All sport, ultimately, is a form of entertainment, and there is perhaps no sport which epitomizes this better than football. The sport is often like a piece of theater; the audience is taken on an engaging experience of high's and low's, which, more often than not, ends in tragedy. Importantly though, like a lot of great theater, football requires the men on this list, the pantomime villains.
These are the players we love to hate. More often than not, the teams they play for love them, and everyone else hates them. There are a number of ways in which a player can make themselves a universal figure of dislike. Cheats are often at the forefront of this, as are particularly dirty players, as well as those with a disagreeable attitude or those who have been involved in damning off-field incidents or crimes.
All of these players are hated by a vast number of football fans, and although we'll insist we hate them, with most, there is a part of us that knows the game is enriched by their presence. They are booed at every ground they visit, lambasted on social media and pilloried by the press, and some of them love it and play to it. Here are the top 15 footballers that we love to hate:
15 Craig Bellamy
Craig Bellamy is your typical example of a player who is loved by his own fans and disliked by everyone else. A hardworking and occasionally nasty forward, Bellamy would constantly harry defenders and his pace and engine were constant thorn in oppositions sides. A talented but feisty player, Bellamy is equally feisty off the pitch, where he has been involved in alleged violence on four occasions, coming in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011, one of which went to court and another which saw him arrested. Bellamy retired in 2014 after 455 games in which he scored 135 goals.
14 Arjen Robben
Falling firmly into the category of disliked on account of being a cheat, Arjen Robben's antics have been a constant feature of his career so far. When one watches Robben in action, it is easy to be mesmerized by his skill, flair and ability to unleash a fierce strike when cutting inside from the wing. However, one is equally used to seeing theatrical and often laughable dives by the Dutchman when he is in action. He was mocked for such antics during his time at Chelsea and the appear to have stuck with him, as he is currently at Bayern Munich.
13 Nigel de Jong
A midfielder enforcer, or at least that is the nicest way of putting it, is the way in which Nigel de Jong is often described. A fellow Dutchman like Robben, de Jong is rather less graceful and rather more brutal. An aggressive holding midfielder, the AC Milan player has been tasked with breaking up opposition attacks throughout his career, although the way in which he does so has been called into question by some over the course of his career. The most notable incident de Jong was involved in came in the 2010 World Cup final against Spain, when he launched a kung-fu kick into the chest of Xabi Alonso. Howard Webb only booked de Jong for the challenge, which was about as clear a red card offence as you will ever see.
12 Ashley Young
About 18 months ago Ashley Young would probably have found himself higher up this list but following widespread condemnation, even coming from his manager at the time, Young appears to have cleared his act up somewhat. Probably the most prolific diver in the Premier League between 2010 and 2014, Young gained the unwanted reputation of being a serial cheat. After a particularly obvious tumble against Crystal Pace in September 2013, former Manchester United manager David Moyes told Young he would not tolerate divers. Since then, Young seems to have made a little more effort to stay on his feet, but his reputation still makes him a player many fans love to hate.
11 Samir Nasri
There is something eminently dislikable about Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, even in the times when he is doing nothing wrong. Arsenal fans have the most reason to dislike the Frenchman, who left the club that gave him his chance to shine as soon as the money signs presented themselves at Manchester City. In 2009, he stamped on Hull City's Richard Garcia and was subsequently banned for the offence. Last year he was left out of France's 2014 World Cup squad, reportedly because his attitude was deemed a negative influence upon the team.
10 Wayne Rooney
English football fans really do love to hate Wayne Rooney. Everton fans harbor a particularly strong dislike for the striker who left his boyhood club for Manchester United at the earliest possible opportunity and later kissed the Manchester United badge when he scored against the Merseyside club. Other reasons Rooney may be disliked are the allegations of infidelity which surfaced in 2010, after he reportedly took part in a threesome with two prostitutes in a Manchester hotel, whilst his wife was five months pregnant and also the fact that Rooney has failed to perform for England on the major stage of a World Cup or European Championships, at least not since 2004.
