We all have our reasons for supporting the clubs we do. Whether they’re our local team, there’s a family connection or they’re simply just very successful, it’s a decision we stick with for life.
Professional footballers also make these decisions, but long before they know which clubs they’re going to grow up and play for.
In a dream scenario, players can go on to play for their boyhood teams – such as Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, Wayne Rooney at Everton and Alan Shearer at Newcastle United.
But it doesn’t always work out like that. Here are some examples of players who supported their team’s biggest rivals before signing…
Despite spending his entire football career at Liverpool, Jamie Carragher was actually an Everton supporter growing up.
“As a kid my life revolved around Everton and throughout my childhood, all I cared about was Everton,” he said.
“If you'd have asked me would I rather Everton won the double or England win the World Cup… Everton win the double every day of the week!”
Carragher’s father was a die-hard Toffee and Jamie’s middle names are Lee and Duncan – after former boss Gordon Lee dropped Duncan McKenzie on the day that the Sky Sports pundit was born. Carragher would often turn up to Liverpool's School of Excellence wearing an Everton kit.
However it’s fair to say that after 17 years of service in which he made over 700 appearances for the Reds and won the Champions League, UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and three League Cups, supporters didn’t mind the connection too much.
Kevin De Bruyne
One man who did support Liverpool as a child was Kevin De Bruyne, who has gone on to be the beating heart of a Manchester City side that have competed with the Reds for the Premier League title over the last few years.
De Bruyne’s mother grew up in England and encouraged her son to follow the Merseyside outfit. The young Belgian had Liverpool bed sheets, wore club tracksuits and owned a Michael Owen replica shirt.
A couple of years ago, a video emerged of an 11-year-old De Bruyne being interviewed while at Gent’s academy.
“My favourite club is Liverpool and my favourite player is Michael Owen,” he said. “And I would love to play there one day.”
De Bruyne has won two Premier League titles since signing for City in 2015 and is set to add a third this season, while he was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2019/20.
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De Bruyne’s Manchester City teammate Raheem Sterling also supported one of the club’s rivals as a youngster.
“I shouldn't really say this – not now, definitely not now! – but when I was young I was a massive United fan,” the forward admitted in 2019.
“I had an old United kit, from when they won the last FA Cup. I was at the final in 2007.”
Sterling grew up in an era when the Red Devils were dominant in the Premier League, and lived just a stone’s throw away from Wembley Stadium – where that 2007 final was held.
He is now about to win a third Premier League title of his own.
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2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric has spent the last nine years at Real Madrid, but he grew up cheering for El Clasico rivals Barcelona.
Croatia teammate and former Barca star Ivan Rakitic revealed: “Many times I joke with him, telling him not to get mad, because he is even more culé [Barcelona fan] than me.
“When we were young we all had a favourite team, and it’s no secret that Luka loved the claret and blue colours.”
Barcelona were reportedly interested in signing Modric from Tottenham Hotspur in 2008, but the midfielder ended up moving to the Spanish capital.
He has won two league titles and four Champions League crowns at the Bernabeu.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
It’s fair to say that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not a Liverpool fan now – he famously said he “couldn’t care less” about their 2014 title bid – but it is reportedly an open secret in his hometown of Kristiansund that he supported the Reds as a child.
Jan Trygve Pedersen, who was a teammate of Solskjaer’s in various teams growing up, told The Sun in 2019: “Maybe he had a Liverpool poster over his bed when he was 10.”
There is a also a picture of the young Norwegian in a Crown Paints Liverpool shirt.
However it’s not particularly surprising given that when Solskjaer was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Liverpool were enjoying the most successful period of their history, winning 10 league titles and four European Cups between 1975 and 1990.
The striker moved to Manchester United in 1996 and won those titles himself – six Premier Leagues and one Champions League. Now he is on a mission to do the same as the club’s manager.
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Paul Pogba has not had the easiest ride at Manchester United since returning to the club in 2016, and he probably didn’t do himself any favours when he admitted in a 2017 BBC interview that he was “quite a fan of Arsenal” as a child.
The confession came to a light again on United’s official podcast again last year, as Pogba said: “I will be honest. So, at the start, I was an Arsenal fan – obviously because of all the French players, you know.”
Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires were all stars at Highbury as the midfielder was growing up, so at least there was a logic to his decision.
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Away from bright lights of European football, it is on the south coast where James Ward-Prowse has strayed from his childhood roots.
The midfielder grew up as a Portsmouth fan, and was a season ticket holder at Fratton Park along with his dad and brother. He even appeared as a mascot for one game, naming Andy Awford as his favourite player in the club programme.
At one point, Ward-Prowse was playing youth games for both Portsmouth and arch rivals Southampton, but chose to sign for the Saints at the age of eight as “I thought it was the best move for my career”.
It is a decision that has certainly paid off, as the 26-year-old graduated from Southampton’s academy and has made over 300 appearances for the first team. Last summer, he was appointed as official club captain.
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