The game of football often evokes the most explicit and, with a bit of a stretch, the most paradoxical set of opinions from fans, more or less testing the established limits of human perception. Of course, there is that chivalry, that sense of unity, that chorus of delirium reverberating from the terraces on match days. Everyone loves to revel in the joie de vivre that the game brings into their lives.
But outside this hunky-dory realm, lies a darker side that never makes it to the papers – fans’ prejudice.
Over the years the game has had its fair share of bad boys. You either hate them or are willing to run through a brick wall for their cause if they are playing for your favourite team. There lies the aforementioned prejudice. We are football fans. We reek of loyalty, we thrive on fidelity. Supporting our heroes is what we do when fate presents us with a state of perplexity.
To give you some context, Eric Cantona was adored by Manchester United fans. But he was equally hated by the rest of the Premiership clubs and their supporters. Paolo Di Canio, Joey Barton, Paul Gascoigne – the list is pretty long.
Keeping that in mind, we take a look at five such players who you would only appreciate at your own club.
#5 Sergio Busquets
Barcelona’s star midfielder Sergio Busquets is one of the most underrated footballers on the planet. Vision, composure, awareness – the 27-year-old possesses all the hallmarks of a great defensive midfielder. But he is also one of the most hated. Brought in from Barcelona B by Pep Guardiola back in 2008, Busquets ousted the likes of Yaya Toure and Edmilson to establish himself as the chief anchor in the Catalans’ midfield.
But if you are not a Barcelona fan, chances are that you probably despise him for his history of on-field antics. Busquets’ predilection for drama first caught global attention back in 2010 in the UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona were playing Inter Milan at the Camp Nou in the second leg of semi-finals. Busquets was competing with former Barca player Thiago Motta in the battle for midfield supremacy when Motta’s flailing arm caught Busquets in the face and the Spaniard went down like he had been shot.
The theatrics did not end there. He even indulged himself with a bit of a sneak-peek on the ground while appearing to be in excruciating pain.
The antic saw Motta sent off, subsequently missing the final. And Busquets’ name was tainted forever.
#4 John Terry
‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ read the banners at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea’s talismanic leader walks the team out of the tunnel. Even if John Terry is adored and revered by the club’s supporters, the former England captain does not share that transcendent status everywhere.
Back in 2011, in a league encounter with QPR, Terry was accused of racially abusing defender Anton Ferdinand. He was eventually stripped of England’s captaincy, banned for four matches and fined £220,000.
In 2010, he was allegedly involved in an affair with the girlfriend of former teammate, and one of his closest friends, Wayne Bridge. The incident got more focus when Bridge refused to shake Terry’s hand the next time they met in a game.
Another mind-boggling revelation concluded that controversy has its arms wrapped around the Terry household. Terry’s father was once filmed selling cocaine to an undercover reporter and his mother-in-law was once caught shoplifting.
John Terry is easily one of the best centre-backs to ever play the game. But the 34-year-old, now in the twilight of his career, has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. And its cumulative effect over the years has made him one of the most hated players in the Premier League.
Real Madrid’s Portuguese centre-back Pepe is well known for his on-field controversies. Squabbles, grapples or the gold old forehead-to-forehead action, Pepe seldom disappoints. A game where Pepe does not get a card is often considered a dull affair. Well, it usually is.
The Brazil-born Portuguese international’s renditions of the classic football bad guy often comes to the forefront in the fiercely contested games against rivals Barcelona. Back in 2012 when Real Madrid met Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final at the Santiago Bernabeu, Pepe immortalised his ‘bad guy’ status in the most sneakiest, yet the most despicable, of ways.
In the 68th minute, World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was fouled by Jose Callejon. While Messi tried to gather himself on the ground, Pepe appeared to deliberately stamp on the Argentine’s hands, further scarring his already blemished reputation.
More than three years have passed since that incident, but Pepe’s repute for being one of the most hated players on the planet has not changed a bit.
Pepe stamped Messi’s hand when the Barcelona forward was on the ground
#2 Diego Costa
Chelsea striker Diego Costa learned football in the streets. Born and raised in the favelas in Brazil, Costa had no formal education in football until the age of 16.
Evidently, the unpredictably wild street temperament has carried itself to the football pitch. The former Atletico Madrid forward has been clashing with opposition players since the day he came to the shores of Europe.
The Spanish international’s fiery disposition was often highlighted during the Madrid derbies. Back in 2012, the 26-year-old was sent off for headbutting Viktoria Plzen’s David Limbersky in a Europa League tie, showcasing his erratic demeanour on the pitch.
“I insulted everyone, I had no respect for the opposition, I thought I had to kill them. Boys who grew up playing in academies are taught to control themselves and respect others, but no-one ever told me otherwise, I didn’t have a school to teach me this. I was used to seeing players elbowing each other in the face and thought it was the norm,” he said, according to The Mirror.
Well, that explains a lot.
#1 Luis Suarez
A compilation of all the controversies that Luis Suarez has been involved in could probably give Marcel Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, the world’s thickest book, a run for its money. Racism, play-acting, diving, biting – the Barcelona forward’s career is riddled with the most varied range of controversies.
In 2011, while at Liverpool, Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during a league game at Old Trafford. The FA handed him an 8-match ban and a fine of £40,000.
Back in 2010, while playing for Ajax in the Eredivisie, Suarez bit PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otmar Bakkal. The KNVB, the Dutch football association, banned him for seven games.
Three years later, now at Liverpool, in a Premier League encounter with Chelsea, the Uruguayan repeated his heinous crime by biting Branislav Ivanovic. This time, the FA announced a 10-game ban.
In June 2014, during an important group stage match against Italy in the FIFA World Cup, the Uruguayan striker bit defender Giorgio Chiellini in the 79th minute. FIFA banned him for nine international matches for Uruguay and also handed him a world-wide football ban for four months and a fine of £66,000.
As parting advice, you are statistically more likely to be bitten by Suarez than a shark. So let’s be safe out there!