The showboaters in sport always divide opinion, and soccer is no different in that respect. Some see the showboat as an art form, an expression of footballing freedom, humiliating one's opponent and emphasizing your superiority over them. Others see showboating as unsportsmanlike, unnecessary and showing a distinct lack of respect for the opposition. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, here are 20 players you're likely to either love or hate.
Showboating is essentially showing off. Most often done when a team is in the lead, often an emphatic one; it is attempting a move, skill or technique that is intended for style over substance. The showboat rarely has a functional use, it is more often than not easier to play a simple pass, shot or cross. In the modern game, showboating is most commonly done by attempting a wild trick/piece of skill.
As such, many of the games greatest showboaters were very technical players renowned for their flair. However, that is not the only attribute required to make a showboater. Technically fantastic players such as Pele, Maradona and Messi rarely showboated/showboat, and as such miss out, while much less gifted players with more audacity and eccentricity are included. Here are the top 20 showboaters in soccer history:
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20 Thierry Henry
An incredibly gifted player with an added element of 'Va Va Voom', it should come as little surprise that Thierry Henry was no stranger to the occasional showboat. France and Arsenal's all-time top scorer, Henry was a force of nature in his prime. With electric pace and all the technique one can imagine, Henry used to glide past players before opening up his body and slotting the ball past the goalkeeper.
The Frenchman famously scored a back heel goal against Charlton but his most notable piece of showboating was a piece of skill best associated with him, whereabouts he would pass the ball with his standing foot as he swung his other, beguiling defenders.
An often frustrating player, the natural ability Nani possessed was clear for all to see, but his work rate and desire were often called into question, unlike his compatriot and former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. At his best though, the Portuguese winger was capable of humiliating defenders, and he was known to do just that.
The most famous example of Nani showboating came in 2008, in Manchester United's 4-0 win over Arsenal, in which Nani angered the Arsenal players by performing a brief seal dribble and some keepie-uppies, leading to much criticism from the press.
A bit of a cheat perhaps but since their finest piece of showboating came together we figured we'd get away with combining Robinho and Denilson as one entry. The Brazilian duo were both two of the most highly rated youngsters on the planet at one time. Robinho was lined up as Pele's heir apparent at 15, while Denilson set a world record transfer fee at the age of just 21. Both players were highly skillful and blessed with terrific flair. Their combined showboating came in a charity match for Carlos Alberto Torres but both were known to attempt such skills in more serious fixtures as well.
17 Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is far less prone to showboating now than earlier in his career, but the three time Ballon d'Or winner was all about showboating with no end product when he first joined Manchester United as an 18-year-old, but in five years at Old Trafford he became an all-time great with plenty of end product. Ronaldo is still known to perform his trademark step-overs and heel chops, but refrains from the more flashy and audacious tricks of his early years, in favor of more effective and direct methods of beating his opponent.
16 Theyab Awana
From a global superstar to a relative unknown, few will know of Theyab Awana outside of the UAE, but in his native country, Awana was being lined up as a future star of the game. Tragically, Awana died at the age of just 21 in a car crash, by which age he had already played 63 games for Baniyas, 67 for the UAE youth teams and nine for the UAE full international team. Known for his extraordinary flair and box of tricks, Awana was a fan favourite who most notably scored a famous back heeled penalty.
Although not the inventor, Rivelino popularized and perfected the technique known as the 'flip-flap', a technique adopted by almost all showboaters and flair players who have followed him, including the likes of Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. One of the most technically gifted footballers of all-time, Rivelino could beat a man with ease, whether it be through a majestic piece of skill or simply a graceful body feint. He was one of the stars of Brazil's legendary 1970 World Cup winning team.
14 Rodrigo Taddei
Aged 35, Rodrigo Taddei currently plies his trade in Serie B with Perugia, having spent much of his career in the Italian top flight with Siena and Roma. A versatile player, Taddei has played in every position on a football pitch except central defender, including as a goalkeeper.
