Four footballers whose names mattered more than talent

Football's a tough business, it helps if you've got someone on the inside who can get a foot in the door, though sometimes things go too far...


We saw reports today that the new owner of the Greek third division side Ionikos has replaced the club’s president – with his teenage son!

Maybe he’s put in the hard hours of Football Manager and FIFA to earn the position, but something doesn’t feel quite right about a 16-year-old having a say in the running of a football club.

It got us thinking about some other examples where someone’s name mattered more than merit in getting a football gig…

Colonel Gaddafi and Al-Saadi Gaddafi

It’s fair to say that back in the day having the surname Gaddafi could open a lot of doors for you in Libya – if it didn’t, there was always the threat of death to try and move things along.

VENICE, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 8: Saadi Kadhafi attends the Kadhafi Party at the Westin Excelsior on the ninth day of the 62nd Venice Film Festival on September 8, 2005 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Win with’s football odds, it might not buy Juventus, but it’s a start

But who would’ve expected it to garner you a Serie A career too?

Now, we say “career”, but it’s in the sense that William Prunier had a Man United career, as the Colonel’s son made just two brief appearances for sides in the Italian top-flight.

He did enjoy a spell in Italian football administration too, his father’s position allowing him to take a stake in Italian giants Juventus when they were at a low ebb following the Calciopoli scandal.

And, in fairness to the young Gaddafi, he did make 366 appearances for Al-Ittihad Tripoli in the Libyan league – though we’re saying nothing about who picked the team – and he also collected 18 international caps for Libya, scoring two goals.

Things haven’t quite been so swell since then for the Gaddafi clan, but he’ll always have ten minutes in a preseason Udinese friendly to comfort him.

Neymar Sr and Neymar Jr

The father in this relationship apparently enjoyed a career as a journeyman in the lower reaches of the Brazilian football league system, but his big sporting break happened when his son’s image became one the most marketable commodities on the planet.

Papa Neymar now manages all his son’s commercial affairs, acting as his agent and advisor – services provided at a competitive rate we’re sure.

Brazil’s forward Neymar reacts after a tackle during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Their business relationship came under real scrutiny following the younger’s move from Santos to Barcelona in 2013, a move that ultimately cost the club president Sandro Rosell his job, and the complexity of which could rival one of the Brazilian’s elaborate “simulation” routines.

Neymar has since moved on to PSG, a decision apparently motivated by the desire to get out of Messi’s shadow, though he now finds his reputation being obscured by another, younger, (better?) team mate in Kylian Mbappe. There’s a lingering sense that these moves haven’t been made in Neymar Jr’s best footballing interest, but rather in the interest of Neymar™ with his father continuing to control his fate to the detriment of his career.

Whatever happens the footballer, the commercial entity will likely continue to generate revenue, which is good news for all the Neymars involved.

Johan and Jordi Cruyff

Look, if Jordi had been Jordi de Kock – wait, no, de Brun, that’s better, Jordi de Brun – he probably would’ve had a reasonable career as a footballer, but would he have got the chance to play for Barcelona and Man United without the cachet of a surname that conjures so many images of casual football brilliance?

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 7: West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier catches the ball in front of Dutch forward Johan Cruyff as defender Franz Beckenbauer (L) looks on, 07 July 1974 in Munich, during the World Cup soccer final. Host West Germany beat The Netherlands 2-1 to earn its second World Cup title, twenty years after its first win over Hungary (3-2), 04 July 1954 in Bern. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The younger Cruyff was aware of this to an extent, opting to wear “Jordi” on his shirt rather than his illustrious surname when allowed to by league authorities, and the pressure of playing under his father’s celebrated image must’ve been a burden as much as a benefit at times.

The midfielder came through the Barca underage structure and graduated to the first team while his father was still boss of the first team.

This was, unfortunately, an era when the Blaugrana could boast the likes of Romario, Michael Laudrup, Georghe Hagi, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov among others on their staff at any one time.

Young Jordi didn’t last too long.

He landed on his feet with a move to Manchester, but injuries and lack of form never saw him make much of an impact. Red Devils fans could take some pleasure in his 88th minute equaliser for Alaves in the 2001 UEFA Cup final against Liverpool… though their Merseyside rivals did grind that out 5-4 in extra-time.

Zlatko and Niko Kranjcar

While some may think Niko Kranjcar enjoyed a father-son-like relationship with Harry Redknapp, the Croat following the well-travelled manager from Spurs to Portsmouth and on to Queens Park Rangers in his time in England, he did in fact have a footballing relationship with his actual father, Zlatko.

During his tenure as manager of the Croatian national team, Kranjcar senior crowbarred his son into the 2006 World Cup starting lineup.

Adding an extra bit of Balkan buzz to this nepotistic nonsense, Niko’s transfer from Dinamo Zagreb to their arch rivals Hadjuk Split had, well, split domestic football in his home nation in the months before the tournament, meaning quite a lot of people were already pissed with him before his dad made him the attacking fulcrum of the national side for the tournament.

That red-and-white-chequered side included a host of top-level names, a young Luka Modric among them, but crashed out of their group, Australia taking the second spot to Brazil that Croatia would’ve been pencilled in for by many.

Daddy Kranjcar was fired after the failure, and lost his son to a UK footballing odyssey.

Sometimes loyalty to family can be mistake, though I’m sure Ionikos’s imminent signing of Cherno Samba can only work out well…

When it comes to football odds, there’s only one name that matters –

What do you think?