Our modern game, beautiful though it is, if often accused of lacking character or, indeed, characters. Someone to replace the likes of Ol’ Big ‘Ed Brian Clough or touch-tackling, tough-talking ankle biter Roy Keane. And, when you think about it, the statement is probably true. With the spectre of an FA fine or, in extreme cases, a ban hanging over their heads, players and managers have become almost reluctant to speak the truth for fear of punishment. This makes the games’ controversial figures rare and all the more exciting or hateable. Who knows what they will say or do next? Those who are as likely to lose their head as they are to produce a moment of sheer class. But, fortunately for us fans and, of course, those pesky journalists, the game is not completely devoid of, let’s say, controversial characters. If you want model professionalism, just stick to Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard. Brilliant but boring. But for the thrill seekers, or perhaps enthusiasts of evil, amongst you, take a look at these guys. Drama is never far away.
Has there ever been a footballing enigma as complicated, as complex as Mario Balotelli? Even after two and a half seasons on English pitches and front pages, he remains an unsolved puzzle. Loveable fool or something more sinister, the unpredictable Italian, on his day, stunned us with sensational skills or, on most days, simple stupidity. “Super Mario” rapidly became “Mad Mario”. Flashes of inexperience, or maybe even innocence gained him the worship of many. He reportedly once hid inside a cupboard before jumping out, all in aid of startling the unknowing electrician who had been called to read his meter. His trusting, in hindsight gullible, mum once provided him with clear instructions to purchase an iron, leading the wacky wizard to return inoffensively with a trampoline, a table tennis set, two scooters and a Scalextric. And, never to be forgotten, he blew up his own bathroom with fireworks the night before netting twice at Old Trafford. He resembled millionaire kid in a candy store, where anything he desired was available at the flash of a credit card. But there were two sides to the mercurial magician. That unpunished stamp on Scott Parker, the throwing of darts at youth teamers and, lest we forget, the training ground bust-up with Roberto Mancini. Add four red cards into the mix and you’ve got an explosive, if volatile player. Despite his sporadic genius, you always got the feeling that he was never destined for a heroes exit. Goodbye or good riddance, opinion will always be divided over Mario Balotelli. Why always him?
“Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Whatever the answer to Nick Hornby’s famous quote, Joey Barton had better put down that Smith’s album. Because, he is clearly not a happy man. Currently in exile in France, the Scouse scoundrel has had a diplomatically controversial career. It’s hard to believe that his first red card occurred all the way back in 2004. At just 21, this was a surefire sign of things to come. If the case of young Jamie Tandy is anything to go by, Joey Barton is a dangerous, hazardous individual to be avoided at all costs. The Morrissey admiring midfielder ruined the teen’s fledging career with one brutal jab of his lit cigarette. All that potential dashed in a moment of madness. Or menace. Ousmane Dabo will concur, the on loan midfielder forced to flee back to his native France following a violent attack that left him requiring hospital treatment. Having been unceremoniously shipped off to QPR, Barton donned the Hoops for just one solitary season, concluding with his commencing of a mass brawl at the Etihad in which Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and even man mountain Vincent Kompany felt the full force of the tenacious terriers’ uncontrollable anger. It seems incredibly unfair that someone as uncouth, as repellent as Barton can be allowed to blag a summer switch to Marseille, where football has become secondary to his new career as a professional Tweeter. Who said the bad guys always finish last? Here’s a bit of philosophy for your collection Joey, leopards never change their spots.
Consistent cheat, alleged racist, borderline cannibal. Is there anything more Luis Suarez can do to become more hated? There’s no doubting his world class capabilities, in fact the skilful striker has arguably been the star of the season, his virtuoso performances recurrently dragging his mediocre team mates into the higher reaches of the Premier League. But, he remains one of the most loathed players in English football. A testament to his countless controversies. He’s no stranger to the odd ban either. His 7 game veto for a Dracula inspired bite on Otman Bakkal was dwarfed by the FA’s castigation, handed down for his abuse of Patrice Evra. Suarez’s subsequent refusal to shake the hand of the forgiving Frenchman forced Kenny Dalglish into a misguided defence of his obnoxious forward, a decision which directly contributed to the Liverpool legends’ sacking. And compared to Suarez, Maradona’s “Hand of God” was relatively underused. He single-handedly broke the hearts of Mansfield in this seasons FA Cup, not forgetting becoming the most hated man in Africa following his “save” in the 2010 World Cup semi-final against gallant Ghana. And you can’t helping thinking the producers of ITV’s Splash missed a trick when picking their contestants. Surely, the unsteady Uruguayan would have been a perfect candidate. Bellyflops are his forte, after all.
