Traditional Football Boot and Ball Isolated on Pitch

How Good Was Gary Lineker As A Player?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, you will no doubt have noticed sports broadcaster Gary Lineker pop up in the news quite a bit. The Match of the Day presenter got in hot water with his employers after comments he made on Twitter criticising the UK government’s policy relating to refugees. But we’re not here to get into an ethical debate about the whys and wherefores of immigration policy. Instead, we’re going to answer the question: was Gary Lineker a good football player?

Gary Lineker’s Career Stats and Highlights

Long before Lineker was the face of MOTD, BBC Sports Personality of the Year and other sports-related broadcasts, he was a damn fine footballer. Indeed, for those of you who remember Lineker’s playing career, there would probably be a temptation to simply answer “yes, he was a very good player” to the question we posed. But we like to back up such statements with facts, so let’s look at the Leicester-born striker’s figures, starting with his club career.

Years Team Appearances Goals
1978–1985 Leicester City 194 95
1985–1986 Everton 41 30
1986–1989 Barcelona 103 42
1989–1992 Tottenham 105 67
1992–1994 Nagoya Grampus Eight 18 4
Total 461 238

Note, these are league goals only, Lineker’s overall record including cups was 283 goals in 573 games.

As you can see, Lineker smashed in the goals with some regularity, especially during his sole season with Everton and when he was at Tottenham. He had a goals-to-game ratio of just under 0.52 in North London, which is slightly better than the player considered by many to be the top goalscorer of the Premier League era, Alan Shearer. He did even better with Everton though, notching 30 at a rate of 0.73! He wasn’t quite as prolific overall as some though, with the likes of Jimmy Greaves (0.69), Nat Lofthouse (0.56), Sergio Aguero (0.67) and the inimitable Dixie Dean (0.87) – among others – having better goals-to-game ratios in terms of their career league stats.

Before you make a judgement about Lineker’s prowess, however, it’s important to include his international career. Until relatively recently, Lineker was second in the all-time England goalscorer charts. His 48 goals in 80 appearances for the Three Lions was just one short of the (then) record of 49 held by the legend and World Cup winner, Sir Bobby Charlton.

Since then, both Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane have surpassed Lineker’s total, but there’s no denying that on the stats alone, Lineker was one of the best goalscorers England has ever produced. In this regard, we should certainly note that both Rooney and Charlton played far more games for England (120 and 106 respectively).

Now we’ve taken a look at the figures, let’s delve a little deeper and give some specifics about what Lineker achieved, first at club level and then on the international stage.

Lineker’s Club-Level Achievements

Gold Trophy Against Blue Curtain

As mentioned, the crisp-advertising striker scored around a goal every two games at club level, and almost 100 of those were scored for his boyhood team Leicester City. He was the club’s top scorer four seasons in a row and had they not been in the second tier for a couple of his campaigns with them, Lineker would no doubt be higher up the all-time English top-flight scorers list. As it is, he still has plenty of achievements at club level.

  • Top Division Leading Scorer – Lineker was the leading scorer in the top flight three times, and is the only player to achieve that with three different clubs (Leicester, Everton and Tottenham).
  • Fair Play – Aside from his goalscoring brilliance, Lineker was also one of the fairest players around. In fact, he went through his whole career of 16 years without picking up a single yellow card, let alone a red! FIFA awarded him their Fair Play award in recognition of this, though Lineker’s detractors would put his “fairness” down to not putting in any tackles!
  • Cups (Not Leagues) – Lineker never won a top-flight title (he won the second tier with Leicester), though he did win the FA Cup with Tottenham. He also won both the Copa del Rey and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in his time with Barcelona.
  • Player of the Year – He picked up various player of the year awards during his career, including the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the Football Writers Footballer of the Year (twice) and was runner up in the Ballon d’Or in 1986 (behind Ukrainian – then-Soviet – player Igor Belanov.

It is possibly a regret of Lineker’s that he didn’t win a little more silverware during his career. He arrived at Everton just after they’d won the title, and his time at Barcelona coincided with the Catalan side failing to land the Spanish championship. And when he returned to England with Tottenham, the club’s highest position was third place (in the 1989/90 season). His biggest regrets overall though might well be on the international stage, as we shall see.

Lineker’s England Achievements

Lineker played one game for England B in 1984 before making his full England debut against Scotland in the same year (though he didn’t score). His first of 48 England goals came in March 1985 against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley in his second full cap.

  • FIFA World Cup Golden Boot Winner – Lineker won the Golden Boot at the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 after scoring six goals, one more than a certain Diego Maradona and five more than the nearest Englishman (Peter Beardsley, the only other England player to score at the tournament).
  • Hat-trick Hero – Lineker has five England hat-tricks to his name, one shy of the record held by Jimmy Greaves (at least at the time of writing – Harry Kane is also on five and seeking his sixth every time he dons the England jersey). Lineker’s most crucial hat-trick came in England’s 3-0 victory over Poland at the 1986 World Cup.
  • So Close To Charlton’s Record – Lineker scored his 48th and final goal for his country against the CIS (formerly the Soviet Union) in Moscow in a friendly in April 1992. Despite coming close, he failed to score in his final six games for the Three Lions, and was subbed off against Sweden at Euro 1992 in his final appearance.

In some ways, it was a case of what might have been for Lineker at international level. When he played for England they came relatively close to going all the way at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. And he was almost crowned the all-time leading scorer for his country. Ultimately though, he has achieved more than most English players on the international stage, with that World Cup Golden Boot award in 1986 being a particular personal highlight.

Was Gary Lineker a Great Player?

When compared to the best strikers of the modern era, it’s fair to say Linekar was not as complete a player as some. But there is no doubting his pace, movement, finishing ability, his decision making and his knack of being in the right place at the right time (usually about six yards from the goalline just as the ball was arriving!). Given that he netted almost 50 times for England, and scored a hat-trick at a World Cup, he’ll long be remembered as one of the best goalscorers the country has produced. And that can’t be taken away from him, whether his bosses like what he writes on Twitter or not!