Wycombe Wanderers: Lionel Messi's body double & fame in Singapore

Wycombe
Wycombe Wanderers are fifth in League Two

In 2001, Wycombe Wanderers shocked the football world by reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup as a third-tier club.

This season, the League Two Chairboys have a chance of another slice of glory as they travel to Premier League title contenders Tottenham in the fourth round on Saturday.

But who are the men trying to take down Spurs on the back of a 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions, which has taken them from a relegation battle into fifth place in the fourth tier?

Messi's body double

Wycombe midfielder Sam Wood certainly did not take a conventional route into football.

At 16, when most up-and-coming footballers are in academies, Wood was fitting carpets in Kent while playing for non-league Cray Wanderers.

Two years later, when most players have signed professional deals, he was working in a shoe shop as a Christmas temp.

But after a friend introduced him to former Southend midfielder and Dream Team actor Andy Ansah, Wood was thrust into the world of football modelling.

Sam Wood and Lionel Messi
Sam Wood has scored 19 league goals in his career. Barcelona's Lionel Messi has scored 298.

"I did some body doubling for Lionel Messi in an advert, which not a lot of people know about," said Wood.

"They flew me out to Spain and put me up in a hotel. I did all the stuff and he would come in to do all of the interviews about 20 yards away. But I've also done a few with Cristiano Ronaldo, I think about three adverts."

During their days at Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo were also played by Wood.

Though still a non-league player at the time, his ability on the pitch was being put to good use elsewhere.

"We did a bit of filming at Millwall with Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and [Marco] Materazzi. A corner came in and Materazzi was heading it in. I was crossing the ball but you don't see me on camera," he said.

"I was still working at Bluewater Shopping Centre and playing for Bromley so it was whenever I could get the days off."

Sam Wood (far right)
Sam Wood (far right) scored for Wycombe as they defeated Stourbridge in the third round of the FA Cup

It was during a trial at Brentford that the then 21-year-old finally got his break after impressing in a behind-closed-doors game against Fulham, signing his first contract at the end-of-season awards.

Wood helped the Bees win the League Two title and was named supporters' player of the year in his first season. After four years and a loan spell at Rotherham, he joined Wycombe, for whom he has made more than 150 league appearances.

But what about his other skill?

"In the first season at Brentford people were asking me to come round to do their carpets and I said 'nah, nah'.

"I did my mum's carpet that season but it didn't go well, and I haven't done it since. I'd got rid of my tools so I was borrowing tools, and it kind of made me realise I'd better not do this any more and keep working hard in training."

Royal connections

When Scott Kashket joined Wycombe Wanderers on a free transfer in the summer, very few people batted an eyelid. But the 20-year-old forward has been a revelation, scoring 14 goals in 18 appearances.

It has been quite a journey for a man who quit the game as a 15-year-old to play futsal for Great Britain's Jewish team, having been told he was too small for football.

Scott Kashket
Scott Kashket only made his Wycombe debut in September, but has helped the club rise from near the bottom of League Two

He returned to football in 2012 after Spanish Serie B side Hercules spotted him playing the indoor game, before signing for Leyton Orient, only to be told chairman Francesco Becchetti had apparently blocked him from playing.

"He wouldn't even give me reasons why, he wouldn't even let me train," said Kashket. "I just wanted to get out of there and make a fresh start as soon as possible."

A fresh start was made at Adams Park, and he has since struck up a formidable partnership with Adebayo 'The Beast' Akinfenwa, but there was one game on Kashket's mind when he signed for Wycombe.

"The first thing I looked for was 'when are we playing Orient?' I started playing a couple of weeks before that and I just wanted to score and celebrate so the chairman could see it."

And score, he did - the only goal in a 1-0 victory.

Kashket comes from a family of Tottenham fans, and his father Russell is a tailor of note, having reportedly made the suit Prince William wore for his marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011.

Kate Middleton and Prince William
Prince William married Kate Middleton in April 2011

"A royal wedding is not going to come around very often, so it was brilliant to be able do that," said Kashket.

"I don't really take too much interest in it. That wasn't my thing. I always wanted to play football ever since I was a kid and now that's exactly what I'm doing."

And what is it like to play against the side he has supported since he was a boy in the FA Cup?

"It was a brilliant draw and it's even better because it'll be the last chance to play at White Hart Lane, because they're moving out."

Famous in Singapore

Luke O'Nien
Luke O'Nien has made 59 appearances for Wycombe since joining in the summer of 2015

It is not often a lower-league footballer would be popular in the Far East, but that is certainly the case for Chairboys midfielder Luke O'Nien.

The former Watford trainee's grandfather came from Singapore and, before last season's FA Cup match against Aston Villa, a call came into the club asking to speak to him.

"It wasn't a secret but it wasn't really well known that I had a quarter-Singaporean in me," said O'Nien. "A Singaporean reporter contacted the club and we did a big interview over Skype, which made the front cover of a sports magazine.

"It was bizarre because I've never had anything like it before."

While his grandfather was an artist, it is O'Nien's great uncle that is most well known in the island city state.

"He was a government minister and very influential in the housing in Singapore in the 1960s," said the 22-year-old.

Very influential is an understatement. Lim Kim San has been labelled "the man who helped to house a generation", helping oversee the building of more houses in three years than the previous 32 combined.

Adebayo Akinfenwa
O'Nien said he can no longer hear the song "Hotel California" without remembering Adebayo Akinfewa's rendition on the club's pre-season trip to France

Having been brought up in Hertfordshire, O'Nien qualifies for the Singapore national team.

Asked if he would play for the country, he said: "You never know.

"It would always be an honour to represent your country so if the opportunity came up I'd give it some serious consideration.

"But it is like 'I've got a home game, I'll see you in a couple of days' and jump on a plane."

Signed off the back of a video

Max Muller and Gareth Ainsworth
Max Muller (left) alongside manager Gareth Ainsworth after signing for Wycombe

Every summer, out-of-contract footballers hunt for their next deal. But in a saturated market you need to do something to stand out. Step forward German centre-back Max Muller.

"I was injured for the second half of last season so my agent and I had an idea to get a video together of my best scenes from when I was fit," he said.

"I don't even know which clubs got the video, but Gareth obviously replied. He said he liked it but wanted me to come over for a week's trial."

Ainsworth would probably have never heard of Muller before, a man whose previous clubs played in the German and Austrian second divisions.

But of the hundreds of player videos Ainsworth was sent by agents, Muller's was the one to catch his eye, and he was invited to the club's pre-season tour of France.

It was there, playing for a foreign club he had never even heard of, that his hamstring injury from the previous season flared up once more, leaving him set for a lengthy on the sidelines and without a contract to fall back on.

"Gareth gave me a few days off to go home and speak to my family and get all the support, because I was honestly thinking about quitting football," said Muller in impeccable English.

"It was my third hamstring injury in half a season, and it was a grade three as well which would take about four to five months to heal."

Despite his injury, Ainsworth was convinced Muller could be a success and gave him the contract and rehab to get through his injury.

The defender, who had a trial at Premier League side Stoke City at the age of 18, has since played in three EFL Trophy games on his way back to fitness.

And, if called upon against Tottenham should first-choice pairing of Anthony Stewart and Aaron Pierre be unavailable, Ainsworth and Muller could be rather thankful for taking the time to watch an out-of-the-blue video.

Top Stories