Former England striker announces retirement

first_imgFormer England and Aston Villa striker Darius Vassell has announced his retirement at the age of 35.The Sutton Coldfield-born player, who had been without a club since 2012, earned 22 England caps, scoring six goals, during the reign of manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.He had spells with Manchester City, Turkish side Ankaragucu and Leicester after leaving Villa in 2005.In a statement released by his management company, Oporto Sports, Vassell said: “I have enjoyed my career in football playing at the highest level, doing something I genuinely loved, and I felt that now was the right time to announce my retirement and look to the next phase of my life.”He will write a book about his career, Vassell said.Vassell played at the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. England reached the quarter-finals of the latter tournament before losing in a penalty shoot-out to hosts Portugal, with Vassell seeing his spot-kick saved by future Leicester team-mate Ricardo. Darius Vassell 1last_img read more

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The incredible promise Romelu Lukaku made himself

first_img Romelu Lukaku spoke about life growing up, leaving home at 18 and his future Unlike some young footballers, Lukaku prefers the quiet life – going out for dinner and watching TV boxsets. His family are obviously important to him – part of the close-knit Congolese community in Belgium that has produced the likes of Vincent Kompany and Christian Benteke. When we speak, his mother has been staying with him for three weeks, but they normally communicate over FaceTime – Lukaku rolls with laughter as he recounts her struggles getting the camera to point the right way. “It drives me mad!”While life in London suited him, it was more difficult on the pitch. He had been billed as a long-term successor to Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, but he got tired of waiting after a frustrating spell of substitute experiences and loan moves.“I really wanted to play, and to become a player that was no longer the hope, or the young prospect,” he explains. “I wanted to be a main striker in Europe.”He had offers, he tells us, from Juventus and Wolfsburg, but opted for Everton having spent a productive year on loan at Goodison Park for the 2013/14 season, when the Toffees finished fifth.“I really felt that if we could push on after the season we’d had before, I was 100 per cent sure that we would make it in the Champions League,” he explains now. “That’s where I want to play. Everton was a great platform for me where I could show my talent. I made the right choice.”Chelsea fans would have been ruing the choice their club made after Lukaku scored twice to knock them out of the FA Cup in the quarter finals (pictured above).“It was a bit strange,” he says of scoring against the Blues. “Lots of emotions at the time, because I was just realising everything I’ve been through. It was a good feeling. But they’ve moved on and I’ve moved on – I had nothing to prove. They know my talent, and if I wanted to I would have still been there today.” 5 5 GOOD COMPANYThe rumour mill has been swirling since those goals, full of speculation that Lukaku will leave Everton’s Finch Farm training ground – where we speak sitting on gym mats on the indoor pitch. He’s been linked to Man Utd and a return to Chelsea – but the Toffees are under no obligation to sell, particularly after new investment from Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri.You can see why other clubs want Lukaku – his statistics for this season put him among the best in the world. Only four players have scored more club goals before the age of 23: Ronaldo, Raul, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.With 18 goals and six assists (Sport went to press before this week’s Merseyside derby), he is behind only Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero in the combined table for the Premier League this season. “People,” he pleads. “Don’t forget I can be nominated for the PFA please! Young player of the year, I can be in it. Please don’t forget!” This interview appears in the current edition of Sport magazine, a brilliant FREE weekly publication. Have a look at the iPad app here or the Facebook page and they are also on Twitter @SportMagUK.When Romelu Lukaku was 12 years old, he made a promise. The Everton striker had recently joined Anderlecht in his native Belgium as a youth player. “I went to one game,” he remembers. “It was Anderlecht against Lierse, my former team. It was funny, but I promised myself to never go and watch another game until I was on the pitch myself. I was 12. I waited four years. We had Champions League games and everything, and I never went to the stadium. It was a good thing, to motivate me, and it went quickly.”Lukaku is used to waiting. The powerful forward has been hailed as the next big thing for years. He speaks with such insight and plays with such poise that it’s easy to forget he’s still only 22 – until he pulls out his iPhone at the end of our interview to send a video message to his millions of Snapchat followers.He was 11 when he first became aware of his potential.