Aside from his versatility, Taddei is also known for his flair. The Brazilian often attempted flamboyant pieces of skill to beat his man, most notably 'the Aurelio' which became a trademark of his and a move he perfected.
13 Douglas Costa
Current Bayern Munich star Douglas Costa previously spent five years in Ukraine, where he won 12 trophies with Shakhtar Donetsk, including five league titles. The tricky winger is renowned for his pace and dribbling abilities, and is known to pull of tricks most players would not even attempt.
The flip-flap, rabonas and rainbow kicks are all skills Costa has been known to use frequently, and he is currently performing exceptionally well in Bavaria, and has won 10 caps for Brazil since making his debut in 2014.
12 Tommy Murray
Tommy Murray is a retired Scottish footballer who could play as either a striker or an attacking midfielder. Perhaps the least technically gifted and least renowned as a flair player of all the individuals on this list, what Murray lacked in flair, he more than made up for in audacity and cunning. The former Carlisle player's most famous piece of showboating came while playing for Hearts, who were having a dreadful season. It came during a game against Rangers when, with the clock running down, Murray sat on the ball. Angry Rangers players charged towards Murray who flicked the ball out to the wing leading to a Hearts' goal which would cost Rangers the league title.
From a relative unknown to a two-time Ballon d'Or winner and quite simply one of the most gifted footballers of all time. Were it not for injuries, Ronaldo would be regarded among the greatest players to have ever graced the game. His poise, technique, skill and balance were all second to none and Ronaldo could beat a man with ease. His close control and box of tricks made him one of the finest dribblers the game has ever seen. Body feints and step-overs were his most regularly exhibited skills.
10 Yannick Bolasie
Crystal Palace star Yannick Bolasie comes from humble footballing beginnings, having started his career in non-league football, as well as playing in Malta. His far from illustrious footballing education hasn't stopped Bolasie from becoming one of the Premier League's most skillful players. The Congo international has a freedom about his play and is never afraid to try eccentric pieces of skill on the biggest stage.
Perhaps Bolasie's greatest piece of skill came in December 2014 when he embarrassed Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen flicking the ball past him with a piece of skill that is now largely attributed to Bolasie himself.
9 Johan Cruyff
Some of Johan Cruyff's skills may seem mundane today in comparison to the more wild moves attempted by the likes of Robinho and Douglas Costa, but at the time in which Cruyff was playing, they were far more revolutionary. The Cruyff turn is of course now considered one of the basics of the game, but the world watched on in awe when Cruyff first perfected the move.
A three-time Ballon d'Or winner and comfortably one of the greatest players of all time, Johan Cruyff was one of the most expressive and joyous footballers there has ever been.
8 Gerrie Muhren
A fellow Ajax and the Netherlands star and a teammate of Cruyff's, Gerrie Muhren is often considered one of the unsung heros of that great Ajax team of the early 1970s and highly unfortunate to win only 10 caps for his country. Muhren spent eight years at Ajax, where he played more than 250 games and won 12 trophies, most notably three Eredevisie titles and three European Cups. A fine technical player, Muhren was no stranger to the odd showboat, but his crowning moment came in the European Cup semi-final away at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid.
Now a brief moment of ball juggling/keepie-uppies may not seem as impressive as some of the other entries on this list, but with context, it is just as remarkable. The game is widely considered the moment in which Ajax overtook Real Madrid as Europe's greatest team, and not only were they beating Los Blancos in their own backyard, now they were humiliating them. Over 110,000 people in the Bernabeu, almost exclusively Real fans stood and applauded the skill and audacity of Muhren and Ajax.
There was a time when Kerlon was the most sought after and highly-regarded prospect in world football. At the 2005 South American U-17 Championships he looked a class apart every other player at the tournament, including future stars Marcelo, Anderson and Denilson. Kerlon was the top scorer and best player as Brazil won the competition, and amid interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan, he eventually joined AC Milan.
