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Play Like Your Football Heroes - Matt Oldfield and Seth Burkett

We're massive fans of Matt Oldfield's 'Football Heroes' series in this son, Finn, has a huge selection of them, and loves finding out more about his favourite football stars.

In this latest edition to the series, author Matt Oldfield teams up with professional footballer Seth Burkett to not only tell us more about the footballers, their lives and the story of their journeys, but to teach us some of the training tricks they use to help them perfect their skills and be the superstar players they are.

I loved the mix of facts, stories about the stars' careers and challenges and practical ideas for young players to try for themselves. With challenge tasks to complete alongside the reading, and fun illustrations by Tom Jennings throughout, this hits the target in many ways, and is another surefire winner in this series! (Sorry...that's as many football puns as I could manage!)

I'm thrilled to also be able to share a guest post for from the authors with their 'Top 5' footballers of all time today.

Guest post:

Asking me to pick my Top 5 favourite footballers is a bit like asking Bruce Bogtrotter to choose his favourite kind of cake.  ALL OF THEM – I LOVE ALL OF THEM! But after spending a silly number of hours on this, here they are – my Top 5 football heroes, who would also make a pretty fearsome 5-a-side team I reckon. Enjoy.  1) James Ward-Prowse As a massive Southampton fan, I was desperate to include our captain and midfield maestro in ‘Play Like Your Football Heroes’, but Seth wouldn’t let me. Only joking, JWP just didn’t quite fit in amongst the Ronaldos and Messis of the football world, even though he is an absolute free-kick king (more on practising those in the ‘Train Smart’ section of the book). So instead, I’ve been able to include him here in this blog post. Thanks Toppsta! Other than his set piece skills, my two favourite things about JWP are his work-rate and dedication. He’s not the biggest or the fastest player on the pitch, but you can guarantee that he will never stop running and tackling. When it comes to dedication to his team, JWP just won’t be beaten. He really is the ultimate pro. We’re talking about a guy who played every single minute of the last two Premier League seasons in a row; who has been at Southampton since he was eight (even though he’s from Portsmouth – Boooooooooo!) and who has just signed a new five-year contract. He’s a club legend already, and he’s only 26. Oh and one final thing to end this love letter to JWP – his boots are the best. Forget flashy orange or neon blue; he always goes for old-school, classic black. Now that’s my kind of football hero. 2) Virgil van Dijk ‘Another Saints player, Matt!’ you might be thinking, but that’s not why he’s here, I promise. I love Virgil because he’s exactly the kind of defender I wish I could be when I’m out on the football pitch –calm, quick, powerful, and brilliant on the ball. But instead, sadly I’m the exact opposite – stressed, slow, weak and sloppy in possession! Never mind, enough about me; back to Virgil. He’s one of those footballers who confuses the line between hero and superhero, because he’s absolutely amazing at everything: heading, tackling, blocking shots, outmuscling strikers, playing long passes, reading the game, telling teammates what to do. Everything! Maybe he isn’t human; that would make sense, actually. Anyway, I shouldn’t say any more about Virgil because he’s in our book, ‘Play Like Your Football Heroes’, and Seth won’t be happy if I spoil it.  3) Wendie Renard From one world-class centre-back to another. Some people actually call Renard ‘the French Van Dijk’, but has Virgil ever scored 14 goals in one season? I don’t think so! Wendie has and not once, but twice. At 6ft 2in, she certainly has height on her side, but what makes her so brilliant is that she’s as skilful with her feet as she is with her head. In total, she has almost 150 goals for club (Lyon) and country (France), to go with 14 Division 1 Féminine titles and seven UEFA Women's Champions League trophies. Wendie is a born winner, that’s for sure, and a born leader too. Her calm personality and organisation skills make her the perfect captain. Plus, her remarkable courage and strength, which are reflected in Renard’s own life story. She was born in Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean Sea, where ‘The boys and I would take off from school at the end of the day and we’d head to the beach and swim, and then play football. But even then I knew: I needed to play twice as hard, twice as smart, to get respect.’ When Wendie was eight, her father sadly died, and it was the beautiful game that gave her a purpose and a dream to work towards. A professional football player – that was what she was determined to become when she was older, even if that job didn’t really exist for women at that time.  Seven years later, Wendie flew to France for a trial and she was so terrific that Lyon signed her straight away. And look at her now – captain of Lyon, captain of France, a seven-time European champion playing in defence alongside Virgil Van Dijk in my fantasy football heroes 5-a-side team. I wonder if she would outscore even… 4) Lionel Messi When kids ask ‘Who do you think is the best player in the world?’, Messi always seems like a really boring answer, but he is – he’s that good. I do admire Cristiano Ronaldo for his winning mentality and incredible talent, but in terms of pure football magic, he’s no match for Messi. FACT! The Messi I love the most, though, isn’t the one who just signed for glory-buying PSG (Boooooooooo!) or the one who has looked pretty grumpy at Barcelona for the last few years. No, my favourite Messi was the one that ruled the football world from about 2008 through to 2015, winning five La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies, scoring stunning goal after stunning goal, and making even fantastic defenders look like fools. That Messi was the most magical of all. When we were writing ‘Play Like Your Football Heroes’ and picking superstars to represent different aspects of the game – Train Smart, Think Smart, Live Smart and Play Smart as we’ve called them in the book – we realised that Messi worked as a perfect example of pretty much everything. Practising with purpose, playing with confidence, working together with his teammates, having fun on the football pitch - he does all those things and many, many more. So in the end, we decided to start the book with him and one brilliantly reassuring fact:  ‘Right now, you are better at football than Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi was at one point in his life.’ Hope that helps! 5) Gianfranco Zola Growing up, my two greatest football heroes were Matt Le Tissier and Gianfranco Zola. I think I’ve talked enough about Southampton players here, so I’ll talk about Zola instead. When I was ten years old, I loved the little Italian so much that I even became a Chelsea fan for a bit. [Sorry Saints, I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing!] There was always something so happy and fun about Zola, and that was even before he dressed up to sell pizza (see photo) and then opened his own ice cream parlour. On the football pitch, he was a forward who played with such freedom and creativity. This quote from his former Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, is perfect:  ‘Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizard must try.’ To see Zola’s magic for yourselves, check out the time he danced through the Manchester United defence or the cheeky flick he scored against Norwich City. What a hero!

Thank you to Kirsten at Walker Books for sending me a copy of this book to review and for inviting me on the blogtour.

Follow them as @WalkerBooksUK on Twitter or find out more about this book.on their website:

Thanks to Matt and Seth for the guest post (@footieherobooks and @sethburkett on Twitter)

Listen to them talk more about the book here:

Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) September 2021

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