Every hero needs a villain and soccer certainly has its fair share of them. We have an abundance of cheats, traitors, racists and egos that are loved by many and reviled by many more.
In a strange way, soccer fans love their villains. They may find joy in seeing them fail or boo as they exit the field, but they make the sport all the more entertaining.
Sure, the players you dislike will depend on who you are or where you’re from, but a true villain can be acknowledged by all. You don’t need to even dislike them, but you can see why many do.
This list is based primarily on two factors: what they have done, and the impact they have had. It’s no use mentioning third or fourth division players who have done terrible things (and there are many, many of them) because it doesn’t have an impact past the game or the league.
A great villain should capture the attention of the world through what they have done and we’ve compiled this list to reflect that.
15. Zinedine Zidane
Believed by many to be the greatest French footballer of all time, Zinedine Zidane is remembered for his precision, vision and shooting ability. Real Madrid fans used to turn up in droves just to see him train and warm up.
However, he is perhaps most remembered for headbutting Italian player Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, leading to his dismissal from the game. With the French side missing their most valuable player, Italy went on to win the World Cup.
Though he claims to have been provoked, many fans attribute France’s loss that day to Zinedine Zidane.
14. Didier Drogba
He’s one of the biggest, most physical players in soccer. As Chelsea’s key striker, it was not uncommon to see Drogba barreling through a line of defenders, tossing them around like rag dolls.
He was instrumental to the Chelsea attack and led his team to a Champions’ League win against Bayern Munich.
However, Drogba was infamous for his diving and won crucial penalties for his team by going down too easily in front of goal. Though it is not uncommon for strikers to do this, it is especially comical when someone of his size and strength topples over at the drop of a hat.
13. Michael Owen
He was the baby-faced assassin; idolized by a generation of soccer fans and the hopeful savior of Liverpool and the English national team. His pace and precision made him one of the greatest strikers of his generation.
His decline occurred largely due to a string of injuries. After leaving Liverpool, Owen failed to make a significant impact at any of his successive clubs. This did not affect his transfer fees and he continued to enjoy record breaking fees despite being injured or out of form.
He became a commentator after retiring from professional football and was widely criticized for his monotone voice and bland analysis.
Very few players receive as much criticism and ridicule as Michael Owen, and for many it is hard to understand why.
12. Luis Figo
Luis Figo is regarded by some to be one of the Real Madrid greats, but before his record breaking transfer to Real Madrid, Figo played for rival team Barcelona.
Barca fans never forgave Figo for what they considered to be an disgraceful betrayal. On returning to Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home ground, Figo was escorted by private security to keep him out of danger. Still, the crowd pelted him with trash, golf balls, and even a severed pig’s head.
It got to the point where his teammates did not want to be near him on the field, according to teammate Michel Salgado: “By the second or third corner I turned to Luís Figo and said: ‘Forget it, mate. You’re on your own’. I used to offer Luís the chance to take the short corner, drawing up close to him near the touchline, but not this time. Missiles were raining down from the stands: coins, a knife, a glass whisky bottle. Johnnie Walker, I think. Or J&B. Best to keep away. Short corners? No thanks!”
11. Cesc Fàbregas
Cesc Fabregas rose through the Arsenal youth team before making the starting eleven and soon became instrumental to the team’s success. But in 2010, the Arsenal captain forced his way out of the team to join Barcelona, triggering the mass exodus of other key Arsenal players. Arsenal fans felt that their club had played a key role in the development of the star player, only to be ditched for a wealthier, more successful team.
To add insult to injury, Fabregas transferred to Chelsea a few years later, making life harder for an already underperforming Arsenal squad.
10. Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli is a large personality in football. His handling of a barrage of racist attacks in Italy has won him praise and sympathy from many supporters, and his powerful, attacking style of football is a pleasure to watch.
He is a villain more for his antics off the field rather than on it. Balotelli is famously hard to manage and has suffered as a result of it. His lack of discipline and volatility is outweighed by his talent, but he is viewed unfavorably by managers, players and fans alike.
He has been accused of throwing darts at youth players, associating with mafia mobsters, and breaking pre-game curfews.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo
The Real Madrid superstar is, at this point in writing, only a few goals from being the top goal scorer for the most successful club in the world.
He left Manchester United, his former club, on very good terms and repeatedly stated his respect and gratitude to former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. He’s a tremendous footballer, is generous with his fans, and routinely donates blood.
So why is he so thoroughly disliked by so many?
