Off the Ball

It's all in the genes

Ipswich Town's new signing Sergei Baltacha pictured with his family after his arrival in East Anglia, January 13 1989
© Getty Images

“An apple never falls far from the tree,” or so the old saying goes. And there are plenty of examples in the football world that prove the adage right, with many talented offspring following their parents into the game. Yet, as explains, there are also numerous instances of progeny pursuing successful careers in sports other than the beautiful game.

Anyone for tennis?
The late Leo Clijsters was an uncompromising centre-half who played for Belgium at the Mexico 1986 and Italy FIFA World Cup™ finals. The red-headed defender had two daughters, both of whom sought fame and fortune in the tennis world. And while Elke, the younger of the two, struggled to make her name on the women’s tour, big sister Kim has gone on to become one of the game’s biggest stars. The winner of the recent Australian Open and the current world No1, Clijsters actually retired from the game in 2007 only to return and win the US Open two years later, becoming the first mother to collect a Grand Slam title since 1980.

Another distinguished defender with a famous tennis-playing daughter is Sergei Baltacha. Sporting the red of the Soviet Union, Baltacha pocketed a winner’s medal at the inaugural FIFA U-20 World Cup in Tunisia in 1977, won bronze at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Moscow in 1980 and appeared at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain. It was around that time that he moved to the UK with his wife and young son and daughter. The boy, Sergei Jr, would follow his father’s example and pursue a career in football, though it is his sister Elena who has earned greater fame, turning to tennis and becoming the current British No1 and world No68.

Cameroonian defender Zacharie Noah also had tennis genes in his blood. A French Cup winner in 1961, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sedan man is the father of the fabulously gifted French tennis star Yannick, who won the 1983 French Open and rose to the top of the men’s rankings three years later. The Noah sporting dynasty has continued to grow since then, however, with grandson Joakim earning his spurs as a basketball player in the NBA no less. “When I went to the States to see my grandson in the Draft, they were all asking me how I’d managed to have a family that was successful in three different sports,” Noah the Elder later commented. “They thought there was some kind of witchcraft going on.”

The basketball theme continues with John Nash, who played professional football in South Africa before turning his back on apartheid and moving with his family to Canada in 1974. Though his younger son Martin would later make 38 appearances for the Canucks, it was older son Steve who has made the bigger splash. Regarded as one of the finest passers in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns point guard was named Most Valuable Player in both 2005 and 2006. “I was good at both sports, but I chose basketball in the end,” he said in an interview during South Africa 2010. “I still follow the game and Tottenham Hotspur in particular, something my dad handed down to me.”

Uncles and siblings
Former Spain and Barcelona player Miguel Angel Nadal enjoyed an 18-year career in the elite. As well as forming part of the magnificent Barça side of the 1990s, he also ran out at three FIFA World Cup finals: USA 1994, France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002. In recent times, he has maintained his links to the sports world through his brothers Toni and Sebastian, respectively the coach and the father of one Rafael Nadal. A talented footballer himself, Rafa gave up the game to devote his energies to tennis. It has proved to be a wise choice. The swashbuckling Spaniard has won 43 tournaments to date, including five French Opens, two Wimbledons, a US Open and an Australian Open, not to mention an Olympic gold medal. In June 2010 he also regained his world No1 slot ahead of Swiss genius Roger Federer.

Francisco “Paco” Gento is another ex-Spain international with remarkable sporting family connections. A European champion on several occasions with Real Madrid and a veteran of Chile 1962 and England 1966, the fleet-footed left winger had two footballing brothers and a sister, Maria Antonia, who had four sons who all became sportsmen. But while Julio and Paco Llorente successfully followed their uncle’s footsteps, siblings Tonin and Jose Luis excelled at basketball, the latter winning silver with Spain at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

When I went to the States to see my grandson in the Draft, they were all asking me how I’d managed to have a family that was successful in three different sports. They thought there was some kind of witchcraft going on.

For more sporting brothers, look no further than the Escude boys. Julien *is a France international, who played for Ajax and Cannes before pitching up at current club Sevilla, while older brother, *Nicolas was a professional tennis player for 11 years, reaching No17 in the ATP Rankings in 2000 and helping his country win the Davis Cup in 2001.

Former Icelandic defender Eggert Stefansson represented his country and lined up for Wigan Athletic at one stage, though his career achievements were put in the shade by brothers Jon and Olafur, big names in basketball and handball respectively.

For his part, Luis Leon, the brother of Real Madrid midfielder Pedro Leon, has made his name on two wheels rather than with a ball. First over the line in the 2009 Paris-Nice, the Spaniard also won a stage on the Tour de France that year, to name but two of the achievements on his career CV.

Daddy, I want to be a footballer
In contrast, there are several high-profile players with parents who made a name for themselves in other sports. A case in point is the Polish-born Germany international Lukas Podolski, whose mother Christina was a fine handball player. The parents of current Hamburg goalkeeper Frank Rost were also gifted handballers, mother Christina winning a silver medal with the German Democratic Republic at Montreal 1976, and father Peter going one better at Moscow 1980.

No Chinese footballer has enjoyed as much success abroad than full-back Sun Jihai, who spent six seasons with Manchester City and also appeared at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Now with Shaanxi Chanba, Sun often says he inherited his physical prowess from his father Sun Liangzong, a talented athlete in a number of track and field disciplines. Fellow countryman Jiang Jin was a team-mate of Sun’s at Korea/Japan 2002 and owes half his ability between the posts to his father, who was himself a goalkeeper, and the other half to his mother, Zhao Guiying, a national basketball star.

Finally, one more scion of a prodigious sporting partnership. As everyone knows, the father of up-and-coming Barcelona starlet Thiago Alcantara is Mazinho, a FIFA World Cup winner with Brazil at USA 1994. What many people do not know, however, is that his mother Valeria was also a gifted volleyball player.

We have set the ball rolling and now it is your turn. If you know of any other famous sportsmen or women with footballing parents or vice versa, then click on ‘Add your comment’ and tell us all about them.

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