The general feeling is that the constant play-acting and pretence of the midfield metronome ruins much of the credibility of the beautiful Barcelona. Compared the honesty and integrity of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and co. there’s no wonder that the sly Spaniard is so highly criticised. Of course, every team needs a destroyer. Someone to do the dirty work. And with the majesty of the players around him, the job falls squarely on the shoulders of the La Masia graduate. Tripping and tricking are his game. And, unfortunately for the opposition and us neutrals, he is very good at it. Viewed by many as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Busquetts’ constant whimpering has earned him the frustration of the masses, serving to overshadow his top-class ability making him one of the most underrated superstars in world football. But he only has himself to blame. Brazilian battler Thiago Motta, no adversary to a physical approach himself, accused the lanky lynchpin of “terrible behaviour” after Busquetts’ dreadful dive and apparent agony earned the supposed perpetrator a straight red, tarnishing his dreams of playing in the subsequent Champions League final. Busquetts’ looking-through-his-hands-while-writhing-in-anguish ploy earned him the rightful abhorrence of the footballing community. And long may it continue.
He may be an international legend, recent centurion, but Ashley Cole remains a figure of revulsion in English football. “Cashley” has developed an uncanny means of “rubbing people the wrong way”. Although, why this so frequently occurs is no mystery. With all the criticism, the condemnation of the modern “primadonnas” with their plucked eyebrows and garish footwear, they are accused of being out of touch with the rest of society. And this describes football’s Mr Arrogant pretty much perfectly. A contentious switch to megabucks Chelsea earned the lightning left-back the revulsion of his formerly admiring Arsenal fans who believed Cole’s motivations was cold hard cash, hence the rather intelligent nickname. His despicable cheating on national treasure Cheryl suitably turned the majority of our society against the detestable defender, making him front page fodder for tabloids across the country. It’s understandable why Ashley Cole is so widely ostracized. And that’s all without mentioning his inconceivable shooting of a young student at Cobham. The fact that he brings an air rifle into training says it all really.
The bald bruiser may be a top-class centre half but his on-pitch conduct could do with a bit of work, to say the least. How many El Classico’s have we witnessed where Pepe’s deplorable tactics have spoiled what should be a wondrous spectacle? Too many. Far too many. From lashing out at opponents to crafty deception, Pepe knows every trick in the book. He seems to possess absolutely no shame, let alone a conscience. Moments after viciously scything down a rival forward, the Portuguese powerhouse can often be spotted attempting to break the world record for sideways rolls having received an inconspicuous tap on the ankle. Pathetic. You would think he would be embarrassed to perform those antics in front of millions of repulsed viewers, wouldn’t you? Well, apparently not as his cowardly stamp on the hand of Lionel Messi proved testament to. Wayne Rooney branded him an idiot. Perhaps the understatement of the century.
To be stripped of your captaincy twice is some achievement. But it’s one that John Terry can add to his seemingly endless list of abhorred actions. The fact that he skippered England on numerous occasions makes a mockery of the modern game. Aren’t professionals supposed to be setting an example to our young generation? Well, yes, they are. But, apparently this doesn’t apply to one of football’s great untouchables. Time and time again, John Terry has been at the centre of a media storm and has come out of the other side seemingly unscathed. His very public affair and rather humiliating dispute with former team mate Wayne Bridge was eclipsed by his beloved Chelsea’s title race triumph while his rather obvious kicking up the backside of Alexis Sanchez saw him banned for the Champions League final. Not that it bothered him, John Terry duly changed into his kit, shinpads and all, to gleefully lift up the trophy at the Allianz Arena as the rest of Europe watched on in disgust. Oh, and by the way, his abuse of Anton Ferdinand, the second time he has been accused of racial abuse, did you know, following a situation involving Ledley King in 2006, saw him forcibly removed from his apparently invincible position in the international set up. Bravo, you horrible, horrible man. Bravo.
OK, they do provide drama in abundance. But not for the right reasons. In fact, it’s mostly for some of the worst reasons imaginable. Chuck this bunch of cheats, racists and abusers together and you could easily create an uber talented prison XI. Strangeways Here We Come, that’s one for you Joey. Unfortunately for the moralistic amongst you, we will all have to endure these intolerable idiots for the rest of their detestable, yet infuriatingly successful, careers. But there are some forces for good out there. Don’t forget, Lionel Messi is the perhaps the greatest player of all time. And what has he ever done to hurt anyone? Keep this in mind, there is always hope. Good will always prevail, right? That’s what we’ve got to keep telling ourselves anyway.
Written By Daniel Owen (1912)