A selection of twins who looked the same but played very differently
Identical twins supposedly have similar characteristics. If they are footballers, you expect them to occupy similar positions on the field, as the recent examples of Vasily and Aleksey Berezutsky of Russia or Lars and Sven Bender of Germany show. Such assumptions don’t always hold true. Here are eight curious cases of identical twins who were not identical on the pitch at all.
Erwin and Helmut Kremers, born 24 March 1949
Looking at the stats of Bundesliga’s first pair of twins, you might think they were quite similar. Helmut scored 67 times in 331 games in all competitions, while Erwin amassed 69 goals in 321 appearances. However, while Erwin played as a winger who sometimes drifted into the penalty area, Helmut was a left-back occasionally used as a holding midfielder. Both were quick and possessed good dribbling skills and a quality left foot, but their talents were employed in completely different fashions.
As Helmut, the younger brother by 10 minutes, remembered, “Ever since we joined Borussia Mönchengladbach at the age of eight, Erwin always loved playing as a striker, but I preferred to see the pitch in front of me, develop the game from behind and join the attacks every now and then. Coaches never questioned that throughout our careers.” Helmut was famous for roaming forward and scored a number of goals from open play, as well as specialising in taking free-kicks and penalties.
The great coach Hennes Weisweiler gave the brothers their debuts for Gladbach in the 1967-68 season, and he always liked them, but they fell out with the team’s equally legendary manager Helmut Grashoff and chose to leave for Kickers Offenbach. After winning the DFB Cup, they moved on to Schalke 04 in 1971 and became talismanic for the Gelsenkirchen club as it recovered from the infamous match-fixing scandal. Extremely charismatic, they were instantly loved by the fans, and their first season at Schalke was nothing short of phenomenal. Schalke narrowly lost out on the title to Bayern Munich, but won the cup, after Helmut scored three penalties in the semifinals against FC Köln.
The coach Ivica Horvat proclaimed Erwin to be “the best left winger in the world”, and Helmut Schön duly called him into the West Germany squad for Euro ‘72, where he played a major role in winning the title. Two years later, both brothers were supposed to be included in the squad for the World Cup that took place on the home soil, but Erwin didn’t make it. Five minutes from the end of the last Bundesliga game of the season, as Schalke were thrashed 4-0 by Kaiserslautern, the emotional striker, having been wound up by the referee Max Klauser throughout the match, erupted when another decision went against him. “Shut up, you stupid pig!” he shouted. Klauser was aware that sending off Erwin would, thanks to Schön’s strict disciplinary rules, mean he was out of the World Cup, so he tried to avoid showing the red card. “I didn’t understand,” he said. “What did you say, Mr Kremers?” Erwin repeated his rant. Klauser gave him a third opportunity, again pretending he didn’t hear the words, but the obscenities were uttered for the third time he had no option. “I was unlucky that Helmut was injured that day,” Erwin said. “He would have stopped me if he’d been on the pitch.” His brother went to the World Cup alone, but didn’t play a single minute in the tournament.
In 1974, the twins also became famous for performing a song called The Girl of My Dreams as a duet. To their surprise, it became very popular, and was even ranked third on the list of radio hits for a while. The producers were happy, so other songs were recorded, and one of them, No Hello No Goodbye, was eventually picked up and performed by Julio Iglesias. The brothers continue to claim that they performed it better than the Spaniard, who could himself have become a footballer, once starring as a promising goalkeeper at Real Madrid’s academy.
The Kremers brothers turned down numerous offers from Bayern to stay at Schalke, where they always felt at home. Erwin retired aged 30 and left the game for good, while Helmut continued playing for a couple more years, eventually moving to Canada. He later served as Schalke manager, and even had a short and unsuccessful spell as the club’s president.
Andreas and Thomas Ravelli, born 13 August 1959
Thomas became famous around the globe at the age of 34, when he starred at the 1994 World Cup for the bold Sweden team that claimed third place. The balding goalkeeper peaked in the quarter-final clash with Romania, making saves from Dan Petrescu and Miodrag Belodedici in the penalty shoot-out, and producing a funny little dance at the end. Thomas was also outstanding in the semi-finals, when limiting Brazil to a single goal and keeping his team in with a fighting chance until the final whistle.