There are dirty players, and then there is Pepe. The Portuguese defenders list of on-field offences would probably make an eight-page document. Despite playing for one of the grandest football clubs in the world, Real Madrid, Pepe is still best known for his repeated instances of violence on the pitch. Now 32, Pepe shows no signs of his game maturing, and still regularly involves involves himself in incidents of aggression and stupidity. He was sent off for Portugal at the 2014 World Cup for another stupid act, but his most serious offence came in 2009. In a game against Getafe, Pepe was seen repeatedly kicking and stamping on a player, which off the field would have resulted in a criminal charge, Pepe got away with a 10-game ban.
8 Diego Costa
As one prolific goalscoring villain departed the Premier League in the summer of 2014, another one arrived, in the form of Diego Costa. The terrier-like striker who joined the Blues from Atletico Madrid has taken to the Premier League with ease, largely down to his combative and rugged style of play. Occasionally, however, Costa seems to overstep the mark, and has been involved in a number of incidents on the pitch this season alone. He arrived at Chelsea having already had five career red cards and controversy has followed him; he has kicked John O'Shea, struck Wes Brown with his forearm, stamped on Emre Can and has received 11 yellow cards, a number of which have been for diving, doing his reputation no favors.
7 El-Hadj Diouf
One of the most easily detestable figures in the history of the game. He made his name with Senegal at the 2002 World Cup, where, at the age of 21, he was one of the breakout stars of the competition. His performances earned him a move to Liverpool and he played in Britain for 12 years before leaving and joining Sabah in 2014, where he still plays today. He has been involved in driving bans, spitting incidents, racial slurs, taunting the seriously injured, brawls and many more minor and serious transgressions which have made him one of the most hated men in world football.
6 Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole really was a pantomime villain in England before his departure to Roma last summer. He got on the wrong side of Arsenal supporters when he was supposedly 'tapped up' by Chelsea and left the Gunners for the Blues in 2006, aged 25. Cole also lost a lot of popular support after cheating on his wife, Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole (Tweedy), and sending pictures of himself in just his underwear by text to other women. He has also had incidents with the police in 2009 and driving offences, as well as a bizarre incident in 2011 when he shot a 21-year-old student on work experience at Chelsea's training ground with an air rifle. Cole is England's most capped full-back of all-time, with 107 caps, and arguably the country's best player over the past decade.
5 Cristiano Ronaldo
Whilst most on this list are hated by almost all those who do not support the club they play for, and some even hated by those who do support the club they play for, Ronaldo does not fall into that category. Even those who do dislike the Portuguese winger simply have to sit back and marvel at the magic of Ronaldo. The dislike of Ronaldo can be put down to a number of things. Firstly - his antics, when Ronaldo arrived in the Premier League as an 18-year-old with a poor complexion and some fancy tricks, but not a fat lot else, he seemed to have a tendency for taking a tumble. Things really came to a head when Ronaldo was seen winking at the Portugal bench after convincing the referee to send his teammate Wayne Rooney off at the 2006 World Cup.
Most of the dislike aimed at Ronaldo though, is down to his sheer arrogance. Unlike Zlatan, Ronaldo's ego does not come across as endearing or comical, but rather more nauseating. In football, confidence and self-belief can be crucial; and some would argue that Ronaldo's insistence that he is the best player in the world has seen his fallacy come true. Conversely, one could easily point out that his main competitor for such a title, and the man most people consider his only superior, Lionel Messi, who is unselfish, humble and rarely makes such audacious claims about himself. Ronaldo recently donated €7 million to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.
