Football Features

The last two FWA Footballer of the Year winners came through Soccer AM’s ‘Skill Skool’

By William Eldridge

Published: 14:55, 24 July 2020

Back in the days where Tim Lovejoy preferred hosting Saturday morning football shows to Sunday brunches with Simon Rimmer, Soccer AM was considered a vital ingredient to a typical weekend of football entertainment. 

Of course, Soccer AM is still running after nearly a quarter of a century of broadcasting. But one fondly remembered segment missing from Soccer AM’s latest guise is Skill Skool.

So fondly remembered, in fact, that Jurgen Klopp may have brought it up while congratulating Jordan Henderson on his FWA Footballer of the Year award win (well, either that or an even older video he did for a mate).

“[Henderson’s] resilience made him the player he is now,” said Klopp at Friday’s press conference, before added: “I saw videos of Jordan as a kid with great skills. Oxlade found them and showed them to us!”

So what was Skill Skool? Well, it involved two youth footballers from the same club going head-to-head to see which player had the greater ability in terms of tricks and showboating, all in front of their extremely excitable teammates.

Across the years there were a fair few Skill Skool battles, some of which even involved recognisable faces, including the two most recent Footballer of the Year winners.

1. Raheem Sterling vs Christian Nanetti

England’s man of the moment was just a humble youth academy player at Queen’s Park Rangers when he participated in Skill Skool in 2010. At just the age of 15, Sterling took on teammate Nanetti to see who had the skills to pay those bills.

Nanetti won the battle on the day, but it’s fair to say Sterling won the (footballing) war.

Sterling has gone on to become one of the best footballers in the Premier League, dominating the opposition under the guidance of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

The former Liverpool talent already has a Premier League title and three EFL Cup trophies (he scored the match-winning penalty against Chelsea this season) and could add to his trophy haul with a Champions League win next month.

On the international front, Sterling has also established himself as a member of Gareth Southgate’s ‘leadership group’ within the England set-up.

Meanwhile, since leaving QPR, Nanetti has played for 14 different clubs and currently plies his trade with National League South side Welling United. The Italian’s best spell was with Havant & Waterlooville, where he made 96 appearances, scoring 22 goals.

2. Jordan Henderson vs Nathan Luscombe

As promised, here’s another England international who in his younger days took part in the best freestyle football competition on television. It was 2008 and Liverpool captain Jordan ‘Hendo’ Henderson was a Sunderland youth player dreaming of breaking through the ranks at the Stadium of Light, as was Luscombe.

Like Sterling, Henderson lost out to his teammate, as Luscombe whipped up the greater cheers from their Sunderland youth academy teammates.

Having started out as a winger, Henderson broke into the Sunderland starting XI and after impressing scouts from Merseyside, made the big move to Liverpool in 2011.

Since then he has become a central midfielder and made over 350 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, winning the League Cup, Champions League, Club World Cup and Premier League. He’s also surpassed the 50- cap mark for his country and is the Football Writer Association’s reigning Footballer of the Year.

Luscombe left Sunderland without a single first-team appearance and was last seen playing for Celtic Nation in the Northern League.

3. Danny Ings vs Muzzy Holmes

A curious Liverpool theme seems to be developing here. All three players mentioned so far having worn the famous red strip at some point in their career. Perhaps their scouting team were big fans of the show?

Ings started his career with now Premier League side AFC Bournemouth and took on Holmes to see who was top dog. Flicks, tricks and a kick in the privates sealed the deal for Ings, who came out on top.

The talented striker has gone on to become a goalscorer worthy of Premier League, netting goals for the likes of Burnley, Liverpool and now Southampton. With the latter, Ings did his utmost to fire the Saints well clear of relegation from the Premier League this season.

If it wasn’t for injuries, Ings could be playing at the very top level right now. He’d probably have more than just the one England cap, at least.

As for Muzzy, the former Bournemouth trainee failed to follow Ings’ path into professional football, never to be seen in a Cherries shirt.

4. Britt Assombalonga vs Stephen Hamilton-Forbes

A man who has forged his career predominantly in the Championship, Britt Assombalonga is a name recognisable for more than its sheer number of syllables alone.

Starting his career at Watford, the then 17-year-old failed to make his mark at the Hornets before being shipped off to League One side Peterborough United in 2013, who broke their all-time transfer record by signing the DR Congo international for £1.1 million.

After just one season at the club – where he smashed in 33 goals in 58 games for the Posh – Championship outfit Nottingham Forest opted to take a chance on the centre-forward.

He scored 30 goals in 69 games across three seasons – his second year was disrupted by injury – and Middlesbrough were convinced enough to spend a club-record £15 million on Assombalonga, where he remains today.

Hamilton-Forbes was last seen playing for Enfield Town FC.

5. Nathan Redmond vs Akwasi Asante

For a man who is only 26, it seems as though Redmond has been around for well beyond his years. Born in the Midlands, Redmond broke through the ranks at Birmingham City but not before taking on Asante in the Soccer AM Skill Skool.

Redmond’s breakthrough season was the 2011/12 campaign during which he made 37 appearances for Birmingham before sealing a move to Norwich City.

His debut season in the Premier League resulted in relegation with the Canaries but they returned one year later, only to face the disappointment of relegation once more.

This alerted Southampton, who spent roughly £10m to bring him to the club where he remains at the moment. He also has one England cap to his name.

Asante left Birmingham in 2014 and made his way through a host of non-league clubs before moving to Chester in 2019. He scored an impressive seven goals in his opening five matches for the club, but since moved on to Gloucester City earlier this year, throughout his career he’s roughly averaged a goal every three games.

6. Matthew Briggs vs Danny Hoesen

Lastly, and quite possibly, the least familiar name on the list, Matthew Briggs was a man born and bred in the Fulham youth system alongside Danny Hoesen.

Briggs was a record-breaker in 2007 after former Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez decided to introduce the left-back into the first-team and he became the Premier League’s youngest-ever player at the age of 16 years and 65 days old.

From there, Briggs made fleeting appearances for the club across several seasons before leaving in 2015 to join Colchester United.

Sixty-five appearances later, moves to Chesterfield and then Barnet developed before he moved to Isthmian D1 North outfit Maldon & Tiptree.

Hoesen left Fulham without a single appearance but made 44 showings for Ajax before moving on to MLS side San Jose Earthquakes.

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