating anticlimax.
    At 18, Fangzhuo was identified by United’s scouts as one for the future and was immediately snapped up from Dalian Shide, the most successful club team in China.
    “He went straight into the reserves and was tipped to do big things,” former United under-18s coach Paul McGuinness told Bleacher Report.
    “He was a strong player—really strong. That is what struck us, that a player from Asia would have that level of strength.”
    But there was one problem. Because he hadn’t played for China’s national side, he had no chance of getting a work permit and getting first team action.
    Desperate to blood Fangzhuo, United immediately arranged a loan deal with Belgian club Royal Antwerp.
    Fangzhuo signed for Man United in 2007 for £500k, a fee that could’ve risen to £3.5m depending on appearancesCredit: Getty – Contributor
    Sir Alex Ferguson believed in Fangzhuo and admired his strength and paceCredit: Getty – Contributor
    China prodigy Fangzhuo was soon loaned out to Royal Antwerp because he couldn’t receive a work permit to play in EnglandCredit: Reuters
    They were a feeder club for the English giants, and at the time Belgium had relaxed laws allowing young non-European players the opportunity to play without any complicated paperwork getting in the way.
    “It wasn’t the same as just sending players out on loan – we had guys there working for us,” McGuinness said.
    He was a strong player—really strong. That is what struck us, that a player from Asia would have that level of strength.”Paul McGuinness, former Man United youth coach
    “Warren Joyce and Andy Welsh were there for anything for the players. The fans there were fanatical, and that would have been a tremendous experience for any young lad.
    “The Belgium league had a real mix of players from all over the world – great for someone like Dong, who felt like a real alien in Manchester.”
    From the offset, Fangzhuo’s raw skills impressed his new coaches in training.
    And even if he did get off to a slow start, scoring just once in his first nine games, it was obvious that he had the ability to make the grade.
    Former Antwerp coach Regi Van Acker revealed: “He was a great player. Very strong, quite tall, very fast, and when he shot at goal, it was like a bomb – so powerful.
    “He did everything we asked of him in training and did extra personal training on his body. He seemed happy. Sir Alex Ferguson and (former United solicitor) Maurice Watkins visited Antwerp regularly. All was well.”
    The goals soon started to come and he finished with seven from 22 appearances, and would’ve had more if it wasn’t for injuries and international call-ups.
    After a successful stint in Belgium where he finished top scorer for Royal Antwerp Fangzhuo returned back to Man UnitedCredit: Getty – Contributor
    It was expected that Fangzhuo, seen here with Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs, would push onCredit: PA:Press Association
    And in his second season, with Antwerp playing in Belgium’s second division, Fangzhuo finished as the league’s top scorer with 18 goals.
    His rapid progress meant a work permit finally arrived in December 2006, and he was recalled by Ferguson who planned on integrating him into his first team squad.
    After Man United had clinched their 17th title in 2007, Fangzhuo was handed his debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
    The game started in bizarre fashion for the then 21-year-old as John Terry and Co. gave the Red Devils’ second string a guard of honour as they ran on to the pitch.
    Partnering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer upfront, he was replaced by Wayne Rooney after 73 minutes in a 0-0 bore draw, but showed some nice touches.
    The following 2007-08 season he played in a League Cup match against Coventry City, in which United fell to a shock 2-0 defeat.
    And later that campaign, Fangzhuo appeared in the Champions League, coming on for Rooney in a group stage match against Roma.
    On and off the pitch Fangzhuo suffered with the language barrier. Coupled with a crippling shyness, he rarely spoke to any of his teammates.
    Fangzhuo made his debut for Man United against Chelsea at Stamford BridgeCredit: Getty – Contributor
    Fangzhuo then made his full debut in a League Cup defeat against Coventry CityCredit: Getty – Contributor
    Later in the 2007-08 campaign Fangzhuo played in the Champions League against RomaCredit: PA:Press Association
    “The huge problem was how reserved he was,” McGuinness said.
    Alongside his struggles learning English, Fangzhuo also found himself spending more time in the physio room than on the pitch.
    At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, his squad number was given to Rafael and his contract was terminated mutually so he could find first-team football elsewhere.
    Fangzhuo returned to China with Dalian Shide, where expectation was high.
    But the pressure got to him and in two seasons (26 games) he failed to find the back of the net.
    Hoping to regain his confidence in front of goal, he returned to Europe.
    A stint at Legia Warsaw that lasted four games in 2010 was followed by a spell at Portuguese club Portimonense, who gave him an opportunity after a glowing reference from former United teammate Ronaldo.
    The final nail in the coffin of his European adventures came in 2011, when things didn’t work out at now defunct Armenian club Mika.UNFULFILLED PROMISE
    With his career in taters, Fangzhuo returned to China but found that no one wanted him.
    Hunan Billows FC took a chance on him, but he was deemed a rebel in his own country.
    After failing to make the grade at Man United and several European clubs, Fangzhuo returned back to China
    Fangzhuo’s career never regained momentum and in 2015 he had a plastic surgery makeover on a Chinese TV show
    He didn’t help his cause when he received a six-match ban for flashing the middle finger at Beijing Institute of Technology fans after they taunted him when he was substituted.
    And when Fangzhuo bleached his hair blonde, which is deemed disrespectful in the Asian community, there was a media outcry.
    Then, there were issues over his professionalism. Stories circulated in the press that he was more into partying and nightclubs than being a footballer.
    latest football features
    Before he turned 30, Fangzhuo decided to retire from the game after struggling with his weight.
    Finally, his fall from grace was complete in 2015 when he appeared on a Chinese reality TV show on which he had plastic surgery on his bloated face.
    Today, Fangzhuo lives as a recluse and his whereabouts are unknown. But it could’ve been so different had the boy wonder gone on to achieve what was expected of him. More