Which footballers would excel at other sports?

Breaking down which footballers could play in the NFL, NBA, and other top sports 🏀

Gareth Bale’s teammates at Real Madrid called him “The Golfer”

The internet was ablaze with debate last week after ex-NBA player Austin Rivers made a bold claim about basketball players’ ability to play football. 🏈 

“I can take 30 players right now in the NBA and throw them in the NFL,” Rivers said on the Pat PcAfee Show podcast. “You cannot take 30 NFL players and put them in the NBA.”

The claim sparked all sorts of hypotheticals that consumed sports media last week, leading to both football and basketball fans staunchly defending their preferred sport.

While I’ll reserve comment on which group I’d side with here, the hypothetical got me thinking about how the world’s best soccer players would fare in other sports. Could Kylian Mbappé line up as a deep-threat wide receiver? Could Jude Bellingham give Novak Djokovic a run for his money at the US Open with Carlo Ancelotti onlooking while enjoying a Honey Deuce? Could Lionel Messi pitch two shutout innings in game 5 of the ALCS on a blustery Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field?

Since I know you’re certainly asking the same questions, here’s my list of eight footballers – both current and former who I think would excel the most at a particular sport outside the Beautiful Game.

🏀 Basketball: Peter Crouch While Antoine Griezmann who is wet from three  is obsessed with basketball, he’s only 5’9” and therefore wouldn’t hold up in the NBA. A more worthy candidate is the 6’7” Crouch, who made a career in the Premier League out of his towering headers. While he certainly wouldn’t look the most graceful on the court, I could see Crouch as a Jaden McDaniels type where he uses his lanky frame to bother opponents and mop up the glass.

🏈 Football: Adama Traoré No footballer on the planet is as ripped as the Spainard, who’s somehow built his NFL-ready physique with only bodyweight exercises - no weights. 🤯 

This is not photoshopped…

It’s not just wasteful bulk either. Traoré is seriously fast, and at 5’10” has the frame to make him a shifty slot receiver or a do-it-all free safety (think Tyrann Mathieu). Had the Spainard attended the NFL combine, he likely would have been selected in the first round by the Raiders.💨 

🏃‍♂️ Sprinting: Micky van de Ven The Tottenham defender is just about the only player faster than Traoré, notching the fastest-ever recorded speed in the Premier League when he clocked in at 23.2 mph this season. For context, when Usain Bolt set the the current 100m world record in 2009, his average speed was 23.4 mph. What’s even crazier is that a coach from Van de Ven’s childhood club, Volendam, once told him he wasn’t fast enough. ⚡️

⛷️ Alpine skiing: Manuel Neuer Bayern’s legendary goalkeeper broke his leg in a skiing accident after Germany crashed out of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, leading many to wonder: Why the fuck was he allowed to ski in the middle of the season?

Well, it turns out Neuer is an avid skier, and has been hitting the slopes in the Bavarian Alps since he was six years old. He is so dedicated to the sport, in fact, that he purchased a home in the resort town of Tegernsee, where he enjoys offseasons skiing in the morning and training in the afternoon.

⛳️ Golf: Gareth Bale The Welshman famously brandished a flag reading “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order” while celebrating his country’s qualification for the 2020 Euros with a win over Hungary.

He wasn’t being hyperbolic, either. The ex-Tottenham and Real Madrid star was an avid golf player throughout his career, and upon retiring last January has taken up the sport full time. Bale – who reportedly has a 0.5 handicap – has turned heads with a string of impressive performance in various pro-ams since then, and even has a three-hole golf course at his home in Wales.

🏒 Ice hockey: Petr Čech The legendary goalkeeper is donning a different type of helmet these days. Since retiring from soccer in 2019, the now 41-year-old has played professionally as a goaltender for several ice hockey teams throughout the UK. He currently plays for the Belfast Giants, who compete in the EIHL - the highest level of competition in the UK.

Čech playing for the second-tier Guilford Phoenix in 2019

Čech, who’s from the hockey-crazed Czech Republic, revealed that although ice hockey was his preferred childhood sport, he chose to pursue a career in soccer as it was significantly cheaper to play.

⚾️ Baseball: Matt Turner Another goalkeeper, this time excelling on the diamond. Turner, who grew up in New Jersey, only started playing soccer at 14 years old as a way to stay in shape for shape for his primary sports of basketball and baseball. He only hopped in goal because the team’s backup keeper got injured on the first day of freshman tryouts.

The 29-year-old has defied the odds to become a goalkeeper at the top level, but it’s safe to say he had a solid backup plan as the St. Louis Cardinals’ designated hitter had things not worked out.

🍔 Competitive eating: Luis Suárez The Uruguayan has flexed (literally) his Joey Chesnut-like jaw on three different occasions throughout his career.

Suárez’s first biting incident came when he was at Ajax in 2010, when he bit Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder in a post-match scuffle. Six years later, when he was with Liverpool, Suárez bit Branislav Ivanović in the arm, earning him a ten-match suspension. His last and most notorious incisor infraction was in the 2014 World Cup, when he bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, leaving a visible bite mark on his shoulder.