Football Features

Remember when Sean Dyche and Ashley Young played in the Championship together? Us neither

By Oliver Young-Myles

Published: 19:30, 28 January 2023

We all remember the most famous football elevens, including the rock-solid centre-back pairings, right and left-sided interchanging wingers and deadly forward partnerships, but there are plenty of duos you could easily forget were teammates.

It’s hard not to remember Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez’s telepathic chemistry or Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand during Newcastle’s ‘entertainers’ era, but these notorious combinations are not the only interesting ones.

Some of these players have since developed a fierce rivalry, others have moved into punditry together and the rest make you wonder how both players were in the same dressing room with a huge gulf in quality between the two.

If you can remember every one of this select bunch then you deserve a solid handshake and a Ballon d’Or award for football knowledge.

Here are the football combos you may have forgotten were teammates.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gerard Piqué (Manchester United, 2003)

Gerard Piqué was plucked from the famous La Masia academy in 2004 and spent four years at Old Trafford before returning to Barcelona. Prior to his signature, Cristiano Ronaldo signed for the Red Devils in 2003 from Sporting CP and the pair were both taken under the wing of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Due to Piqué’s inability to break into the first team, they didn’t play a lot of football together and while Ronaldo flourished during his 291 appearances for the club, Piqué left in 2008.

The Portuguese superstar departed one year later and signed for Real Madrid. After the pair left England, they became huge rivals as Madrid and Barça competed for the Spanish title and Champions League honours.

David Ginola and Wayne Rooney (Everton, 2002)

I mean, can you imagine this deadly connection? It’s a shame that these two once-spectacular footballers were born too far apart, meaning we couldn’t witness both of their A-games during their Goodison Park partnership.

Ginola signed for Everton in 2002 – joining up with a youthfully charged Wayne Rooney – but only played five games for the Toffees before retiring from football. Despite being deemed not good enough by David Moyes, surely Mr Rooney picked up a few tricks from the flamboyant Frenchman?

Danny Dichio and Juan Sebastián Verón (Sampdoria, 1997)

Danny Dichio played with a number of outstanding players during his one season at Sampdoria, including Christian Karambeu, Jürgen Klinsmann and Giuseppe Signori.

He also linked up with Argentine maestro Juan Sebastián Verón. Dichio, who had been on a loan spell at Barnet before moving to Italy, made just two appearances (and scored two goals) before going back out on loan and then signing for Sunderland. Verón spent two years at the club before moving to a very talented Parma side in 1998.

Roberto Mancini and Ade Akinbiyi (Leicester City, 2000)

Now, we’re not sure why but Leicester decided that Ade Akinbiyi needed some support up-front during the 2000/01 season.

The striker managed nine goals during the campaign, but remarkably Roberto Mancini arrived from Lazio to help the big man out.

The Foxes finished 13th in the Premier League and, to be honest, the Italian didn’t really add much to the side, making just four league appearances and failing to score.

Still, the Akinbiyi-Mancini connection is a partnership to remember forever.

Ian Wright and Henrik Larsson (Celtic, 1999)

Two of the best centre-forwards ever to play the game, but did you remember they had played together?

Ian Wright teamed up with the Celtic legend during the 1999/00 season acting as a replacement for the Swedish striker after he broke his leg.

He went on to play eight league games for the club and scored three goals before moving to Burnley at the end of the year.

Henrik Larsson’s Scottish league record speaks for itself. The striker scored 174 goals in 221 appearances and is renowned as one of the best forwards ever to play for the club – a similar accolade that Wright holds at Arsenal.

Ivan Rakitić, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04, 2007)

What a connection these three would have been if they had all stayed at Schalke 04.

Ivan Rakitić spent four years at the German club and established himself as a first-class midfielder alongside Mesut Özil, who progressed through the youth academy and played for the first team between 2006 and 2008.

Manuel Neuer will have overseen the whole transition of talented players come and go during his time at Schalke after spending his entire career there before moving to Bayern Munich in 2011.

Pep Guardiola and Francesco Totti (Roma 2002)

Pep Guardiola signed for Roma in 2002 and joined up with club veteran Francesco Totti. After he left Barcelona he moved to Brescia – where he played with Roberto Baggio –  before moving to Rome but left after just six appearances.

Totti was the polar opposite as he spent his entire career playing at the Giallorossi and although only winning one domestic title, he played over 750 games for the club, scoring over 300 goals.