In those days, few people outside Sweden even knew that Thomas had a twin brother, let alone that Andreas was actually considered much more talented when the siblings started playing football. Until the age of 12, both were defenders — Andreas played at centre-back, whereas Thomas was a right-back – or at least he aspired to be, but the coaches thought differently and, more often than not, he was watching his brother from the bench. Then the revolutionary idea came: the team needed a keeper and Thomas was asked to try his luck. He never looked back.
The Ravelli brothers’ illustrious career started at Östers, in the southern Swedish town of Växjö, one of the best teams in the country at the time. Andreas was the first to make his debut and played in the side that won the title by a distance in 1978. Thomas followed him into the first team in 1979, and the perfect understanding between the twins helped to make Östers’ defence almost unbeatable under Bo Johansson, a coach best known for managing Denmark in the late 90s.
“Our partnership was fabulous because we always felt and understood each other without words,” Thomas said. The team conceded just 16 goals in 26 games when finishing first in Allsvenskan in 1980, and Thomas picked the ball out of his net only 20 times when Östers were crowned champions again in 1981 in what had become a very attack-minded league.
In 1980, Andreas became the first to be capped by Sweden, before Thomas got his call in 1981. As the defender put it, “I am the older brother. I showed Thomas the way when we were born and continued to open the doors for him.” He did that again when moving to IFK Göteborg in 1988. As Östers gradually faded away in the 80s, the temptation to move to a bigger club was too difficult to resist. Göteborg naturally wanted to sign both brothers, but could only afford one of them. Thus it was Andreas who left, and Thomas reflected: “It was a good thing for us to get some rest from each other, since we were always together and started to get a bit tired.”
The separation proved to be disastrous for Östers, who were relegated despite the best efforts of Thomas. The keeper then joined his twin in Gothenburg. Sadly, they only played one more season together. By that time, Andreas was already suffering from serious knee problems and he was forced to retire from the professional game at the age of 30. He attempted a comeback with Östers but eventually gave up in 1992, just as his brother represented the country at the European Championship that took place in Sweden.
Two years later, Thomas had the summer of his life in the States, but Andreas preferred to stay at home and watch the games on TV with his mother. He still regrets that decision. The stopper might have been the best in Sweden in the 80s and amassed 41 caps, but that’s not much compared 143 international appearances by the keeper — a Swedish record recently broken by Anders Svensson. Thomas played until the age of 40, and he admitted, “When I switched to goal, I knew that goalkeepers tend to have longer careers.” Andreas was never jealous, though. “Everywhere I go, people think that I am Thomas, so I’m just as famous, because of him,” he joked.
Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan, born 10 August 1966
As far as international caps are concerned, the Hassans are the most successful pair of brothers in football history. Hossam represented Egypt 169 times, with more than two decades separating not only his first and last appearance, but also his first and last medals at the African Cup of Nations. He won the tournament in 1986 as a 19 year old, and repeated the feat in 2006, having celebrated another title in between, in 1998. Ibrahim wasn’t part of any of those triumphs. He made his debut for Egypt in 1988 and wasn’t called up after 2002, while missing the 1998 tournament because of injury. Nevertheless, he has 127 games for the Pharaohs to his name. Between them, the incredible Hassan twins amassed 294 matches, a record extremely unlikely ever to be surpassed.
They will always be remembered together, but they could hardly have been more different on the pitch. Both started playing as strikers, but while Hossam proved to be a natural scorer, Ibrahim was far less successful in front of goal. The youth coach at Al Ahly tried him in defence instead and the gamble worked out perfectly. Ibrahim remained at right-back for the rest of his career.
Hossam based his game on intelligence, good movement and had that uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. Ibrahim, on the other hand, was a tough no-nonsense marker, feared by opponents for his physical, never-say-die approach. His technical qualities were not outstanding, but in his prime he still was one of Africa’s finest defenders.
