9 of football’s most hardcore gamers: Sancho, Neymar, Ozil…
Jadon Sancho has come under criticism for spending too much time playing FIFA on his Xbox – but he’s far from the first footballer to spend his downtime unwinding with a controller in hand.
From Fortnite to FIFA, tons of today’s top professionals spend hours playing video games, with some even having their own streaming channels and custom-built set-ups. If this is what managers have to worry about, we’ve certainly come on a long way from the days of footballers sinking pints and smoking tabs in their free time.
Here are nine players who are particularly known for their love of gaming.
“Even during Sancho’s time in Dortmund, his discipline was always a topic of discussion internally,” claims a recent report from German outlet Bild.
“He was often late for training and after the games he often flew away in a private jet for a day or two.
“But the biggest problem, which the bosses still believe, is that Sancho doesn’t sleep enough because he often plays on the console or computer at night until the early hours of the morning. A lifestyle that doesn’t fit the working-class mentality in the Ruhr area at all.”
Disciplinary issues have reared their head once again at Manchester United – and there are suggestions that late nights up gaming are part of the problem that’s seen Sancho banished from first-team training by Erik ten Hag.
Sancho was said to have been online playing FIFA Pro Clubs during the Red Devils’ recent Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, while he was also seen playing the new EA Sports FC 24 in the dead of night earlier this week.
Jadon Sancho’s online playing FIFA Pro Clubs whilst the team prepare for Bayern (A) tonight. pic.twitter.com/TLe1gIfQ2Y
— MC (@UtdMicah) September 20, 2023
The French winger has enjoyed a real resurgence these past couple of years. He enjoyed his best spell of form at Barcelona during his final 18 months at the club and has made a bright start after this summer’s big money move to PSG.
Dembele’s trajectory can be an inspiration for Sancho, because media reports from back in 2018 are eerily similar to those of the Manchester United attacker today.
“We have to help him so that he realises that football is a 24-hour day job,” Gerard Pique told reporters after Dembele was omitted from Barcelona’s squad for a match against Real Betis after failing to turn up to training.
Spanish outlet AS reported that Dembele had slept in late after staying up all night gaming with his mates.
Arguably football’s most famous gamer, Ozil has made no secret of his love of Fortnite over the years and even set up a streaming channel on Twitch.
The World Cup winner clocked up an ungodly amount of hours on Fortnite. Considerably more than he spent on the football pitch in the latter years of his career.
There were reports that Ozil was set to become a ‘pro gamer’ when he hung up his boots earlier this year, but we’re yet to see that happen.
Mesut Ozil is seen by many as the saviour. Only if it’s Fortnite you’re playing, I’m afraid. At an average of 15mins a game, he’s spent almost two whole months on a PlayStation shooting 12-year-olds. Without sleep. This tells us a lot. #AFC #Arsenal #TheArsenal pic.twitter.com/VSd7BzMS94
— Matt Scott (@Matt5cott) January 25, 2019
“It started with Mario Kart, I think, as far as I can remember, I think it was either a GameCube or a Nintendo, that was probably the first console that I played it on,” Dele said after being announced as an ambassador for eSports company EXCEL back in 2020.
“From playing when I was younger, trying to beat my quickest lap, it all started there and obviously as time has progressed and new consoles have come out I’ve fallen more in love with it.
“It’s something I’ve been passionate about since I was younger, sort of alongside football, well obviously football was first, but in my spare time when I wasn’t training it was something I enjoyed doing.”
Tabloid reports even suggested that the former England international split from model girlfriend Ruby Mae due to the amount of time he spent playing Fortnite.
We don’t know whether to be dismayed or have begrudging respect for Griezmann celebrating a goal in a World Cup final with a dance from Fortnite.
“I think it’s the Victory Royale,” Griezmann told Oh My Goal when asked how his day job compares with playing Fortnite.
“I’m more stressed trying to get a Victory Royale than when I’m in the penalty area. I think [Fortnite] is tougher.”
He’s also a keen Football Manager nut.
🏆 Premier League
🏆 Champions League
🏆 FA Cup
🏆 Super Cup
🏆 Community Shield
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) June 7, 2021
The Brazilian superstar has no fewer than 2.4 million followers on Twitch and in 2021 signed an mega-money contract to stream exclusively on Facebook Gaming.
“The gaming world has always been one of my greatest passions after football, and I can barely wait to hang out and have fun with everyone who also shares this passion,” Neymar said when the deal was announced.
It’s been estimated that Neymar has spent over £40,000 on weapon skins and in-game accessories on Counter-Strike. Loose change for him, to be fair.
“I’ve been a passionate gamer for quite some time,” told The Gamer. “It is a great way to unwind and connect with friends.”
The Manchester City legend was forced to retire in 2021 due to the discovery of a heart condition. At that point he was already a notable streamer and has since thrown himself into his other passion.
Aguero founded KRÜ, an eSports and content creation company, after he finished with football. He’s spoken about his ambitions of making it the biggest such company in the world.
— Kun Aguero Out Of Context (@slakun1O) August 9, 2020
The era-defining icon isn’t quite as hardcore into games as some of the other players, but he’s always loved playing FIFA.
It’s been noted by Messi’s biographer Guillem Balague that the Argentinian was incredibly shy and homesick during his early months in Barcelona’s academy – but playing PlayStation (PS2 back then) helped him come out of his shell and bond with his team-mates. It also brought his competitive streak to the fore – he hated losing.
“I was better at PlayStation than Messi,” former Argentina team-mate Pablo Zabaleta recalled in an interview with the BBC.
“He used to play with Chelsea a lot. I used to live in Barcelona city and he was living 30 minutes outside. We were playing on the internet.”
It was later reported that Messi – at that point at the peak of his powers in the mid-2010s – would spend up to three hours every day playing FIFA after training. It’s said that he’d play online but keep his identity disclosed, meaning there’s probably hundreds of people out there that have no idea they’ve taken on Messi at FIFA.
“I sat in the car and I said to a reporter that I played the PlayStation for maybe three or four hours a day. The Newcastle game occurred where it was 4-3 and I did an interview with a reporter who I thought was my friend,” the former goalkeeper recalled in a podcast appearance with Simon Jordan.
“We were sat in the car outside the training ground and my friend Colin Jackson, the hurdler, talked about how his coach wouldn’t let him play on the PlayStation on a competition day because it takes away the nervous energy.
“This reporter was writing for one of the broadsheets which were being printed at 11pm on Friday and I went home and told my then-wife, and she said to phone him up and get it taken out because she knew that wouldn’t go down well in the media.
“I made the phone call and he said that it was too late and the story had gone to print. Then it was picked up by the ‘red tops’ so that by Saturday when I woke up for the Nottingham Forest game, I saw stories saying, ‘David James is addicted to the PlayStation’.
“I wasn’t addicted, I just talked about it, and then all these things culminated in bad performances and I couldn’t understand what was going on.”