Life can be tough for those prone to carrying a few extra pounds, particularly when it comes to the fiercely competitive world of sport. Yet the examples of the following top-level performers all show that, with enough talent and determination, weight is no obstacle to success in the beautiful game. Starting at the back, we have former Sheffield United and Chelsea goalkeeper William 'Fatty' Foulkes, who was rumoured to have weighed an astonishing 150 kilos towards the end of his playing career. Yet there was no doubting his ability between the sticks, as testified by his two FA Cup winners' medals and one England cap.
Another Englishman fond of a hearty meal was former Portsmouth, Newcastle United and Coventry City forward Micky Quinn, a prolific goalscorer throughout the 1980s and early 90s. Nicknamed 'Sumo', for obvious reasons, Quinn once responded to terrace chants of "Who ate all the pies?" by sampling a piece of said pastry thrown his way from the stands. Also dubbed the 'Mighty Quinn' in a nod to the 60s hit song by Manfred Mann, he was oft-serenaded by the chant of "He's fat, he's round, he's worth a million pounds!" after firing yet another goal.
The outrageously gifted Paul Gascoigne was another who had to endure jibes about his weight from rival supporters. In one memorable incident in 1988, 'Gazza' picked up a chocolate bar launched his way and theatrically took a couple of bites, before stashing the rest for later. "Gazza lost some of his power when he shed a couple of kilos. It meant he wasn't able to shake off his opponents as well," said a fellow pro not known for calorie-counting, Neil 'Razor' Ruddock. And after he himself once struggled to fit into a pair of shorts, and showing the quick wit that has since made him a highly successful after-dinner speaker, Ruddock was heard to remark that "whoever wore these last must have had a waistline like Kylie Minogue!"
A dish best served cold
"Diego who? That little fat guy's not going to score past me," were the unfortunate words uttered by stick-thin Boca Juniors keeper Hugo Gatti prior to a match against Diego Maradona's Argentinos Juniors in 1980. The brilliant No10 had the last and longest laugh after the following week's encounter, El Pelusa hitting four in his side's 5-2 thumping of Los Xeneizes.
Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas is another to have served up payback in the form of goals, after being the butt of English jokes in the warm-up to a famous 1953 friendly at Wembley Stadium. The 'Galloping Major' promptly wiped the smiles off his tormentors' faces with a majestic all-round display and two goals in an emphatic 6-3 Hungarian win.
Brazilian icon Ronaldo, meanwhile, was the subject of heavy media criticism of his physical condition in the build-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Il Fenomeno answered his critics by taking his personal tally to a record 15 goals spanning three editions of the world showpiece. From Ronaldo we move on to 'Gronaldo', a play on the French word 'gros' created for heavy-set front-runner Jean-Claude Darcheville. Having scored over 100 league goals in a career that has included spells in France, England and Scotland, the striker is now back in his homeland and leading Valenciennes' battle against the drop.
'Eight pizzas a week'
Argentinian former player Alberto Marcico enjoys cult status in French football, both for his midfield brilliance at Toulouse and his overindulgence in Italian cuisine. "It makes me laugh when I remember them calling me 'Fat Beto', but it was true!" says Marcico, who helped knock Maradona's Napoli out of the UEFA Cup in 1986/87. "I used to eat eight pizzas a week and I'd also drink 6 litres of fizzy drinks a day, but I had to stop because I was getting kidney stones," he adds. "If it hadn't been for his injury problems, he'd have been as good as Maradona," said Jacky Paillard, a team-mate of Marcico's at Toulouse. "It's true that he used to eat a lot and our coach would try to control him, but he performed so well out on the pitch that he could do whatever he wanted in his private life."
Staying in South America we discover another fast-food aficionado: Colombian striker Ivan Rene Valenciano. Top scorer domestically on three occasions and part of the Cafetero squad at USA 1994, 'El Bombardero' (The Bomber) made full use of his ample girth and powerful shooting. "I scored 218 goals while ten kilos overweight, not bad eh?" says the man himself. "I always used to go overboard with pizzas and hamburgers, though I do look after myself a bit more now. If I didn't I'd be 200 kilos!"
Other 1990s goal-getters not averse to a few snacks were Argentinian duo Antonio Mohamed and Omar Asad, the latter a scorer for Velez Sarsfield in the 1994 Toyota Intercontinental Cup final against the mighty AC Milan. In terms of sheer size, we must not overlook River Plate's recent loan signing, Cristian Fabbiani. A YouTube favourite thanks to his remarkably quick feet, 'El Ogro' (The Ogre) weighs in at around 102 kilos. "My son's not fat, he's always been a big lad," said the player's mother Mirtha, a cook. "They want to put him on a diet do they? That won't work, they should let him eat and he'll keep scoring goals."
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