Of the two of them, Hossam was always the leader, taking his brother with him along the way. The striker was the favourite player of Egypt’s most famous coach, Mahmoud Al Gohary — the man who, in 1990, took the country to their only post-war World Cup. The twins were key players for Egypt in Italy that summer, and European teams became interested in them. PAOK of Thessaloniki signed the pair, and Hossam became an idol of black-and-white fans, scoring one of the team’s most iconic goals with an overhead kick against Panathinaikos. They only wanted to keep the striker for the following season, though, so both twins signed for Neuchâtel Xamax.
With Al Ahly in trouble in 1992, the twins took an emotional decision to come home and took their beloved club back to glory. As years passed, their value to the team was very different. Hossam, whose game was never too physical, remained in brilliant form, seemingly ageless. Ibrahim, on the other hand, couldn’t perform on the same level on the wrong side of 30. The inevitable moment came in 1999 when Al Ahly wanted to re-sign only Hossam, but that was impossible. The brothers never separated, and they moved to Al Ahly’s Cairo rivals Zamalek. In 2004, when Zamalek tried to retain Hossam only, the siblings signed for Al Masry. Eventually, Ibrahim played until the age of 38, thanks to his twin who retired a year later. Between them, they won 13 league titles, two African Champions League trophies and four African Cup Winners’ Cups.
They have continued to work together as coaches in recent years — Hossam in charge, Ibrahim as his assistant. They were both on the bench of Al Masry in 2012 when the tragic Port Said massacre took place, and coached Jordan as the Asian team lost to Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup play-offs. Hossam’s ambition is to become the coach of Egypt sooner rather than later, and his twin will surely be by his side when that happens.
Frank and Ronald de Boer, born 15 May 1970
It might come as a surprise now, but as a child Ronaldus de Boer was thought to be a more promising player than his brother Franciscus. They were born not far from Alkmaar, where their father Cees used to play before a poor tackle ended his career prematurely. At their first club, De Zouaven, Ronald was a versatile striker, while Frank played as a left winger. When the twins joined Ajax at the age of 14, they met the legendary youth coach Dirk de Groot, who soon decided that Frank’s place was in defence. The mentor was certain that Bryan Roy was a much better prospect on the wing, as Frank lacked pace and wasn’t a great dribbler.
Thus Frank became a left-back, and later on moved into central defence. He never regretted it. Ronald might have been the first one to make a debut for the first team, aged 17, but he remained a bench player for his first three seasons, while Frank soon made a starting place his own. Eventually, when Louis van Gaal took charge in 1991, he made it clear that Ronald would have to leave in order to play regular football, and off he went to Twente Enschede. “It was pointless to stay at Ajax and sit on the bench, just to be at the same club as Frank,” he once recalled.
The Amsterdamers left themselves the first option to re-sign Ronald, and used it 18 months later after he’d found his feet and become a regular first division player. The versatile attacker, who was often used in midfield, was never a prolific scorer, his best tally in all competitions standing at just 11 in the glorious 1994-95 season when Ajax stunned Europe by winning the Champions League. The brothers played together in the final against AC Milan, and they also won five Eredivisie titles together.
As most of the youngsters nurtured by van Gaal left the club, the de Boers remained stalwarts, but in the summer of 1998 they opened controversial legal procedures against the club, claiming a verbal promise had been made that they would be released if a suitable offer was received. The twins lost the case, but their presence became problematic and they were sold to Barcelona in January 1999, being reunited with Van Gaal. Those were not happy times for them, though, with Frank being banned after a test suggested he had used nandrolone and Ronald struggling for form.
In the end, Ronald accepted a generous offer from Rangers, and the pair were separated for three and a half years before Frank also arrived at Ibrox, his twin advising the management that he was available. There was no happy ending for their European career as Celtic ran away with the title, and the brothers eventually hung up their boots after a spell in Qatar.
Since his professional debut, Frank had been the leader of the pair, and he was a very important player for the national team as well, accumulating 112 caps. Ronald only played 67 times for the Netherlands and is mostly remembered for missing the crucial penalty in the 1998 World Cup semi-final shoot-out against Brazil. Frank, visibly frustrated, wasn’t supportive of his sibling that day, but then he himself missed two penalties against Italy in the semi-final of Euro 2000.
