These days he’s recognised more as the presenter of Match of the Day and the man who appeared in a load of weird adverts for Walkers crisps but Gary Lineker, back in his day, was a fine striker and one of the best his country has ever produced – even being the record goalscorer in World Cup’s for England with 10 goals in the World’s top competition. He has one of the greatest goals-to-games record internationally in England and is the country’s second top scorer, has been voted Leicester City’s best player of all time – ahead of Gordon Banks – and, here’s a fun fact for you; he never even got booked during his whole career.
Lineker was born in Leicester in 1960 and grew up in the area, playing football with his brother Wayne. Upon leaving school he joined Leicester City in 1977 where he quickly made it up to the first team and started to score prolifically, helping Leicester get promoted to the top flight in 1980, a feat he would repeat three years later. Lineker twice won the Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in England’s top flight during his eight year stint with the club and it became inevitable that the grinning local lad would soon be off to a bigger club as interest intensified in him. His record for Leicester is an impressive 216 games played and 103 goals scored. Not bad for a player playing for a smaller side!
In the summer of 1985 Lineker left his local club to join reigning league champions Everton for a fee of £800,000. It was a disappointing season for Everton as they lost in the FA Cup final and were narrowly beaten to the league title but it was a successful season for Lineker himself who scored 38 goals in just 52 appearances and was once again English football’s top goalscorer. His form was impressive and, coupled with a fine showing at the World Cup in 1986, earned him a £2.2 million move to Barcelona.
Lineker’s move to Spain was one of a number of moves for Brits across the continent at the time – something you don’t find often now – as there were higher wages offered abroad plus he could feature in European competition; something he couldn’t do in England as English clubs were banned from entering following the Heysel disaster. Former Q.P.R manager Terry Venables brought the England striker to Spain alongside Welsh striker Mark Hughes and the duo impressed with Lineker managing to notch 53 goals in 138 appearances for the club over three seasons. Lineker won his first silverware whilst at Barcelona as they won the Spanish Cup and the European Cup Winner’s Cup during his time at the club. Lineker’s progress was halted though by the decision of the next Barca manager Johan Cruyff to play him on the right of midfield rather than up front and in 1989 Lineker lost his place in the side and a move back to England was on the cards.
Lineker snubbed a chance to link up with former Barcelona strike partner Mark Hughes at Manchester United to instead sign for North London side Tottenham Hotspur. He spent three years at the club, making 138 appearances for the club and scoring 80 goals in that time, once again managing to win England’s Golden Boot award in 1989/90. Lineker also won his first English silverware at the club as they lifted the FA Cup in 1991.
Lineker opted to finish his career away from his native England and he moved to Japan to play for Nagoya Grampus Eight where he suffered an injury hit two years. Lineker only managed 4 goals in 18 appearances for the club over this period and he announced his retirement from football in 1994 aged 33.
Lineker was first called up for England whilst he was still at Leicester back in 1984 for a game against Scotland. His biggest break at international level came in the 1986 World Cup in which he was the top scorer with 6 goals which led to his move to Barcelona. Lineker failed to score in the 1988 European Championship though this was later blamed on his having hepatitis at the time. He then played at the 1990 World Cup where he scored four goals to help England to the semi finals of the competition. Lineker twice managed to score four goals in one game for England and ended up retiring from international football with an impressive tally of 48 goals in 80 appearances for his country. He finished his international career with just one goal less than England’s record goalscorer Bobby Charlton which led to controversy in his last international game when he was subbed off by manager Graham Taylor despite being eager to equal the record – the substitution is thought to be something Lineker has always regretted.
Lineker was clinical throughout his career and his ability to be the league’s top scorer at three different clubs is highly impressive alongside his ability to adapt to a foreign league and his highly impressive international career. Lineker oozes charm which has led to his successful career after playing football with him lending his voice or appearing in adverts, games, films or television shows. One of the best natural finishers England has ever had, Lineker deserves his place in the Hall of Fame.
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