4 Joey Barton
If Ronaldo is the epitome of justified arrogance, then Joey Barton is the antithesis. Barton boldly claimed in 2011 that he was the best English midfielder; Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard may have disagreed, whilst Michael Carrick, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Scott Parker, Jordan Henderson and even David Beckham all would have had grounds to think otherwise. Barton was relegated for the second time with QPR this season, and was subsequently released at the end of the season, and has only played once for England, in 2007, but what he lacks in ability he more than makes up for in arrogance and thuggery.
Barton's incidents are disgraceful and plentiful; he stubbed a cigratte out in a youth player's eye, fought a teenage fan and has been involved in a drunken brawl. In total, Barton has been convicted twice on charges of violence off the field and been charged three times for violent conduct on the pitch. Despite having more lives than a cat and claiming to be a changed man after every incident, now 32, Barton shows little signs of maturing. He ended the 2012 season with a punch, kick and a headbutt which saw him pick up a 10-game ban, and was sent off earlier this season for slapping Tom Huddlestone in his private region.
3 Sergio Busquets
The Barcelona team of the last decade have been marked by their flair, technique, passing and intelligence; but there is another side to their game, of which Sergio Busquets epitomizes. Busquets does not have the technique, vision or technical ability of his midfield partners Xavi and Iniesta, but he clearly has immense ability, seen by the fact he has kept the likes of Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas out of the Barcelona team. Breaking into the Barcelona team in 2008, Busquets made a name for himself as something of a cheat, and gained universal hatred after an incident in 2010. His over-acting in the Champions League semi-final earned Thiago Motta a red card and Busquets' reputation as a cheat was cemented. The Spaniard has certainly improved since then but has failed to endear himself to the footballing world and is still one of the most disliked players in the game.
2 John Terry
When it comes to players who are loved by their own fans and hated by all else, no one really comes close to John Terry. With near God-like status at Chelsea, a banner reading 'Captain, Leader, Legend', can be spotted at every game at Stamford Bridge, but outside the four walls of Chelsea's home ground, Terry is not so loved. In 2001, days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Terry and two teammates were fined for mocking American tourists about the attacks. Months later, Terry was charged with assault after a confrontation with a bouncer outside a nightclub. In 2010, Terry filed a super-injection to prevent the world's media from reporting on his affair with his teammate Wayne Bridge's wife. A week later, the injection was lifted, and the story was national news.
Footballers sleeping around seems fairly commonplace, but the England captain cheating on his wife with his England and Chelsea teammate's wife seemed low even for a man with such a checkered past. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy and England performed poorly at the 2010 World Cup. In 2011, Terry was involved in a racial abuse incident with Anton Ferdinand, in which he appeared to call the QPR defender a "f***ing black c***". He was handed a lenient four game ban and a £220,000 fine. Terry comes across simply as a repellent character, and it is little wonder he is one of the most hated men in the game.
1 Luis Suarez
In the world of football, there are a number of hated figures, and as such, deciding the 15 which made this list and their order, was not easy. However, one decision which was easy, was number one. In terms of the hatred directed at Luis Suarez, the man is in a league of his own. Cheating, racism, biting, the type of thing one might dislike a player for, Suarez has done them all, and some on multiple occasions. Suarez's first and most minor incident came in 2010, when everyone's second team, Ghana, played Uruguay. The shot that would have won Ghana the game was saved by Suarez using his hand, epitomizing his win at all costs attitude. Uruguay went on to win the game.
The second, more serious offence, was biting PSV player Otman Bakkal, whilst playing for Ajax. He was banned for only two games, but moved to Liverpool at the end of the season, when controversy followed him. In 2011, Suarez was involved in a racial abuse scandal with Patrice Evra, in which he called the Frenchman a "negro" five times. He was given an eight match ban and fined. In 2013, Suarez was at it again, biting Branislav Ivanovic this time, he was banned for ten games. After biting two players, Suarez still wasn't done, and chose to bite Giorgio Chiellini on the biggest stage, at the 2014 World Cup. A racist, cheating cannibal, as he has been described, Suarez is understandably the most hated man in football and we have no problem spewing hate his way.