Arnar and Bjarki Gunnlaugsson, born 3 March 1973
When one of Gunnlaugsson twins scored a hat-trick for Iceland Under-16 team, the coach ran on to the field to check which one it was. They were absolutely identical and he didn’t want to make a mistake. The hero was Arnar — the one who had played as a midfielder as a kid, switching to a more advanced role as years went by. Bjarki, on the other hand, started as a striker and gradually moved into a midfield position.
They became famous very early in their homeland, making their debut for ÍA Akranes at the age of 16 in the same game: Arnat was in the starting lineup, Bjarki came on as a substitute. The winning formula was to give the ball to Bjarki in the midfield — more often than not he found his brother, 15 minutes older than him, who would score. Bjarki was more visionary; Arnar had a better eye for goal.
Rumours of their talent reached the Netherlands and the duo signed for Feyenoord in 1992. The Rotterdamers had a fine team in those days, winning the Eredivisie title under Wim van Hanegem, and the youngsters found it difficult to get a game. Growing impatient, they chose to leave two years later — a decision they now regret. “We were too young to understand what was good for us,” Arnar said. “Look at Giovanni van Bronckhorst who played with us for the reserves: he stayed and became a big star. We should have done the same and waited for the opportunity. The Dutch league was perfect for us.”
So they went to FC Nürnberg, who had just been relegated to the second flight and initially things looked promising, even though Bjarki was played out of position on the wing. The team didn’t meet their expectations, though, and Rainer Zobel, the coach who had signed the pair, was forced to leave. His replacement, Günter Sebert, was reluctant to play both twins at the same time. “Sometimes people thought we didn’t work hard enough defensively and only one of us could be on the pitch,” said Arnar. “That’s why we only started one game together for the national team during the whole of our careers. Our perfect mutual understanding wasn’t really used, and that’s a great pity.” Eventually, Nürnberg were relegated again and the pair went back to Akranes.
From there on, their roads parted. Bjarki went to SV Waldhof Mannheim, continued to Molde and Brann Bergen in Norway, and then Preston North End. Arnar chose to join Sochaux in France, but left a more significant mark in England, playing for Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City and Stoke City. Both were somewhat unlucky with injuries. Bjarki even retired at the age of 29 because of his bad hip, but eventually returned to the field, as the pair spent long years in Iceland before actually hanging up their boots.
They were always popular in their homeland — humorous, easy-going, dressing well and starring in various stories on the back pages. Having played for KR Reykjavík together, they twice tried a joint player-coaching position at ÍA, without real success. Their only game against each other took place in 2010, when they were 37. “That felt really strange, especially because we were direct opponents on the pitch,” said Arnar. “I was the playmaker for Haukar, Bjarki was the defensive midfielder for FH Hafnarfjörður.” FH won 3-1 that day, but Arnar scored the only goal for the losers, so their parents couldn’t have been happier.
They went out on a high note, Bjarki winning the title with FH, and Arnar being the top scorer for Fram. Since retirement, they have worked together as football agents, representing young players and teaching them patience, trying to ensure this generation never makes the mistake they did.
Guillermo and Gustavo Barros Schelotto, born 4 May 1973
The Barros Schelotto brothers aren’t well known outside Argentina, largely because of a lack of exposure in the national team — Guillermo only won 10 caps, while Gustavo was never called up. In their homeland, though, they are household names, especially among the fans of their first team, Gimnasia La Plata, and Boca Juniors.
The twins, following the footsteps of their older brother Pablo, were accepted into the Gimnasia academy, and it was soon evident that their talents were rather different. The youth coach saw that Gustavo was a cool-headed player who was able to fill various positions in midfield, using his vision. He was also better developed physically, whereas Guillermo was a flair player, light on his feet, always willing to take on defenders and score goals. Eventually, Gustavo established himself as a holding midfielder, playing long passes to his sibling. He rarely stood out, but had a huge influence on his teammates. Guillermo, mainly a playmaker in the youth squad, ended up as a tricky winger, easily stealing the limelight from his twin.
The differences off the field were also significant. Gustavo was always an outgoing personality, ready to speak to everyone and friendly with journalists. Guillermo was shy and less talkative, but changed on the pitch, where he enjoyed being a troublemaker. Both brothers loved to provoke, raising the temperature by constant trash-talking and getting a number of their rivals sent off. Nice guys in the dressing-room , they were perfect teammates, even becoming friends with Martín Palermo at Boca Juniors, despite the fact that he had been raised at their local rivals Estudiantes de La Plata. Their opponents, however, hated to play against them.
