FourFourTwo's 2016 in photography: the stories behind our year with football's biggest names

Eric Abidal

February 2016
Photography: Pep Avila

We went One-on-One with the former Barcelona and France defender at the start of the year. He told us that his old boss at Camp Nou, Pep Guardiola, wasn’t afraid to break out the hairdryer when necessary. “Of course I saw him get angry. It’s the same with every coach,” Abidal told us. A warning for Man City?

Romelu Lukaku

February 2016
Photography: Matt Stewart

If our meeting with the Everton goal machine taught us anything, it was that we should always listen to our mothers. Lukaku did that, when his told him to make the move from Chelsea's bench to Goodison Park. “Roberto Martinez called me three times and I didn’t pick up on the first two, so I’m glad I answered eventually,” Lukaku said in our February 2016. “I discussed it with him, I spoke to Chelsea, I spoke to my mother, and eventually she said: ‘Go to Everton.’ I haven’t regretted it.” Toffees fans will hope Mrs L is currently saying 'stay put'.

Eidur Gudjohnsen

March 2016
Photography: Manu Fernandez

Sometimes when we meet a footballer, we can't resist asking them questions that are a little 'out there'. "Yes, of course I've shopped at Iceland," former Chelsea, Barcelona and... Iceland forward Gudjohnsen told us with a smirk. "Whenever I missed home, I went shopping in Iceland! Not really. I’ve only been in there once and didn’t buy anything."

Dele Alli

April 2016
Photography: Shamil Tanna

“I didn’t realise how good it was until all the guys were talking about it in the changing room,” Dele Alli humbly said of his worldie at Selhurst Park, when speaking to FFT a few weeks later. “Obviously it was a great goal and I’m proud to have scored it, but I was surprised by the reaction.” All in a day's work for a player who'd gone from League One to FourFourTwo cover star in little over 18 months.

Riyad Mahrez

April 2016
Photography: SM2 Studio

The key to a good photoshoot is doing something different. That's why we roped in Filbert the Fox to help when we shot Leicester's soon-to-be title-winning wideman. The results - much like Leicester's at the time - were brilliant. The Foxes may now be world famous, but when the Algeria international made the move to the East Midlands in January 2014, that certainly wasn't the case. “I didn’t know Leicester,” Mahrez told us with a shrug. “In France we didn’t really [know them] because they were in the Championship. I thought they were a rugby club!" He can't be accused of not doing his bit to help 'grow the brand'.

Hector Bellerin

April 2016
Photography: Shamil Tanna

"Our kitman in the U18s and U21s taught me some rhyming slang,” the rapid Arsenal full-back told us earlier this year. “Like, instead of the stairs you go ‘up the apples’, or say ‘the dog’ for the phone. At first, I didn’t understand a word he was saying, or even believe anyone would create that kind of language because it’s so difficult to learn! I respect that.”

Dimitri Payet

April 2016
Photography: Leon Csernohlavek

Joining Alli, Mahrez and Bellerin in our 'New Premier League stars' special was West Ham's latest cult hero. The Frenchman told us how another Hammers icon helped seal his move to east London. “I was lucky enough to play with Joe Cole at Lille. When he talked about West Ham you could tell he was speaking from the heart.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

April 2016
Photography: Erik Birkeland

FFT met avid reader Solskjaer (honest: “I’ve always read FourFourTwo,” he told us) in near-freezing Molde for our April 2016 issue. “We have a saying in Norway: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” grinned the former Manchester United favourite, who returned to boss his former club in October 2015. In his One-on-One career reflective, the Baby-Faced assassin tells us what really got him fired up for the 1999 Champions League Final and more. “What did Fergie say to me when he put me on? Nothing special, but he did speak to Teddy at length at half-time and that pissed me off.”


