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50 Greatest players in World Cup History: #50 Gary Lineker

Gary Lineker represented England in two FIFA World Cups
Gary Lineker represented England in two FIFA World Cups
Rohith Nair
Modified 07 May 2018

Gary Lineker, as we all know, is a very well-known figure in the football community. He's a charming host on one of the most-watched football shows on the planet, a witty figure on Twitter with over 7 million followers, and a legend of the game we all love.

Of course, trolls love to bring up his other claim to fame from time to time - when he literally sh*t himself on the football pitch in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. But Lineker isn't a man who shied away from the moment. He embraced the funny side of it too - as did we all - and everyone moved on.

But in this day and age of social media, the younger generation knows nothing more about his exploits than the fact that he was an England player who scored 48 goals for the Three Lions (in just 80 appearances) - now third on the list behind Wayne Rooney and Sir Bobby Charlton.

Many don't know that Lineker almost never kicked a football professionally. At one stage in his life, he was keener on picking up the cricket bat rather than kick a football about.

It wasn't until he turned 16 that he took football as a serious profession and was awarded a place at the Leicester City Academy.

Everyone is glad he did - probably even that one teacher who wrote in his report card that he "concentrates too much on football" and also claiming that he would "never make a living at that".

He helped the Foxes gain promotion to the First Division, he then had a season at Everton - the most prolific of his career with 38 goals - and then spent three years at Barcelona before moving to Tottenham Hotspur for another three seasons.

Wherever Lineker went, goals followed. He was never a big player who dominated the final third. He cut a frail figure and measured only about 5'9". But what he lacked in height he made up for with heart. His attitude on the pitch is what carried him throughout his career.


Even when he wore the white England shirt, the game was never short of goals. A third of his international goals came at Wembley. But it was his World Cup goals that made him an England star and his exploits set a milestone for the English forwards of today to aspire to.

In all, Lineker has scored 10 goals in FIFA World Cup finals - more than any other Englishman. The next best is Sir Geoff Hurst with six - the only man to score a hat-trick in a final when they lifted the trophy in 1966.

Lineker only played in two World Cups - the 1986 edition in Mexico and the 1990 tournament in Italy. In 1986, he walked away with the Golden Boot after having scored six goals - ahead of even Diego Maradona. In 1990, he scored four - losing out on the Golden Boot to Italy's Salvatore Schillaci and Czechoslovakia's Tomáš Skuhravý.

A genuine poacher who was lethal when he received the ball in the box, Lineker could wriggle his way out of any man marking him and make himself available for the final ball before it was blasted into the net - be it with his feet or his head.

The 1986 edition saw him grab a hat-trick against Poland and a brace against Paraguay - important goals that saw the Three Lions qualify for the quarter-finals where they played arguably the most-talked-about game in World Cup history.


A Maradona masterclass had seen the Three Lions eliminated but even there Lineker had managed to score a consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat that had ramifications for years to come - both on a sporting level and a political level.

In the 1990 edition, Lineker was again England's top goalscorer. A goal against Republic of Ireland and a brace against Cameroon had helped England reach the semi-finals.

That brace against the African side is memorable for the way he brought England back from the brink of a quarter-final exit.

Up against the dominant West Germany side in the semi-final, it was his goal again that had seen England equalise in the 80th minute. The match went to penalties and Lineker managed to score there too before Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failed to convert to allow the Germans to qualify for the final where they beat Argentina to win the trophy.

"Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." - Gary Lineker

Unfortunately, Lineker retired in 1992 and he never took part in another World Cup. But in 1986 and 1990, he had given The Three Lions a ray of hope of repeating the heroics of the 1966 team, narrowly losing out to two superior teams who eventually lifted the title.

Nevertheless, he walked into the English Football Hall of Fame and even received the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1990 for never receiving a booking in his career - a period of 15 years!

This is the first article in our series 50 Greatest World Cup Players. Check in every day to see who all make the list.

Published 25 Apr 2018, 18:12 IST
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