There was never any rivalry between the duo. When Guillermo got the nod to make his debut for Gimnasia in 1991, it was Gustavo who called to break the good news to their parents. As their contribution grew, the team became a significant force in the league, missing out on the title by a single point in the Clausuras of 1995 and 1996. During the latter, Gimnasia recorded one of their most famous wins ever, thrashing Boca 6-0 away, with Guillermo scoring a phenomenal hat-trick.
That was the moment at which the Boca board decided to sign the twins and the deal was done a year later. Guillermo went on to become one of the most beloved players of los xeneizes, spending a decade at La Bombonera, scoring 62 league goals, winning six league titles, and lifting the Libertadores Cup four times, not to mention two triumphs in the International Cup.
Gustavo was less fortunate, falling out with the coach after being benched. He left Boca in 2000 and started wandering, spending some time at Racing Club and Rosario Central, as well as short spells at Villarreal in Spain and Allianza Lima in Peru. He had retired by the time Guillermo moved to MLS with Columbus Crew before finishing his career at Gimnasia at the age of 38. Nowadays, they are thriving as joint coaches at Lanús, with Guillermo formally in charge and Gustavo his assistant.
Marcin and Michał Żewłakow, born 22 April 1976
When playing for youth teams, both brothers were forwards. Marcin was mostly used centrally, whereas the two-footed Michał was sent to the wing and supplied the crosses for his sibling. Coaches at Polonia Warsaw, though, spotted other talents in the pair. Since both were sound in tackling and possessed good vision, it was suggested that the twins should move backwards and be involved more in build-up play.
The brothers’ reactions couldn’t have been more different. Michał pragmatically decided to play to his strengths, as he moved to the left-side of midfield, then to left-back, eventually becoming a dominant leader in central-defence. Marcin just wanted to score goals and saw directives to play in midfield or at right-back as punishment. He was ready to sacrifice the chance of a more prominent career for his passion for putting the ball into the net.
As they moved to the Belgian club Beveren in 1998, Marcin presented himself as a striker and proved the point when scoring a brace on his debut. The brothers were transferred to Excelsior Mouscron a year later and proceeded to have a very solid career. However, despite having a decent scoring record, Marcin was never considered first choice for Poland, while Michał, who made his debut for the national team before his twin, went on to become the most-capped player in Polish history with 102 appearances.
Both brothers, the first twins to play for Poland, were included in the squad that went to the World Cup in 2002 — Michał a certain starter, Marcin a substitute. “Poland is the only team where I could quietly accept being left on the bench,” he said, and would proudly note that eventually he played in all three games in the tournament, whereas Michał was pulled out after two defeats. Marcin’s international career was over soon after and he will never know what would have happened if he had accepted a switch to midfield in his youth. He doesn’t care, though: “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t give up a single goal in exchange for more caps or better recognition. Scoring is the greatest feeling in the world, it always gave me all the satisfaction I needed.”
As the more established player of the duo, Michał went on to play for bigger clubs, signing for Anderlecht in 2002 and leaving Marcin at Mouscron. Being separated for the first time in their lives was tough for the twins — both lost form and needed half a season to regain confidence. Marcin was even benched by the coach Lorenzo Staelens, who blamed the World Cup for his tiredness, although the real reason lay elsewhere.
The hardest experience, though, was playing against each other, as clashes in the penalty area were unavoidable. Both twins thrived in physical battles and were never afraid of crunching tackles, but had to change their attitude when facing one another — they couldn’t stand the thought of accidentally injuring their brother. “We had absolutely no secrets. It was impossible for me to surprise Michał, and Michał couldn’t surprise me,” Marcin said.
He did, nevertheless, score twice against his sibling, and the second goal proved to be of huge importance. The game in question took place in the Polish Ekstraklassa, after both brothers returned to their homeland. Michał, who won two Belgian titles with Anderlecht and three Greek championship trophies with Olympiakos, signed for Legia Warsaw. Marcin, whose only title was in Cyprus with Apoel, went to the less fashionable GKS Bełchatów.