May 2016
Photography: Shamil Tanna

We hot-footed it to the Middle East to catch up with the Barcelona legend in Doha, who couldn't have been more apologetic after showing up slightly late to our meeting (a prerequisite for any interview with a footballer). FFT didn't harbour a grudge, mind – the traffic in Qatar's capital really is monstrous. But after a few hours in the Spaniard's company, we were as captivated as those he played with and against as Xavi let rip on his love for English football. "In Catalonia there used to be a half-hour programme every Monday where they’d show the best goals from the Premier League," he told FFT. "Every week, Matt Le Tissier would be on the show. Every single week. I’m talking outrageous, sickening goals, too."

David Bentley

May 2016
Photography: Solarpix

FFT popped over to Marbella to give former Spurs, Arsenal and England japester David Bentley the One-on-One treatment. As you'll have guessed, he's now running a bar in the Spanish city, and doesn't miss the Premier League one jot.

Jay Rodriguez

May 2016
Photography: Leon Csernohlavek

Staff writer Chris Flanagan (opens in new tab) first interviewed Jay Rodriguez when the forward was 15 – and the pair met again 11 years later for the May issue of FourFourTwo. The Southampton star smiled for the camera but also spoke about the dark days of his 16-month lay-off with a cruciate ligament injury, not long after he'd made his debut for England. "There were all sorts of things going through my mind when the injury happened, pure fear," Rodriguez said. "I knew I'd done something serious." Thankfully – particularly after his recent brace against Bournemouth – those dark days are gradually being consigned to the past.

Gary McAllister

June 2016
Photography: SM2 Studio

“Oh, I know what that’s for,” chuckled Gary Mac as he saw what FFT had in store for him. “Uri bloody Geller!” The Scot posed with our spoon manfully, though, in reference to his missed penalty against England at Euro 96 that telekinetic oddball Geller later claimed the credit for. But that's just one story from a career packed with them, following spells at Motherwell, Leicester, Leeds, Coventry and Liverpool – the latter club he joined aged 35 to much scepticism, then duly won a Treble. “The editor of a local fanzine said that if I played more than 10 matches, he’d show his bare arse in Woolworths.” 

Carlo Ancelotti

July 2016
Photography: Leon Csernohlavek

The iconic eyebrow. Carlo Ancelotti also happens to be one of football's most decorated bosses with a CV to rival the all-time greats: Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and now Bayern, where he's aiming to win an unprecedented fourth European Cup title. Despite the illustrious resumé, however, in FFT's company the Italian was every bit the affable character that makes him so adored by his players. Well, usually. “PSG went out of the Coupe de France on penalties against Evian [in 2013] and had played really, really badly,” Ancelotti recalled. “I was very angry – so much so that I broke a door. I also kicked a box and it landed on Ibrahimovic’s head. He didn’t react.”

Nemanja Vidic

September 2016
Photography: Mattia Zoppellaro

So, we got straight to it: has he ever actually murdered someone? “I didn’t know it was me when Manchester United fans first sang it, I was so focused on the game. Someone asked me if I’d heard the song. I asked them what the fans had sung and he replied: 'Well, it’s a bit tough.' The song was great. Of course I’m not a murderer, but I appreciated fans singing for me.” These days Nemanja Vidic is living in Milan, where he ended his career in January, a “full-time driver” to his three boys and keen golfer. He answered your questions in September's One-on-One.  


September 2016
Photography: Garrod Kirkwood

Yeah, we interviewed Partick Thistle's terrifying mascot. And what? 

Young stars of 2016/17

September 2016

Joining Kinglsey in the '81 Things FFT Wants To See' feature were a group of rookies we're tipping for big things. Among the young stars we were hoping to see shine in 2016/17 were Kelechi Iheanacho (Man City), Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) and Demarai Gray (Leicester City), all of whom posed in front of the yellow backdrop without causing any damage...

Kelechi Iheanacho

Photography: Jill Jennings

Sheyi Ojo

Photography: Jon Shard

Alex Iwobi

Photography: Richard Cannon

Demarai Gray

Photography: Leon Csernohlavek

Joey Barton

October 2016
Photography: Martin Hunter

Joey Barton doesn't much like the quiet life. Just when you thougt he was settling down after a fine season with Burnley in the Championship last season, the motor-mouthed scouser got himself suspended five months into his new life at Rangers and duly left shortly after. Couple that with his latest rap – an FA charge for placing over 1,200 bets in the last 10 years – and v.II of his new autobiography is already shaping up rather nicely. What more could he have had in his career, though? “It was an incredible honour to play for my country and I would have loved to have done it a lot more,” he told FFT. “My behavioural patterns at the time made that particularly difficult. I was struggling with life; struggling to cope with being me.”