The answer lies more in the past than the present. In his early days at Manchester United, he was perceived by many to be arrogant, self-interested, and prone to diving. He may be a very different person today, but many people’s perception of him hasn’t changed.
8. El-Hadji Diouf
Diouf is a player much more famous for his antics than his football. Described as one of the worst strikers in Liverpool history, there is not much to say about his ability on the field. However, his behavior off the field has been documented extensively.
He has been accused of spitting at fans and opposition players, for which he was fined and suspended; he has racially abused a ball-boy; and allegedly taunted an opposition player that was lying injured on the field with a broken leg.
There’s no list of soccer villains without the likes of El-Hadji Diouf.
7. Joey Barton
Joey Barton is famous for his dangerous tackles and violent fouls. Though he is a gifted player, his ability as a footballer is oftentimes overlooked due to his behavioral and disciplinary issues.
He has been convicted twice of assault charges and has been charged three times of violent conduct by the Football Association. Labeled the ‘dirtiest player in football’, Barton is known for his astronomically foul rate and violent behavior on and off the field.
While some players are guilty of dangerous tackles, it is often calculated and cynical. Barton, on the other hand, is guilty of tackles that ostensibly serve no purpose other than to inflict pain.
From two-legged tackles to striking an opponent in the stomach, the fiery Englishman is never without controversy.
The pivotal Real Madrid defender is famous for his temper, vicious tackles, and general foul play. But he is also a very complete player, able to defend against the best and also score goals.
He is prone to diving, extremely dangerous tackles, and off-the-ball fouls. He has been known to attack players while the referees’ backs are turned, famously stomping on Lionel Messi’s hand after Messi had been fouled.
His temper has caused him to lash out at crucial moments of games, leading to his dismissal. Famously, in the 2014 World Cup, his red card against Germany played a large role in Portugal’s premature elimination.
5. John Terry
He’s one of the most reliable defenders in modern football and has been crucial to Chelsea’s success, but the long-serving Chelsea captain has been the center of a myriad of off-pitch controversies.
Most notably, he accused of racial abuse in 2011, an allegation he fought for months after finally being found guilty.
The Chelsea captain also had a four-month affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, a Chelsea and English national teammate. He had his captaincy stripped, but was later reinstated the following year.
In his early years, he was issued a temporary ban after harassing grieving American tourists shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
4. Diego Costa
He’s currently the most controversial player on the most controversial English team. Diego Costa is known to play with force and passion, but every now and then he takes it way too far.
From stamping on the ankles of opposition players to diving to win crucial penalties, Costa is known for his antics on the field. He plays the role of the agitator, insulting and
Furthermore, during the 2014 World Cup, many expected Costa to play for his home country of Brazil, the World Cup hosts. Instead, Costa opted to play for Spain, his adopted home.
3. Jose Mourinho
Alright, he’s not technically a player, but we couldn’t make a list of villains in soccer without including The Chosen One.
Being the manager of three of the greatest clubs in the world is sure to win you some enemies, but Jose Mourinho has managed to garner much more criticism than any other rockstar manager.
His abrasive personality and defensive style of football has made him a villain in the eyes of many soccer fans, who have called his style of managing cynical and negative.
While extremely effective, his teams play a style of football that many consider boring and gutless. His antagonistic behavior in front of the media and his ongoing feuds with other managers only act to fan the flames.
2. Luis Suárez
He bites faces and finds small spaces.
The bizarre history of Luis Suarez is riddled with controversy and outrage. Most notably, he has bitten players on three separate occasions, the latest being during the 2014 World Cup.
He was also suspended for racially abusing then-Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and then refusing to shake his hand upon their first game against each other post-suspension.
On top of all that, he has been labelled an extremely dirty player by many fans around the world, being prone to violent tackles and blatant diving.
On the soccer villain checklist, Suarez certainly ticks all the boxes.
1. Diego Maradona
As far as villains go, they don’t get much greater than Diego Maradona. He’s a World Cup winner, a Barcelona great, a former coach of the Argentinian national team and the only player to set the world record transfer fee twice!
He is undisputedly the greatest footballer of his generation and, in the opinion of some, the greatest of all time. However, he is remembered most for a single act that shook the world and made him the most divisible figure in the history of the sport: the Hand of god.
In the 1986 World Cup quarter final against England, the Argentinian superstar opened the scoring by blatantly punching a crossed ball into the English goal, somehow avoiding a foul from the referee.
Maradona went on to score what is now referred to as “the goal of the century” and led Argentina to their second World Cup win.
Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit: he’s remains the best villain the sport has ever seen.
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