The twins had always dreamed of finishing their careers at the same club, but that didn’t work out, and when GKS played at Legia in March 2012 the capital team were considered favourites to finish first. Michał’s team lead 1-0 at the break, but Marcin netted the equaliser in the second half, derailing Legia’s challenge. They eventually finished third, three points from the top, and Marcin was jokingly “blamed” by his brother for the collapse.
The happy ending for Michał came the following year, as Legia were crowned champions in his last season before retiring. Marcin also retired in 2013 and now the brothers have more opportunities to spend time together. “We were always the same,” Marcin said. “Sometimes I went out shopping and watched a movie, and it turned out that Michał bought exactly the same things at the same time and then watched the same film.” So similar in life, but so different on the pitch.
Hamit and Halil Altintop, born 8 December 1982
The Altintop twins were born in Gelsenkirchen to a family of Turkish immigrants. Their father died of cancer when they were just two years old. According to local journalists, their characters tended to be quite different. Hamit, older by 12 minutes, is a bit more ‘Turkish’ — talkative, open hearted and impulsive. Halil is a bit more ‘German’ — he favours long-term planning and can be shy, especially with strangers.
They started their careers at SG Wattenscheid 09, a proud club that had had a few decent seasons in the Bundesliga, but was playing in the third division by the time the Altintops joined their youth academy. In 2000, aged 18, the brothers were promoted to the first team by the coach Hannes Bongartz. “They are completely different players with different skills,” he said. “Hamit has always been strong defensively, an aggressive fighter on the pitch and a leader by nature. Halil was better technically, cool and clever, always looking to score goals.”
That’s how they played from the very beginning. Hamit, originally a holding midfielder, is very versatile, and so was used in many positions, including at right-back. Halil has always played up front, a penalty-area predator.
At the age of 17, the twins had a decision to make as to which national team they wanted to play for. Halil was seriously thinking of representing Germany, but Hamit didn’t want to hear about that. “Do you want to play against me?” he asked. Halil clearly didn’t and both went on to play for Turkey. They did, however, play against each other on numerous occasions, as their careers saw them separated as they progressed to the Bundesliga.
In 2003, Hamit stayed at home to join Schalke 04, while Halil moved south to sign for Kaiserslautern. Hamit’s career was much more impressive from there on, as he had an absolutely sensational debut, scoring a brace with phenomenal long-range shots in the Ruhr derby against Borussia Dortmund. Bold and fearless, he took his first opportunity with both hands and his place in the starting line-up was never in doubt. Halil had to wait much longer for his breakthrough, as Miroslav Klose was calling the shots at Lautern. He eventually proved himself as well, though, scoring 20 goals in the 2005-06 season and earning a transfer to Schalke.
2006-07 was the only season in which both brothers played for the same team and Schalke came agonisingly close to winning the title, eventually losing out to VfB Stuttgart, beaten by Dortmund in the penultimate match. Hamit was then signed by Bayern Munich, and won two league titles and two DFB Cups before moving on to Real Madrid in 2011. Had he enjoyed better luck with injuries, he would surely have had an even more illustrious career. He now plays for Galatasaray, and his only goal in the 2012-13 season was scored against Schalke in the Champions League.
Halil stayed at Schalke for two more years, but never found his true form and was eventually forced to leave for Eintracht Frankfurt, where he had a disappointing 2010-11 season without scoring a single league goal. He put his career back on track at Trabzonspor and is now at Augsburg.
The twins became used to facing each other and never changed their style on such occasions. “We are both fair players, who rarely get yellow cards. It’s just a duel that I want to win,” Hamit said ahead of one of the games between Bayern and Schalke.
Their biggest dream was to play together for Turkey at a major tournament. They came very close to achieving it, having been regulars in qualifying for Euro 2008. However, the coach Fatih Terim controversially omitted Halil from the final squad. Hamit, positioned at right-back, overcame an injury and was excellent throughout, as Turkey dramatically reached the semifinals, where they lost to Germany, of all teams. In his mind, he wasn’t there alone. He played for both of them.