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Fat footballers

It's the time of year when many footballers pile on the pounds on their summer break, so this week's First XI looks at some of the game's great overweight players.

William 'Fatty' Foulke (1894-1907)

The quintessential fat footballer, once-capped England goalkeeper Foulke weighed 275.8lb (125.1kg) during his time at first club Sheffield United and, by the time he signed for Bradford in 1906, he was up to 350lb (158.7kg).

Stories about Foulke abound, though some must be apocryphal. He is said to have once eaten all his team-mates' breakfasts at a hotel; in the 1898-99 season, he apparently picked up Liverpool's George Allen and stood him on his head; at the 1902 FA Cup final, the referee reportedly hid in a broom cupboard to escape an incensed, and stark naked, Foulke after the award of a controversial goal; in 1907, he was forced to wear a sheet because there was no jersey to fit him.

For obvious reasons, the 'Fatty' nickname stuck, and it was Foulke who inspired the creation of the 'Who ate all the pies?' chant, but as he famously once said: "You can call me what you like - just don't call me late for dinner."

Ferenc Puskas (1943-1966)

Though he became recognised internationally as one of the finest players the world has seen, many would have been forgiven for dismissing Puskas as unfit and unsuited to the demands of international football upon sight of his barrel-stomach.

Indeed, an unidentified English player, ahead of the Three Lions' shock 6-3 defeat to Hungary at Wembley in 1953, is believed to have said: "Look at that little fat chap. We'll murder this lot."

He was deceptively fast, and his weight seemingly did little to diminish his extraordinary natural ability, but it did not spare him criticism: in early 1955, as he approached the end of his time with Honved, the Hungarian Defence Minister, General Bata, called Puskas fat and said his approach to life was "too pleasure-loving".

In an interview with Hungarian sports paper NEP Sport around the same time, Puskas admitted as much: "I know I enjoy food too much. I will have to exercise the greatest self-control and refuse all the rich dishes I relish. I will also have to learn to push away my glass when I am not thirsty."

His favoured dish, apparently, was small pieces of pastry floating in curdled milk and fried in fat.

Gerd Muller (1963-1981)

One of the deadliest strikers of all-time, with 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany, the short and stocky Muller was told early on his career that he would never make it as a footballer because he was too fat.

A man said to be overly keen on his mother's potato salad, Muller weighed 180.8lb (82kg) upon his arrival at Bayern Munich, and coach Zlatko Cajkovski had joked: "What am I supposed to do with a weightlifter?"

Cajkovski then gave him the nickname kleines, dickes Muller, or 'short, fat Muller', and iIt was only when Branko Zebec took charge of Bayern in 1968 that Muller slimmed down.

"I only became lean and fit under Branko Zebec," he told Der Spiegel in 2006. "What a hard taskmaster he was! Long after the others were in the dressing room or eating, I had to push weights."

John Robertson (1970-1986)

"We've got a little fat guy who will turn him inside out. Very talented, highly skilled, unbelievable outside left. He'll turn him inside out!"

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough had problems pronouncing the name of Hamburg's revered right-back Manny Kaltz in an interview in the build-up to the European Cup final of 1980, but his instincts were accurate: Robertson scored the only goal of the game at the Bernabeu.

Clough wrote in his 1994 autobiography that Robertson had been a "scruffy, unfit, uninterested waste of time" but added: "Something told me he was worth persevering with."

In a later interview, he explained: "John Robertson couldn't run 20 yards. He was fatter than me. When he'd played a ball, he used to be standing on the halfway line and I'd say to [assistant Peter] Taylor, 'Is he lighting a fag up?'

"You give him a ball with a square yard of grass, though, and he's the best player in the country."

Micky Quinn (1979-1996)

The Football League's top scorer in 1989-90 in his first season with Newcastle United, Quinn was always a portly forward but 'Sumo', as he was known, always maintained he "couldn't give a damn as long as the ball hits the back of the net".

At 190.3lb (86.3kg) at the start of the 1993-94 season, he netted a hat-trick for Coventry against Arsenal, prompting manager Bobby Gould to adopt some ill-advised phraseology in defence of the striker: "I'm not worried about his weight. He has a predatory instinct second to none, and he's very hungry."

It would be fair to say that Quinn did not help himself. "I remember at West Ham once we were waiting for a corner and some fan shouted the ['Who ate all the pies?'] chant and threw a pie at me," Quinn told The Sun in 2007. "I actually managed to catch a bit of it and I just ate it in front of him!"

In 2006, Quinn won the Mr Fit Club award after losing 64lb (29 kg) on UK television programme Celebrity Fit Club

Jan Molby (1981-1998)

There were raised eyebrows when the slightly rotund Molby arrived at Liverpool in 1984 but, after a slow start, he was to prove his worth.

"They used to say I was fat," the 196lb (88.9kg) midfielder told The Guardian in 1985. "Now they say I'm powerful."

Such was the case when things were going well, at least, but his enjoyment of restaurants, nightclubs and alcohol always left him prone to accusations of gluttony. Surprisingly, though, it was his taste for booze that led to a period of intense weight-loss in 1988 as he was sentenced to three months in prison for drink-driving.

In his autobiography, he wrote of his stint behind bars: "The food was often uneatable, worse than you'd give to a dog. I suppose one good thing was that it helped me lose four stones in weight."