“We played against Anderlecht in a league game for Lierse,” he recalls. “We won 7-2. I scored four. Some scouts from some Holland teams came up to my parents asking if I wanted to sign for them. That’s when I knew. Like, okay, if people from foreign countries want me, that means I’m the real deal. I mean, I’m 11 at the time. But, if I keep going like that, I’ll be a player.”Lukaku was fast-tracked through the age groups. It helped that he was tall for his age: “I was 5ft 10ins at 12, when I signed for Anderlecht. I was 6ft 1ins at 14, 6ft 3ins at 18, 6ft 4ins now.”Not yet in his teens, he scored 60 goals in his first year at Anderlecht. That was the same year he first crossed paths with Ross Barkley, with whom he has developed a fruitful understanding as part of Everton’s attack. They were on opposing sides in a youth tournament.“At the time, Ross was playing as a defender – left-back, I think,” says Lukaku. “We remembered each other. He knows they lost because of me.”He laughs. “He knows.”By 14, Lukaku was playing with people four years ahead of him, banging in 34 goals in 25 games for Anderlecht under- 18s, and he was quickly brought into the reserve team. He reels off all those statistics – heights and goals – himself, evidence of a man with an analytical mind and a clear eye on records. He grew up watching videos of the all-time great strikers, and cites Brazilian, ‘Original’ Ronaldo as the complete 10/10 striker. 5 CAMERA ROLLAt 16, Everton’s number 10 starred in a documentary series on Belgian television called De school van Lukaku, which followed him through a year at school.“It was a bit crazy,” he remembers, laughing. “A camera team followed me every single day of my life. It was strange – I remember the first day of school they were there, I called the people at my team, Anderlecht. I said: ‘Yo, the cameras are here at school! I don’t want this, I’m not going to school today.’” He laughs again.He did eventually acclimatise to the attention: “When they left it was a bit sad, it was like you were used to them. They really witnessed everything that was happening around me. I’m really, really private about my personal life, so to have a camera there all the time… there were some days I was saying to my girlfriend at the time, she used to come around and I’d say: ‘No, you can’t come today.’ Because I didn’t want her to be seen on the cameras and stuff like that.”The spotlight has been on him ever since, from a £10m move to Chelsea as an 18-year-old to his recent flurry of goals at Everton. His family have helped keep him grounded – it was at their insistence that he remained in Belgium until he was 18 to finish his studies, when he could have had his pick of European academies.“My dad never pushed me, but he was helping me the whole time,” says Lukaku, who speaks six languages, and whose younger brother Jordan is also a Belgian international. “He was not like the typical football dad who shouts at their kids and puts pressure on them. My dad was really relaxed because he knew fairly early on that I would make it. So it was just, like, the path that I would walk.”That path has led him to Wembley, where his Everton side will take on Manchester United in this weekend’s FA Cup semi final. It will be Lukaku’s first visit to the ‘home of football’ in club colours. He has made a 20-minute substitute appearance for Belgium, but he says that doesn’t really count.Lukaku had just finished school when he moved to London aged 18 and three months, leaving his family in Belgium.“It was tough, man,” he says. “Really tough. You know, you go to London, it’s a big city, you don’t know what to expect.”He settled in quickly, though: “I loved it straight away because everything was so calm, you know? I mean, everybody says: ‘Football is like this’; ‘Football is like that.’ But if you don’t look for it, you don’t get it, and I never looked for it. So my life in England has been absolutely fine, perfect.” That nomination came last week, but Lukaku doesn’t really expect his performances to be recognised. “I would say that if I was English it would be easier sometimes…” he says, carefully. “Like, me and Harry Kane – we’re the same age. So I would say if I was English it would be easier. For me it doesn’t matter. I have to prove myself a bit more, but it’s all good.”Now the perpetual rising star might have finally found his moment. “I want to win championships,” he tells us. We have a feeling that he will make it happen. Lukaku is a man who tends to keep his promises.Everton FC is helping Chang Beer, the Blues’ proud main sponsor since 2004, to celebrate the UK launch of the new Chang bottle. changbeer.com 5 5last_img read more

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