I feel like I’ve done marriage…I genuinely can’t be arsed, says Gary Lineker

ON the pitch, Gary Lineker was one of the country’s most prolific scorers.

Off it, the 60-year-old former striker is, well, anything but.

The smooth-talking England legend — and Heat magazine’s 22nd ranking in its Secret Crush poll — reckons he has given up on sex, and love, and will only marry again, “when I need my nappies changing”.

He says: “I last went on a date a few months ago. Every now and again you might meet someone — but obviously not over the past couple of years because of the pandemic — but I’ve always found it quite difficult.

“Occasionally I have a date, but then I’ll go and make it clear I’m not interested. So I feel bad. I don’t want to lead anyone up the garden path. It sounds selfish, but I’m really happy on my own.

"I’ve got good friends, I’ve got my kids, I like cooking, and I just don’t want any more sleeping with someone again. When you get a bit older, that urge fades, your testosterone levels drop. It’s just not that important.

“I like the fun of flirting, going on dates, kissing and cooking for someone, but that’s about as far as I want to take it. I’m not sure I’m asexual as such — no matter how old you are, a beautiful woman is a beautiful woman — but I just genuinely can’t be arsed now.”

Twice-married Gary has four grown-up sons — George, Harry, Tobias and Angus — from his first marriage to Michelle Cockayne, 55.

‘I may get lonely and feel I need company’

Three years after they split in 2006, he married actress Danielle Bux, 42, in 2009. They divorced in 2016. The pair remain “best mates” — she even bought him the plaid shirt he is wearing for our interview — and speak most days.

So will he make it third time lucky? “I’ve spent most of my adult life married, I feel like I’ve done it,” he says. “But you never know, in a few years’ time I might get lonely and feel like I need company. I don’t think I will get married again, but maybe in five, ten years’ time, when I’m old and need my nappies changing, I will change my mind. Never say never.”

Netting 48 goals for his country — England’s all-time third-highest scorer behind Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton — Gary not only played a good game, he now talks one. As the BBC’s lead football presenter, he has been the face of Match Of The Day for the past 22 years — and has become one of the country’s most accomplished broadcasters. He is now flexing a new presenting muscle, hosting game show Sitting On A Fortune.

The big-budget ITV1 series kicks off tomorrow night and is loosely based on the concept of penalty shoot-outs, with the winner in line for up to £100,000. Contestants position them-selves in a row of seats, one behind the other, with the player in the “golden chair” at the front answering questions. Wrong answers see the player booted to the back of the line.

Created by the man behind smash shows including Deal Or No Deal and Pointless, it looks set to become a family staple this winter. And Gary is genuinely excited about it.

Smiling and sipping on some Chablis, he says: “I’m really proud of it, and just hope people like it as much as I do. I’ve watched hundreds of game shows over the years and not many finish on a high. Even the greatest game shows, like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, only have a winner getting £1million every five years or so.

I don’t think I will get married again, but maybe in five, ten years’ time, when I’m old and need my nappies changing, I will change my mind. Never say never.

“Whereas with our show, the chances are pretty much always the show finishes with this amazing moment. And that’s beautiful.” He prepped for his new role by bingeing on programmes hosted by Bradley Walsh and Jeremy Clarkson, and briefly chatted to the latter for advice ahead of filming.

Earlier this year, former Barcelona striker Gary announced he was quitting as the anchor of BT Sport’s Champions League coverage. He recently landed a new role on the Spanish La Liga’s English-language channel.

Next year he will join the rest of the BBC sport team in Qatar to cover the World Cup. Much has been written about the decision to give the tournament to the Middle Eastern country with an appalling human rights record and barbaric anti-gay laws. Gary, who has previously spoken out against the host country, has been accused of hypocrisy for covering the event.

Something which, understandably, he finds hugely frustrating. Chatting over a lobster thermidor jacket potato (no idea, either), he explains: “I get this all the time. ‘So you’re not going to go then?’ I’ve got to go because it’s my job. News reporters go, so why am I not allowed to?

“You don’t have to agree — and I vehemently disagree with the regime — and I’m not going there to cheer it on. I’m not a supporter. We know it was a corrupt bid. We shouldn’t be there, but it is there, and I’ll go and report on it from there. Will I support the Qatar World Cup in a sense of all that?

"No, because they’ve got too many fundamental human rights wrong. I’m aware of all that. Will I do stuff for Qatar in the World Cup? Absolutely not. Whatever they wanted to pay me the answer would be no. But I will go there and report the World Cup for the BBC.”

‘Piers is obviously deliberately provocative’

So what does he make of David Beckham’s decision to become a cultural ambassador for Qatar, landing himself a staggering £150million deal in the process?

Diplomatically, Gary replies: “It’s not something I would have done but it’s his business. I’m not a judgmental person. How many people would turn down £150million? The figure would be very, very few. I wouldn’t do it, and I mean that. But he’s a business person. He’s done really well, he’s a nice guy, and he’s been very successful.”

Gary may be just a few years off a free bus pass, but he remains as determinedly ambitious as ever — and has no intention of retiring any time soon. Which is bad news for former Spurs and Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas, who has been tipped to replace the big man on Match Of The Day when he does eventually hang up his mic.

But Gary backs Jermaine, who hosts BBC1’s The One Show, to take the reins one day. He says: “Jermaine is my natural successor. I think he’s doing well presenting. He’s got calmness, he’s got likeability and he’s smart. I think he’ll do really well. But I might make him wait a little while yet!”

Despite the BBC’s attempts to clamp down on impartiality — effectively trying to keep their big- name stars from saying anything remotely controversial — Gary is not for being muted. The planet’s most famous crisp eater is notoriously vocal over Twitter — earning him plaudits and critics in equal measure.

In reality, he is very kind, softly spoken and unassuming — a very different beast to one of his best mates, Piers Morgan, who pipped Gaz in Heat magazine’s aforementioned Celebrity Crush poll, coming in at sixth (the less said of that, the better).

Jermaine is my natural successor. I think he’s doing well presenting. He’s got calmness, he’s got likeability and he’s smart.

The pair regularly spar on Twitter, and often take it over to text messages to “thrash it out”. Gary says: “Sometimes, I’ll be like, ‘Well that was fun’, and he’ll say, ‘Yes, keep it going — keep them happy’. He is obviously deliberately provocative. But we’ve never had a row. I don’t row.

“I enjoy Piers’ company. We disagree with things and we agree with things. We do it in a kind-hearted manner.” By his own admission Gary is perceived as a “big leftie” when the reality is, he says, “I am very in the middle”.

He is also famously passionate about the cause of refugees, and last year put his money where his mouth is, taking in a Pakistani refugee for a few weeks.

Fifteen months on, the pair remain close, and Gary is currently in the process of going through a charity to take in another.

He says: “The refugee thing, I will never be able to comprehend being attacked for wanting to help people who are being bombed, who are risking their lives jumping on dinghies because they’re so desperate.

“How can anyone have a total lack of empathy for people in the most dire circumstances?

I enjoy Piers’ company. We disagree with things and we agree with things. We do it in a kind-hearted manner.

“I was actually supposed to take another one a couple of weeks ago, but am just waiting on the paperwork. It wasn’t just a one-off like the public perception was.

“It’s genuine. I got a lot out of it, and it was just a wonderful experience.”

  • Sitting On A Fortune starts on ITV tomorrow at 7pm.

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