One of the things in sports many fans despise is the never ending pursuit of money from professional athletes.
Mercenary: primarily concerned with making money at the expense of ethics. Synonyms include but not limited to: money-oriented, grasping, greedy, bribable, materialistic.
This definition should come as no surprise if you have any understanding of 21st century sports. As more sponsors and television money flows into the games we love, the key participants tend to follow the trail – and who can blame them? Careers can be stopped in a split second, so the opportunity to cash in is not lost on these athletes.
Without a doubt soccer is the biggest offender in this category. The world game’s enormous reach lends itself to trading on past glories and taking owners for a ride. Players take the check on offer, stroll around the pitch and wait until their agent finds another sucker ready for the taking. Our magnificent hall of shame proves as much.
Now we would be doing ourselves a disservice if Drake did not get a mention. The proud Canadian rapper has been seen frolicking across any event that has a ball, a puck or a goal. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign of things to come, because if fans begin to catch mercenary fever then there is no hope for us.
Like anything there is two sides to the argument. Free agency in the NFL enables both the franchise and player to open up more options, giving each party a level of independence to utilize the market in a similar fashion to stockbrokers trading goods and services.
But let's be frank – sport is about so much more than that. We remember the greats from our childhood and their achievements embody why we love to watch our team play every week, win, lose or draw. Mercenaries should rightly be named and shamed, and here are the 15 biggest in sports history.
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16 Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens has made a career of looking out for number one. Undoubtedly a gifted wide receiver in his prime, Owens left every franchise he played for with a bitter taste in his (and the team's) mouth as he searched for greener pastures. Appearing on the reality program The T.Ocho Show, Owens slammed the Cincinnati Bengals ownership and coaches for a lack of success, placing all of the blame on their shoulders and none on his own. A history of flamboyant touchdown celebrations and appearances on Desperate Housewives and Celebrity Apprentice makes Owens a divisive character who will never be remembered fondly because he put his own image before the team.
15 Raheem Sterling
Rising to fame as a young teenager with Queens Park Rangers, English powerhouse Liverpool picked up the fleet-footed winger for a bargain of a price. Under Brendan Rogers tutelage Sterling burst into superstardom, becoming a regular in the England team. But as his contract of £30,000 a week wound down, with a rise to £100,000 on the table by Liverpool, the aptly named Sterling remained adamant he was holding out because of a desire to play Champions League soccer and a return home to London. Naturally a move in 2015 to stay in the North West with rivals Manchester City to double his wages meant those statements weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
14 Bernard Tomic
Since the golden days of Pat Cash, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt, Australian tennis has been crying out for the next generation to carry the mantle. Instead, Bernard Tomic has slipped into a life of arrests, partying hard in Florida, being snapped at strip clubs and slagging off the greats of the game. From the outside looking in, it would appear the enigmatic youngster is staying on the ATP tour as a means to fuel his reckless lifestyle as his father continues to be at war with Tennis Australia. With the emergence of Nick Kyrgios Australia has a new golden boy to idolize, and at the tender age of 22 Bernard Tomic is labeled as the nations official laughing stock, caring more about buying another sports car on the Gold Coast than showing his talent on the court.
13 Liam Ridgewell
Make no mistake Portland Timbers fans – Liam Ridgewell could literally not give a crap about your team. Don’t take our word for it, the defender was pictured wiping his backside with £20 notes in his West Brom days in the English Premier League prior to his Major League Soccer move. While he was banking £20,000 a week he could afford to do so, but this is classic mercenary behavior.
Ridgewell formed a reputation as a no-nonsense centre back with Aston Villa in the mid 2000s. But subsequent moves to Midlands bitter rivals Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion told the soccer public that club loyalties are not his consideration.
12 Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod reached a point where he felt he was above the sacred game of baseball. The 162-game year-long ban for taking performance enhancing drugs was the very public downfall for a brand unto himself, as a life full of fame, fortune and incredible talent was not enough for Alex Rodriguez. Team manager Joe Torre’s tell all book The Yankee Years painted a very ugly picture of the best paid player in MLB, fighting to supersede Derek Jeter for attention and hassling young clubhouse attendants for food demands at the drop of a hat. Perhaps the best case of his mercenary mentality was back in 2007 when he opted out of a 10-year, $252 million contract, because you know, $252 million is an insult. A-Rod wound up signing a new 10-year deal worth $275 million which will pay him until he's 42.
11 Samir Nasri
A mercenary doesn’t necessarily have to register a huge amount of clubs to make the cut. Sometimes they’ll just be people who rub others up the wrong way for being petulant and outlandishly greedy. Speaking of which, meet soccer star Samir Nasri.
Another enigmatic Frenchman who makes the list, Nasri’s move from Arsenal to mega-wealthy Manchester City in 2011 caused outrage from the red half of North London. Allegedly upping his personal wage packet to around £200,000 per week, Nasri gave an interview where he left no ambiguity as to why he plays the game. After calling Arsenal fans “stupid” Nasri said “to be honest we are players and we are just looking at what are the best interests for us and our careers… I’m not an Arsenal fan.”
10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Touring the Arsenal training ground, a young 16-year-old Swedish striker was invited to trial for the gunners. His response? “Zlatan doesn’t do trials.” Wherever he has gone, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the centre of the universe – think a European LeBron James. Changing between Italian soccer enemies Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan during the early to mid 2000s didn’t bother Zlatan one bit. They were lucky enough to have his services as far as he was concerned. Aside from publicly lashing legendary coach Pep Guardiola for his failed stint at Barcelona, Zlatan’s switch to mega-wealthy Paris Saint-Germain outlined how important money and status was to the man. Recent reports link Zlatan with a “surprise move” this summer window, leaving aside any rapport the PSG fans might feel for him.
