While there’s an endless amount of players who we love to hate, it’s a rare thing to see a player who attracts nothing but love from football fans, no matter their team.
Every now and again, a player comes along who you just cannot dislike. Whether it be for their style of play or off-field demeanour, some characters just attract love – even from opposition supporters.
With it being Valentine’s Day (you’ve still got time to nip to the garage for some knock-off flowers if you’ve forgotten), we compiled a list of the most loveable characters in football.
We start with Spanish hero, Juan Mata.
Not many players can transfer from Chelsea to Manchester United and not get absolutely hammered whenever they return to Stamford Bridge, but Mata is one man who has pulled it off.
The former Valencia (they could do with him right about now) man is as likeable as they come. Never one to lunge into a wild tackle or antagonise an opponent in a Diego Costa style, he seems like the sort of person who sits at home and reads a book whenever he’s not in action for club or country.
Let’s not overlook that nearly all Man United players are virtually impossible to like, so Mata’s inclusion on this list certainly reflects his popularity amongst neutrals.
Although now retired, there was no way Zanetti wasn’t making it onto this list.
The Argentinian defender played 857 times for Inter Milan during a 19-year career, winning 16 trophies in the process.
He was so popular at his club, Inter have now retired Zanetti’s number four shirt and have made him club vice-president.
A no-nonsense full-back, Zanetti also kept virtually the exact same haircut throughout his career – making him all the more popular in a world full of man buns and top knots.
Now 42, Zanetti earned 143 caps for Argentina and was only sent off twice in his entire career.
What a guy.
It’s hard to dislike a player with the ridiculous technique and range of passing that Xabi Alonso possesses.
Everything Alonso does seems effortless and he’s rarely involved in the unsavoury side of the game, despite spending his entire career playing defensive midfield.
He makes 50-yard passes look simple and when he’s off the field, he’s one of the most suave characters out there.
Alonso wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond film, saving the world from an army of Lee Cattermole’s.
The Arsenal man makes it onto this list thanks to his work ethic and ridiculous ability.
I think it’s safe to say few people in England knew just how good he was until he transferred from Barcelona as he was always competing with the likes of Lionel Messi for the spotlight.
But at the Emirates, he’s the main man.
It’s refreshing to see a foreign import coming into the Premier League and working hard week in, week out, to make the best of themselves and not resort to diving and cheating their way to success.
Sanchez came from nothing, playing football on dirt pitches back in Chile and eventually earning enough to provide for his family.
You could expect players who have played for Barcelona and Arsenal to have an ego but Sanchez is the definition of an introvert when not on the pitch, as well as a genius on it.
‘No Pirlo, no party’
There was simply no way this list could be compiled without the inclusion of the classiest man on the planet.
His beard is perfection and his career is almost unrivalled.
Similar to Mata, Pirlo is impossible to dislike even though he’s played for Italy’s three biggest clubs. Swapping Inter for AC Milan and then moving to Juventus for free in 2014, you won’t find many haters anywhere in the world for this man.
One example of the Italian free-kick wizard’s classiness was back in 2012 when, afer beating Fiorentina 5-0 with Juventus, Pirlo dedicated the win to Fabrice Muamba, who had suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane on the same day.