Victor Wanyama

November 2016
Photography: Richard Cannon

Features Editor James Maw (opens in new tab) had the privilege of hauling a stuffed cockerel 15 miles across town from FFT Towers to Wanyama's home in the leafy suburbs of north London. The expression on the Spurs midfielder's face when he set eyes upon his new feathered friend wasn't entirely dissimilar to the one shown above.

Lothar Matthaus

November 2016
Photography: Stefan Hobmaier

FFT headed to Munich – and what must surely have been the city's finest hotel – to meet one of the greatest players in German history. Matthaus took on Diego Maradona in two World Cup finals, triumphing in 1990, and revealed how the pair established such a bond that the Argentine tried everything to lure him to Napoli. "He sent three or four people to Munich with a lot of cash in a box, one million Deutsche Marks," Matthaus explained. "You had to play for a couple of years in Germany to earn that much – and this wasn't the money in the contract, it was only for the signature."

Inside Manchester City

December 2016
Photography: SM2 Studio

Pep Guardiola’s exciting first team is the tip of the iceberg at Manchester City. Investing locally, overseas, in youth and their women’s team, they’ve one goal: global domination – and FourFourTwo went to find out how this burgeoning superclub are trying to make it happen. 

Along the way we spoke to the key men and women involved including Brian Marwood, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Steph Houghton, Claudio Bravo, under-18 boss Jason Wilcox and new coach Mikel Arteta. Heck, Pep even posed for some photos for us... 

Men of the Year

In our January 2017 issue, we celebrated the best of the madcap year that was 2016 – featuring Leicester, Iceland, Hal Robson-Kanu and interviews with two of Germany's hottest stars in Bayern Munich rock Jerome Boateng and Borussia Dortmund's goal-getter-in-chief Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 

January 2017
Photography: Stefan Hobmaier

FFT was invited to the home of Bayern's laid-back defensive lynchpin as we named him our Defender of the Year. He'd only just moved into his new pad – next door to team-mate Franck Ribery – but our accommodating host was more than willing to show us his mightily impressive shoe collection and talk about life under new boss Carlo Ancelotti. "Ancelotti is a bit older and calmer during matches than Guardiola," Boateng said. "Tactically, I don't think we have to press as much in games. Sometimes, we say, 'OK, you can have the ball'. That's the big change to our old mentality."  

January 2017
Photography: Stefan Gray

Imagine the fear when, the night before FFT was due to interview Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Dortmund's training ground, news broke that the Gabon international had been suspended by his club over an unsanctioned trip to Italy. And yet, the morning after he'd watched his side's Champions League tussle against Sporting from the stands, a grinning 27-year-old strutted into training like nothing had happened. Thankfully for us his club ban was a brief one – and so on we went with our chat reflecting on his best year yet for Dortmund. There was even time for him to dismantle us at table football – brought along at late notice by FFT's photographer Stefan Gray.

January 2017
Photography: Christoffer Lomfors

FFT really wanted Henrik Larsson to pull out his trademark tongue-out celebration pose for our One-on-One photographs – but the Swede, formerly of Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United among others, politely declined. In fairness, he had a point. “I saw a picture of it after a game when I had done it and thought, ‘Why not stick with it?’” he recalled. “But I started getting letters from parents, upset that their kids were running around with their tongues out, and I couldn’t be bothered with those letters any more. So I stopped it.” Larsson was Helsingborgs boss at the time of our interview, but their season ended in relegation and ugly scenes involving fans attacking his son (and forward) Jordan. As such, the 45-year-old decided it was best to leave. “It hasn’t gone how we wanted it to,” Larsson admitted. 

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