9 Sonny Bill Williams
Ask any New Zealander or Australian about Sonny Bill Williams and we are positive the phrase “mercenary” is not far away. Most athletes who chase the dollar do so through one discipline, but what makes the man they call ‘SBW’ so unique in the world of sport is that he has changed sports at the highest level with seeming ease, making a fortune in the process.
Leaving rugby league in Australia to join French rugby club Toulon in 2008, his club Canterbury castigated him as nothing more than a traitor. Fast-forward seven years, a spell in boxing and leaving rugby league to play union for a second time, SBW is the archetypal sporting mercenary.
8 Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis sure knows how to play the game. He knows he's a hot commodity whenever he's available and always ensures that he's going to get a max payday. Revis held out of training camp with the Jets back in 2010 and returned after receiving a four year, $32 million extension, guaranteed. Two years later, Revis contemplated not showing up for training camp, looking for another raise. He ultimately did, but after a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 season, was traded to Tampa Bay the following offseason. Revis received the deal he had been seeking, a six-year, $96 million contract, which made him the highest paid DB in NFL history.
Revis wasn't a good fit for Lovie Smith's defense and was released by the team, with many wondering if Revis wanted out. He signed with New England for a year, proving to be the missing piece for a Super Bowl run. Instead of staying with the Patriots, Revis chased the money again, returning to the Jets on a five-year, $70 million deal with $39 million guaranteed.
You can either despise his chase of the almighty dollar or you could admire his tremendous business savvy.
6 Randy Moss
Randy Moss, one of the most decorated wide receivers in NFL history, virtually sat out the 2010 season without a care in the world. Remarkably, he played for three teams in that same season, moving from New England to Minnesota. When the Vikings saw a complete lack of effort in training, he packed his bags for a stint in Tennessee, who claimed him off waivers. But two moments crystalize Moss’s status as a mercenary – leaving the field in 2004 for Minnesota before the game was over and giving the quote to reporters “I play when I want to play.” Judging by his second Vikings stay he trained when he wanted to train as well.
5 Deion Sanders
The man played two professional sports and while he played for multiple teams in both sports. His mercenary tag comes from his football career, as he was known for joining contending teams, granted that they could pay him well. After five seasons with the Falcons, Deion Sanders signed a one-year deal with the 49ers, essentially being seen as the missing piece for a championship. It worked, as San Francisco went on to get over the Dallas hump and crushed the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The so-called "Deion Sweepstakes" ensued as multiple teams courted Sanders. He wound up signing with the Cowboys for seven years at $35 million with a $12.9 million signing bonus. Sanders wound up helping the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XXX win. His stint in Washington and later with the Ravens didn't go as well, but Sanders earned a reputation as a true gun for hire.
4 Sven-Goran Eriksson
Need a soccer coach? Sven-Goran Eriksson will be available, but only at the right price. He might not have donned the boots for a long time, but the Swede has made the role of coach/manager a lucrative art form, trading from club to national team without a care in the world.
People forget that Sven was once upon a time one of the best in the business before he became a parody of himself. After finishing a modest career in his native country in the mid 1970s, Sven’s astonishing coaching career is as follows: Degerfors IF, IFK Goteborg, Benfica, Roma, Fiorentina, Benfica (return), Sampdoria, Lazio, England, Manchester City, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Leicester City, Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG. Guangzhou somehow managed to pay him £15 million for his troubles.
3 Carmelo Anthony
Confidence is not lacking in Carmelo Anthony, but loyalty is. The Knicks star penned an article in The New York Observer stating a desire leave as a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 campaign. Slammed by Hall of Fame Pacers guard Reggie Miller for not having his priorities straight, NBA Executives joined the chorus to give a damning assessment of Anthony. One said, “He’s a great player, but he’s also a selfish player. That’s just how he is,” while another remarked, “Melo’s always gotten a pass. At the end of the day, he’s been in the league long enough were, if he was really a winner he’d have figured it out by now.” Earning a reported $21.39 million salary with the underperforming franchise, Anthony has to turn his lone wolf behavior around to finally fulfil his potential.
2 Carlos Tevez
Long list of clubs – check. Trading to rivals – check. Courting controversy – check. Angering fans – check. Moving for financial gain – check. Putting himself before his team – check, check and check. Carlos Tevez is purely and simply a mercenary anyway you care to look at it. The diminutive Argentine forward from Buenos Aires ironically enough started from humble begins before launching to fame with Boca Juniors in 2001.
A move to Europe was on the cards, but when a switch from Brazilian club Corinthians to West Ham occurred in 2006, the Premier League had a major fight on its hands. The dealings involved to bring him to the club were dodgy to say the least, even without the stringent rules and guidelines imposed on American sports. A change from Manchester United to bitter rivals Manchester City ensued, where Tevez was pictured playing golf in Argentina during a self imposed strike, picking up a neat £198,000 a week. Manager Roberto Mancini castigated him in the press, replying to a question about the photo, “When we are young and start to play football, we don’t play for money.”
1 Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Money is the reason Floyd Mayweather wakes up in the morning. He loves money so much he coined it as a middle name. Madonna might be a material girl, but Money Mayweather lives in a material world. According to Forbes, the undefeated boxing champion is not only the world’s highest paid athlete, but the biggest earning celebrity in 2015 full stop at $300 million. He’s on a different planet and Floyd knows it.
Why the fighter has such a long list of haters is simple, aside from being a convicted domestic violence offender, Mayweather has carefully orchestrated his entire career to avoid fighting serious competitors to cash in on beating opponents past their prime. Having been denied a travel visa to Australia for his past criminal charges, the press managed to get access to his list of travel requirements. They included a constant supply of gummy bears, a butler, chef, barber and an entire hotel floor booked for his 31-strong entourage. It’s amazing he found time to get in the ring at all!
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