It will be interesting to see if Totti performs as well as Guardiola should he one day try his hand at management.

Ronaldinho and Jay-Jay Okocha (Paris Saint-Germain, 2001)

After being noticed for his outrageous skills at Gremio, Ronaldinho moved to Europe in 2001 and signed for Paris Saint-Germain.

He joined up with Jay-Jay Okocha – a player who possessed many of the same tricks and skills the Brazilian had in his locker — who played for the French side for three seasons. Imagine the skill moves that were going on in the dressing room? Woof.

Despite both players being blessed with jaw-dropping control and dribbling skills, one of them moved to Barcelona while the other signed for Bolton Wanderers – we’ll let you tell us which.

Toni Kroos and Arturo Vidal (Leverkusen 2009)

Toni Kroos and Arturo Vidal both played together at Bayer Leverkusen before moving onto bigger things.

During the 2009/10 season, the pair combined – with Sami Hyypiä at centre-back – and finished fourth in the Bundesliga. Kroos, who was on loan at the club, moved to back to Bayern Munich at the end of the season before earning a move to Real Madrid in 2014, while Vidal sealed a big-money move to Juventus. The Chilean went on to play in Munich at Kroos’ former club but agreed to sign for Los Blancos’ fierce La Liga rivals, Barcelona, in 2018.

Nigel Quashie and Javier Mascherano (West Ham, 2007)

Javier Mascherano’s 2007 move to West Ham came as a big surprise and the talented central midfielder linked up with a number of wide-eyed Hammers as they looked to maintain their Premier League status.

Remarkably, Alan Pardew didn’t quite understand the Argentinian’s masterful ability and decided to start journeyman Nigel Quashie (and sometimes Hayden Mullins) ahead of him.

Mascherano went on to play just seven games for the club while Quashie just pipped him with eight.

Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane (Leicester, 2012)

Two of the Premier League’s best strikers in recent seasons, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy performed above all expectations for Leicester and Tottenham in 2015-16, but did you know the pair played together during the 2012/13 campaign when Kane spent time on loan at the King Power Stadium?

Kane was a shadow of the first-rate player he so quickly became after leaving Leicester and only managed two goals in 15 appearances for the club.

Meanwhile, Vardy spearheaded the club’s return to the Premier League and scored 16 goals as Leicester finished first in the Championship. A Premier League title followed in 2016.

Of course, the pair have since shared the pitch on a number of occasions with England.

Neymar and Felipe Anderson (Santos, 2009)

Neymar is one of the many talents that has come through the Santos academy and sometimes it’s easy to forget about the players who helped to get him noticed on his way to football stardom.

Talented midfielder Felipe Anderson was one of those players and linked up with the Barcelona man before the pair left for Europe.

Anderson made 68 appearances for the Brazilian side and scored seven goals. He moved to Lazio in 2013 – the same year Neymar signed for Barça – and went on to play a starring role in Serie A before moving to West Ham in 2018. Neymar, on the other hand, has turned into one of the best footballers in the world and is now the most expensive footballer ever having completed a €222m (£198m) switch to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

Jermaine Pennant and Ander Herrera (Real Zaragoza, 2009)

After trying his luck with seven English clubs, Jermaine Pennant decided that it was time to give Spain a go and signed for Real Zaragoza in 2009.

He was joined by a youthful playmaker in Ander Herrera, who had just established himself as a first-team player after developing through the Spanish side’s youth academy.

Pennant went on to play 26 times for Zaragoza but only managed two assists and no goals and swiftly moved back to the English league, signing for Stoke in 2010 and eventually joining non-league outfit Billericay Town in the summer of 2017 for a trial period. He has since retired and spent time in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2018…

Meanwhile, Herrera impressed during his time at the club and signed for Athletic Bilbao, where his midfield performances prompted Manchester United to pay big money to bring him to Old Trafford.

The Spaniard made 189 appearances for United, scoring 20 goals and winning the League Cup, the FA Cup and the Europa League, helping him to pick up two caps for Spain, before moving to PSG in 2019.

David Beckham and David Moyes (Preston, 1995)

Yes, amazingly, Moysie and Becks actually played together at Preston during the 1994–95 season while the young midfielder was on loan from Manchester United – who Moyes would later manage.

In his second of two goals for Preston – the first coming directly from a corner on his debut – Beckham scored what would become a trademark freekick against Fulham.

Speaking to FourFourTwo about the moment, Lancashire Evening Post photographer Kevin McGuinness said: “It was the classic Beckham free-kick, over the wall. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. David Moyes nearly squashed him in the celebration.”

