Eight Of The Biggest Characters In Football
Every now and again, a player comes along who is both ridiculously talented and a total nutcase.
They’re the sort of players who capture fans hearts with their on the pitch skills, while regularly making headlines when not in action for their clubs.
I’m sure you can think of a few that your club has had over the years but here’s eight of my picks…
How could we start anywhere else?
‘Super’ Mario is the personification of a maverick.
While undoubtedly talented, the Italian striker has made more headlines for his off-pitch antics than on it, despite enjoying a career at some of the world’s biggest clubs.
When he played for Manchester City, Balotelli entertained the English public by setting off fireworks from his bathroom window, driving round Manchester with £25k on his passenger seat of his sports car and who could forget the ‘Why Always Me’ t-shirt in the United v City derby?
The 25-year-old striker is currently playing for AC Milan but is expected to return to Liverpool at the end of the season.
Jurgen Klopp will have his work cut out to try and tame Balotelli’s wild nature, but it could be the beginning of a perfect pairing.
When Colombian striker Asprilla arrived in England to sign for Newcastle in 1996 dressed in a fur coat and shivering, not many would have seen him lasting.
In fairness, the former Parma striker only played for the Magpies for two years before returning to Italy but while he was on Tyneside, there was no shortage of entertainment.
On the pitch, he had blistering pace and an uncanny ability to go by players, but his arrival has been blamed as the reason Newcastle blew their lead at the top of the Premier League, allowing Manchester United to win the title.
Numerous stories about wild house parties in the early hours of the morning and splashing out on lavish cars and clothes circulated regularly, meaning Asprilla became a cult hero at St James’ Park.
He didn’t have the best scoring record while at Newcastle, netting just nine Premier League goals, but he was particularly impressive in Europe – scoring nine in 11 games, including a hat-trick against Barcelona.
Now retired, the 46-year-old still makes the headlines regularly.
He was arrested for firing a machine gun at security forces back in 2008 and launched his own brand of flavoured condoms in 2014.
What a hero.
‘Zlatan doesn’t do auditions’.
That gem is one of hundreds of priceless quotes from Sweden’s greatest-ever player – a collection that earns him a place on this list.
On the pitch, Ibra is one of the world’s best. His 40-yard bicycle kick against England for Sweden was unlike anything ever witnessed and his CV reads likes a wish-list.
Off the pitch, the giant Swede is similarly entertaining. Often seen pranking team-mates and causing fights in training games, I only wish the 34-year-old had chanced his arm in England at some point during his illustrious career.
Paolo Di Canio
The Italian striker has been central to some of the most memorable moments in Premier League history.
Scoring that ridiculous volley for West Ham against Wimbledon in 2000, stopping a game against Everton by catching the ball when faced with an open goal, and shoving a referee to the floor during a game.
All normal practice for the former Lazio striker.
Outspoken, often crazy and supremely talented, Di Canio had a similar record of finding the net and finding controversy during his 23 year playing career.
Di Canio is also a proud fascist and has received numerous fines relating to his beliefs.
He used an offensive salute while playing for Lazio against arch-rivals Roma, and has caused club sponsors to cut ties with both Swindon Town and Sunderland after being appointed manager.
The move into management hasn’t mellowed him. One of his recent highlights was sliding knee-first down the touchline at St James Park after leading his Sunderland side to a 3-0 win.
With the 47-year-old linked with a return to management lately, it won’t come as a surprise to see Di Canio back in the spotlight before long.
Hatem Ben Arfa
Another former Newcastle player, Ben Arfa’s incredible ability sees him make this list comfortably.
The Frenchman first arrived on Tyneside in 2010 and wasted no time impressing.
A series of incredible goals – including one against Bolton where he ran from inside his own half – saw the former Lyon winger become one of the North-East’s most loved imports.
However, a fall-out with manager Alan Pardew soon left Ben Arfa out in the cold, and after months of sulking while playing for the Under 21’s, he was loaned to Hull City.
Steve Bruce also fell out with him and after seeing his contract out at Newcastle, Ben Arfa returned to native France with Nice.
Since then, he has rediscovered his top form and is setting Ligue 1 alight with some incredible performances that have seen him earn a recall to the French national team.
Ben Arfa’s current performances show that he always had the ability to become a top player but lacked the attitude necessary, which is a shame.
Gazza. What a bloke.
One of the most talented English players ever to lace up a pair of boots, Gazza was meant to lead England to World Cup glory in the 90’s and secure himself as one of the game’s best ever.
But the limelight followed him everywhere and Gazza loved it.
His addictive personality has seen him struggle with drink and drugs, and his career after football has been severely affected by bankruptcy and mental health issues.
The loveable Geordie even turned up during a stand-off between serial killer Raoul Moat and the police, only to be turned away while carrying a cooked chicken and a couple of fishing rods.
People would love nothing more than Gascoigne to get his life back on track and enjoy his hard-earned reputation as one of England’s finest players – let’s hope it happens.
Jose Luis Chilavert
Bit of a left-field inclusion now and it’s legendary Paraguayan goalkeeper, Jose Chilavert.
They always say you have to have a screw loose to be a goalie and Chilavert was not lacking on that front, carving out a reputation as one of the game’s craziest keepers.
During his career, the stopper became one of the best set-piece takers of his time and managed to bag 62 goals during his playing days including one hat-trick.
Goalscoring keepers aren’t as rare as they seem, and Brazilian stopper Rogerio Ceni has comfortably outscored Chilavert with 131 goals so far, but the Paraguayan’s tendancy to fight with team-mates sees him pip Ceni to this list.
Chilavert has allegedly had fights with none other than fellow list-maker Faustino Asprilla and has also punched Diego Maradona – something that makes him the envy of many an Englishman.
We round off this list with the inclusion of Arsenal flop, Andrey Arshavin.
Remember when we all watched him at Euro 2008 and thought he was the best thing to come out of Russia since cheap vodka?
Well, after a handful of decent performances in four years, Arshavin proved to be a resounding flop and soon returned to his homeland with Zenit St. Petersburg.
He did have some highlights while with the Gunners though, most notably netting four goals at Anfield in a thrilling 4-4 draw but his inconsistency and apparent dislike for English weather see him make this list.
Now 34, Arshavin is a free agent but is apparently on the verge of joining Macedonia’s biggest club, FK Vardar.
How the mighty have fallen.