With the Academy Awards upon us, UEFA.com’s resident film critic* assesses the acting performances of the many footballers who have trodden the boards with varying degrees of success over the years. Make your way down the red carpet as we count down to our own football Oscar.
Note: Footballers need to have at least attempted to act to be considered; wandering around in the background kicking a ball does not register.
11 David Beckham
Injury deprived him of a cameo in 2002’s Bend it like Beckham, but Becks had his acting day. He appeared as himself in all three Goal movies before a speaking role in iconic British sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Asked if he would be taking up acting full time he admitted he was a bit “too stiff”. He is not being modest.
10 Paul Breitner
The former Bayern and Germany star had two film roles separated by a decade. His first was the more eye-catching, playing a bandit-hunting soldier named Sergeant Stark in a Spaghetti Western titled Potato Fritz (1976). Though his hair was majestic, he was as lost as we were amid a confusing plot. At least he sounded OK – all his lines were redubbed after filming.
9 Giorgi Loria
Georgia national-team goalkeeper Loria starred as himself in What Happened in Kiev (2013), a remake of The Hangover. He and three friends get worse for wear during a ski trip and wake up in Kyiv minus the keeper on the day of a big match against Spain. Calamity ensues as they search for Loria, son of actor Nugzar. They find him in a suitcase.
8 Kevin O’Callaghan
If Pelé, Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Søren Lindsted, Paul Van Himst, John Wark, Werner Roth, Mike Summerbee, Hallvar Thoresen and Co Prins featured in Escape to Victory (1981), O’Callaghan eclipsed them all. A Republic of Ireland winger, he was the keeper who needed his arm broken to allow Sylvester Stallone to play. “Make it a clean break, guv,” he told Michael Caine. Like the bone break, O’Callaghan’s performance was short but sweet.
7 Dragoslav Šekularac
Šekularac played himself in 1962 musical comedy Šeki is Filming, Watch Yourself. Now a kitsch classic, at the time it was deemed so bad that its director, Marijan Vajda, was expelled from the Yugoslav national film guild. Šekularac did not sing but deserves extra credit because in 1962 he also played a bit of football: inspiring Yugoslavia to the World Cup semis.
6 Ally McCoist
Former Scotland and Rangers forward McCoist appears in A Shot at Glory (2000) as Jackie McQuillan, a footballer recruited from Arsenal by a second-tier Scottish side owned by Michael Keaton. No stranger to the camera, McCoist warms to the role and his efforts are certainly more credible than manager Robert Duvall’s Scottish accent.
5 Zinédine Zidane
Most on this list are egregious and outgoing; not so Zidane. Yet the mercurial Frenchman was not hampered by shyness during his turn in 2008’s Asterix at the Olympic Games. The Real Madrid boss played Numerodis (Number 10), an Egyptian who tests out a new round object. His full head of hair takes some getting used to.
4 Åke Lindman
Lindman looked like a film star, acted like a film star … was a film star. Football came first, though. A teak-tough defender, he won two Finnish titles and 26 caps during a notable career, figuring at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He was more famous as an actor, however, acting and directing on small screen and big.
3 Vinnie Jones
Tough guy on the pitch, tough guy off it. A labourer while a semi-professional at the start of his career with Wealdstone, once the former Wales midfielder Jones quit playing his switched to acting and has not looked back since making his debut in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Well, there was his role as Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand but nobody came out of that well. Let us instead give credit for his scene-stealing turn as Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch (2000) and of course his football-related roles in Mean Machine (jailed ex-England captain), EuroTrip (hooligan) and She’s the Man (school coach).
2 Sweden, 1974
The entire Sweden team appeared in Fimpen (1974), the tale of a six-year-old’s rise to soccer stardom. In one memorable scene, the players take turns reading him bedtime stories although only Ove Kindvall and Ronnie Hellström succeed in falling asleep. Coach Georg Ericson was the unlikely star, a surprising natural in front of the camera.
And the Oscar goes to …
1 Eric Cantona
Seagull-hating Cantona was an enigmatic football hero, an unpredictable figure whose very presence inspired wonderment. That aura has quite naturally transferred to the big screen. Since debuting in the Oscar-winning Elizabeth (1998), Cantona has had parts in nearly 30 movies and even played a version of himself in Ken Loach’s eponymous Looking for Eric.
Honourary Oscar: Vlasta Burian
One of the finest Czech comedians and actors, Burian was Sparta Praha goalkeeper for eight years in the 1910s and 1920s. He reputedly lost his job in the theatre at one point when a cup game went to extra time, meaning he missed his performance. He did find a balance between his two loves, though, and went on to work as a goalkeeping coach alongside his onstage exploits.
*Resident film critic status was earned by virtue of the author living opposite a cinema in Hammersmith for a couple of years a decade ago.