Paulo Dybala and Kyle Lafferty (Palermo, 2013-14)

While many of Palermo’s best players departed following relegation from Serie A at the end of the 2012-13 season, the teenage Argentine striker Paulo Dybala stayed put, following a tough debut campaign that yielded only three league goals from 27 matches.

In a bid to get the talented forward firing, Palermo signed Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty, who had worked with their ex-head coach Gennaro Gattuso at Swiss club FC Sion the prior season.

The unlikely duo combined well, with Lafferty outscoring Dybala 11 goals to five, to help fire the Sicilian club back into Serie A, although he was sold to Norwich shortly afterwards after being branded an “out of control womaniser” by Gattuso’s successor Giuseppe Iachini, according to Football Italia.

Since that campaign, the two players club careers have headed in vastly different paths. Lafferty recently returned to Scotland with Kilmarnock, while Dybala has dovetailed with Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus. Lafferty will probably tell you he taught Dybala everything he knows…

Eric Dier and Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon, 2012-14)

Once upon a time Eric Dier and Marcos Rojo were teammates in Portugal with Sporting CP.

Dier moved to Portugal from England when he was just seven years old and he was enrolled in the Sporting academy aged 10 before signing professional terms in 2010.

He progressed to the first-team at the start of the 2012-13 season at the same time Marcos Rojo joined the club, following a disappointing year in Russian football with Spartak Moscow.

The duo performed at the heart of Sporting’s defence on occasion that season, before going their separate ways in the same summer, both joining Premier League clubs.

Dier has made 274 appearances for Spurs, scoring 11 goals, while Marcos Rojo made 122 appearances for Man Utd, scoring twice, before joining Boca Juniors on a permanent earlier this year.

The Argentinian won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League at Old Trafford, while Dier has won nothing, recently coming up short in the League Cup Final against Man City.

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Sean Dyche and Ashley Young (Watford 2003-05)

More mind-blowing than Davids Moyes and Beckham playing together at Preston, or even Kyle Lafferty and Paulo Dybala spearheading Palermo’s attack is the fact that Sean Dyche — one of England’s last great proprietors of 4-4-2 — and Ashley Young — former Manchester United captain and current Inter Milan wing-back — were once teammates in the Championship with Watford.

Dyche was coming toward the end of his career by the time Young emerged from the Hornets’ youth system, but still managed 78 games across three years at Vicarage Road in his centre-back berth. The final two years of that spell saw Young come through and become Watford’s most prized asset, eventually earning them promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs in 2006, by which time Dyche had moved on to Northampton Town, where he ended his career.

Honourable Mentions:

Laurent Blanc and Robbie Keane (Inter Milan, 2000)

Frank De Boer and Alan Hutton (Rangers, 2004)

Nicolas Anelka and Youri Djorkaeff (PSG, 1996)

Claudio Caniggia and Gavin Rae (Dundee, 2000)

Rivaldo and Casemiro (Sao Paulo, 2011)

Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile (Pescara, 2011)

Pep Guardiola and Roberto Baggio (Brescia, 2001)

Mats Hummels and Oliver Kahn/Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich, 2007)

Luis Suarez and Edgar Davids (Ajax, 2007-08)

Isco and Ruud van Nistelrooy (Malaga, 2011-12)

Fernando Hierro and Joey O’Brien (Bolton, 2004-05)

David Beckham and Marco Verratti (PSG, 2013)

Joe Cole and Eden Hazard (Lille, 2011-12)

Samuel Eto’o and Willian (Anzhi Makhachkala, 2013)

Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldo (Inter Milan, 1998-99)

Bonus ball – Usain Bolt and Ross McCormack (Central Coast Mariners, 2018)

Do not adjust your screen, do not book an emergency appointment at Specsavers. Yes, you read that correctly, Usain Bolt played up-front for Australian side Central Coast Mariners in October 2018, with Ross McCormack playing just behind him.

While McCormack – now a free agent having been released by Aston Villa – scoring a goal in the game against Macarthur South West United is no real surprise, the fact that Bolt managed to grab two goals is quite remarkable.

The Jamaican sprinter didn’t let it go to his head though, with McCormack stating (via Birmingham Mail): “The best thing about Usain Bolt is he’s so humble. He’s fitted in well with the lads.”

However, Bolt wasn’t offered a professional contract by the Mariners in the end