If you ask any young football fan to name their favourite player, the answer will come before you can finish your question.

Whether it be Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland, or (if you’re very lucky) a player from the team they actually support, children typically have their own personal icon who commands their fierce loyalty.

In my professional life I often watch the age old art of seeing a goal on a Saturday afternoon and racing to replicate it, although this has now expanded to include celebrations: “I have to score at lunch because I’ve got to do Mbappe’s celebration,” one boy told me the morning after France’s World Cup match against Australia. Yes, children know what they like – or, most importantly, who.

Which brings me to my question: is the same true of adults?

This is something I have often pondered and I have yet to reach a conclusive answer. My mates and I discuss it in the bar before a game, pulling up the squad list on our phones to try and pin down one particular player who claims our affections. I have had the conversation in the stands more than once, although one recent comment did stand out: “I’m 45 years old, of course I don’t have a favourite player.”

At what age do we grow out of it? Does it come with maturity, the consequence of watching a beloved dynamic midfielder leave for pastures new? The above statement was followed up by the explanation that Darren Eadie had broken his heart in December 1999, preventing him from ever caring that much about another player again. Maybe it’s because we don’t have the opportunity to replicate the heroics of our starlets in the playground on a Monday morning, or maybe it’s just because we think we’re too old for that nonsense.

Well. I say ‘we’.

The Pink Un: Jacob Sørensen after his wonder goal against Birmingham earlier this seasonJacob Sørensen after his wonder goal against Birmingham earlier this season (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

I am unabashed when it comes to my favourite player. No, I didn’t try and pull off my own version of his wonder goal against Birmingham on the playground at work the next day (if only because it was during the summer holidays…), nor do I truly, realistically, believe he is going to trouble a list of the greatest ever defensive midfielders. Yet Jacob Sørensen is without a doubt my favourite player. Like the aforementioned children, it isn’t an answer I have to think about, a statement that comes as easily as knowing my own name.

I like having a favourite player. I can see why children do it, their passionate defence of a player who the rest of their classmates believe is nothing special dominating the discussions in the lunch hall. They will go to great lengths to explain away a spurned chance, or a bad red card, or a lack of any actual playing time. It’s their favourite player – they’re special just by dint of that fact.

They can also provide a bit of a boost in the more dismal of times. During Norwich’s turgid 2021/22 Premier League campaign I often found solace in the sight of Lungi arriving for his two-minute cameo as a substitute. Indeed, his Premier League debut came when we were 3-0 down away at Tottenham which left me, if not actually happy, then at least slightly less miserable at the result.

There are downsides, of course. When they pick up an injury that should leave them side-lined for six weeks, which turns into 10, which turns into 20, you can feel a bit bereft, but there’s something comforting about knowing that no matter the position of your football club there will always be one player who makes you smile.

Having a favourite player should not just be the preserve of children. Pull up our squad list, pick a name, and revel in their next showing on the pitch. It’s not celebrating a goal while shouting their name, but it’s not half bad either.