Tomas Brolin (1984-1998)

Sweden star Brolin had been Leeds United's most expensive ever signing when he signed from Parma in a £4.5 million deal in November 1995, but he had been lacking form and fitness even before the move. It was to prove disastrous.

Three months after his arrival, Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson had left him out of the squad due to his steadfast refusal to track back; when George Graham replaced Wilkinson, he fell out with Brolin, too.

After a couple of loan spells with FC Zurich and Parma, Graham was advertising the forward to other clubs at every opportunity as Brolin trudged into the club's training ground for his regular fight-the-flab sessions. Leeds eventually gave up in October 1997, handing Brolin a £140,000 cheque to tear up his contract.

Crystal Palace, 13th in the Premiership, then signed him up on a free transfer. "I am going to show my fitness and that I am not a forgotten player," Brolin said.

In the words of Guardian journalist Roy Collins, though, he had "arrived looking like the fat, cardboard replica next to which Slimmers of the Year tend to pose, and played like it". Palace lost Brolin's debut 3-1 to Everton in the first of a run of eight successive defeats that saw them plummet to the foot of the table, and they remained there until the end of the season.

Brolin retired that year, and in 2000 fulfilled his "dream" by opening a restaurant in Stockholm. "All the dishes in here, in this place of mine, are my own ideas," he explained.

Paul Gascoigne (1985-2004)

One of the most naturally gifted footballers England has ever produced, Gascoigne was also a naturally chubby man and was well-known for his physique during his early years at Newcastle United.

He slimmed down after joining Tottenham in 1988, with more than a little encouragement. On his first trip back to St James' Park, he was pelted by Mars bars from the home fans, while Sir Alex Ferguson apparently wrote to him calling him a "fat bastard" after he chose Spurs ahead of Manchester United. "I've still got the letter," Gascoigne said during a Q&A session last week.

Even Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough lined up to taunt him ahead of the 1991 FA Cup final. "We're going to have to get him fat again," he said. "I've arranged with Marks & Spencer to send a lorry-load of pork chops and sausages to Tottenham. They're free. They're from me and there will be more next week and the week after that."

The taunts persisted throughout his career and, during his spell in Scotland with Rangers, he complained: "Fans from other sides stand there calling me a fat bastard for 90 minutes."

Ivan Valenciano (1988-2007)

A former Colombia striker who represented his country at USA '94, Valenciano's career was overshadowed by his weight troubles. Nicknamed El Gordito de Oro - or 'The Golden Fat Man' - he arrived at Independiente Medellin in 1999 weighing 200.6lb (91kg) but still managed to score 24 goals in 38 games that year.

By 2006, he had ballooned to 231.5lb (105kg) and agreed to go under the knife on a reality TV show called Cambio Extreme in his homeland, during which he said: "If I had been thin, I would have been better than Ronaldo and would have played for Real or Milan."

Procedures on the show included liposuction on his chin, fat removal from his cheeks, and a gastric bypass operation conducted by one of the surgeons who operated on Diego Maradona when he was morbidly obese. Valenciano also had his teeth whitened and had injections in his armpits to prevent excessive sweating.

After the surgery, he was down to 189.6lb (86kg) and rejoined first club Junior de Barranquilla for a brief spell.

Ronaldo (1993-2011)

Even as a 21-year-old at the 1998 World Cup, questions had been raised over whether Ronaldo had put on weight. The questions became blunter in 2006, when Fabio Capello reportedly asked him: "Aren't you ashamed of being fat?"

As he became increasingly injury-prone, Ronaldo had struggled to stay slim and earned the nickname El Gordo, or 'The Fat One'. At the 2006 World Cup, Brazil's physical trainer revealed he weighed over 200lb (90.8kg) and, during his time at AC Milan in 2007, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which slowed his metabolism.

In February this year, he was forced to call time on his career, having lost the battle to his body. He also lost the battle to win over the Corinthians supporters: they painted "Ronaldo is a shameless fatty" on a wall at the club's training ground shortly before he hung up his boots.

Benni McCarthy (1995-2011)

The warning signs had been there for West Ham: McCarthy's waistline became a growing problem during the end of his time with Blackburn, with Sam Allardyce warning he needed to slim down.

"We need to get a little bit more body fat off Benni," Allardyce said. "Most have been brought up on sugars they shouldn't have been, and those are addictive. It is not easy to wean yourself off those sort of sweets."

And so it proved. When struggling West Ham brought McCarthy in during the window transfer window of 2010, they were - as vice-chairwoman Karren Brady later explained - "in desperate haste for a striker". Injury hampered his chances of getting into shape at Upton Park and, by the summer, things were becoming markedly worse.

"Benni McCarthy's body-fat measurement is 24.2%," Hammers co-owner David Sullivan said in May that year. "Mine is 25.4%. Benni McCarthy is nearly as fat as me. I don't know at what point this becomes a breach of contract."

McCarthy managed to rack up a reported £200,000 in fines for failing to meet fitness targets before, in April 2011, the Hammers paid him £1.5 million to leave the club having failed to score a single goal.

"Benni McCarthy was a big fat mistake," Brady later wrote in The Sun. "Rather than the super scorer we hoped for, we acquired a super size, a player devoted to filling his belly more than filling the net. As time went by, he grew bigger and bigger."

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