6 footballers who turned their hand to other sports

There's some impressive career changes among this lot

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When you played football as a kid, the best players in your school team weren’t just good at one sport.

Some might have been laser-focused on football, even having dreams of playing professionally, but you always knew they’d have been great at any other sport if they put their mind to it.

It’s natural, then, that we’ve seen plenty of players take up a new sport – some when they hit retirement age, others a great deal earlier.

Here’s six who were able to make the transition.

Curtis Woodhouse – Boxing

We often hear about top boxers making seven figures for big fights, but Woodhouse was transferred for a seven-figure sum before even stepping into the ring. That fee came when he was a footballer in his early twenties, moving from Sheffield United to Birmingham City and helping the Blues reach the Premier League for the first time.

Now 40, Woodhouse can boast more than a decade combining professional boxing and non-league football, the latter both as a player and a manager. The England under-21 international can also boast a not-too-shabby professional boxing record of 24 wins and seven defeats, including a split-decision loss to a then-undefeated Frankie Gavin back in 2011.

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Grant Holt – Wrestling

We’re going out on a limb here, but we reckon Holt is the only professional wrestler to have also scored 15 goals in a Premier League season. As a striker at Norwich, Holt outscored the likes of Edin Džeko and Mario Balotelli in the 2011-12 season, and ended his professional career with just shy of 200 goals in all competitions.

He’s stayed in decent shape since retiring in 2018, though you have to be in decent nick to step into a wrestling ring. And he did more than just enter: he won a 40-man royal rumble on his World Association of Wrestling debut that year.

He’s not even the only ex-footballer to go down that route, with former Germany international Tim Wiese joining WWE and making his professional debut in 2016.

Adam Gemili – Athletics

Every youth football team seems to have that one absolutely rapid player, often a winger or full-back, who prompts touchline dads to suggest they should pack it all in and become a sprinter. Sometimes, as with Gemili, they actually follow that advice.

After spending time at Chelsea and Reading’s academies, and playing non-league football as a teenager, it was only at the age of 18 – after qualifying for the London Olympics – that he gave up on football altogether.

Multiple European Championships golds and a fourth-place finish in the 200m final in Rio suggest he made the right call.

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Petr Čech – Ice Hockey

Čech won all there is to win in club football, and is the Czech Republic’s most capped player of all time. If anyone deserves a crack at another sport after retiring, then, it’s probably the former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper.

Stopping shots in football might not be identical to stopping shots in ice hockey, but his fast start for Guildford Phoenix suggest there might at least be a bit of crossover. He kept out two penalties on his debut for the Phoenix, whose home ground is the wonderfully named ‘Guildford Spectrum’. And yes, for any Arsenal fans reading and keeping score, that’s more than he managed in his entire three-season stint with the Gunners.

Josh Lambo – American Football

You know how certain goalkeepers seem to be brilliant at kicking the ball really far and really accurately, to the point that they seem almost wasted in football. Well, sometimes they agree. After playing in goal for the US at an Under-20 World Cup and signing with MLS, Lambo soon decided his skills would be put to better use as an American football kicker.

In 2019, playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he made 33 of 34 field goals – the highest success percentage in the entire NFL – and has a career conversion rate of 88.5%.

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Paolo Maldini – Tennis

If you were to pick one footballer who you’d back to be the best at any sport he put his mind to, Maldini would be a leading contender. The Italian was one of the best around during his time at AC Milan, and has the air of that high school jock who was brilliant at everything but never rubbed it in so you could never really hate him.

Maldini qualified for a tennis tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour – on reflection, tennis felt like the obvious move for someone so well put together – and made his tour debut aged 49. He and his partner lost in straight sets, but there’s still a part of us wondering whether he could have made it if he’d started younger. Our conclusion is ‘of course he could, he’s Paolo Maldini.

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