Kerlon's most famous technique was the 'seal dribble', in which he balanced the ball on his head like a seal, making it virtually impossible to stop him without fouling him. Sadly, more often than not, that is what people did. Kerlon began to pick up regular injuries, which took their toll, and aged 27, Kerlon now plays in Malta for Sliema Wanderers.
6 Cuauhtémoc Blanco
A Club America and Mexico legend, Cuauhtémoc Blanco had a remarkable 23-year career which only came to and end this year. In that time, Blanco won nine trophies and 120 caps for his country. His finest years came with Club America in Mexico, although he also had two excellent seasons in the MLS with Chicago Fire.
Blanco was an eccentric and creative player; his trademark skill with trapping the ball between both feet before jumping to flick the ball past two opponents and run through them. A common technique used by 12-year-olds in the park, it was surreal and comical to see such a move attempted in World Cups and Copa Americas.
When it comes to flair and showboating the Brazilians have always done it better, and even today with what is perhaps their worst ever national team, humbled 7-1 on home soil to eventual champions Germany, they still have one man carrying the torch for the Brazilian way. Remarkably still only 23, despite having been in the limelight for more than 5 years, Neymar is a finalist for this years Ballon d'Or and undoubtedly one of the best players on the planet. A majestic footballer, Neymar is never afraid to attempt the impossible or unexpected and already has an incredible 69 caps and 46 goals to his name for Brazil.
4 Jay-Jay Okocha
One of the greatest African footballers of all time, Jay-Jay Okocha is almost universally loved by football fans for the way in which he played the game. Okocha played Ligue 1, Premier League and international football matches like he was still just a kid in the park. Never afraid to receive the ball, beat a man, try an outrageous piece of skill or a speculative shot, he was simply a joy to watch. 'So good they named him twice' or so the Bolton fans claimed, feints and step-overs were a regular feature of Okocha's game, while the Rainbow kick is known as the 'Okocha-Trick' in Germany, such was the prevalence with which he used it.
3 Rene Higuita
Who would have thought a goalkeeper would make an appearance on a list of the greatest showboaters and make the top three? Well, anyone who's heard of Rene Higuita. The Colombian goalkeeper was aptly named 'the Madman' for his eccentric style of goalkeeping. A sweeper 'keeper in the most extreme use of the term, Higuita would often vacate his goal completely dribbling towards and sometimes beyond the half-way line.
Higuita won 68 caps for Colombia, but it was his mistake in the 1990 World Cup which saw them knocked out against Cameroon. A showboater of epic proportions, by far the most famous example of Higuita's madman personality and eccentric approach to the game came at Wembley Stadium in a friendly against England, when Higuita pulled off his legendary 'Scorpion Kick'.
2 Len Shackleton
One of the original showboaters and without doubt one of the greatest, Len Shackleton was only ever interested in putting on a show, humiliating his opponents and entertaining his own fans. It was an approach which saw him sadly overlooked by the England national team selectors, who once said "we play at Wembley Stadium, not the London Palladium", in reference to the former Newcastle and Sunderland forward who was nicknamed the 'Clown Prince of Soccer'.
In terms of pure natural ability, Shack was one of the finest players of his generation. He had skill, balance and a fantastic shot, and had he been more efficient and direct as a player, he would have gone down as an England legend. Shack didn't change his approach for anyone though, and some of his most notable examples of showboating included trapping the ball and pretending to comb his hair, playing one-twos with the corner flag, sitting on the ball, stopping the ball on the goal-line to taunt goalkeepers and more.
The greatest showboater of all-time has to be Ronaldinho. The Samba-star is a man without peer in the history of the game when it comes to invention and flair. Not only did Ronaldinho pull off tricks and pieces of skill most players wouldn't even attempt in training, he also combined them with end product, becoming - in his prime - one of the greatest players of all time. His finest years came in the early-mid 2000s with PSG and Barcelona, and although his prime was rather brief, it was absolutely majestic.
Ronaldinho won 17 trophies with club and country, including the World Cup, Champions League and league titles in Brazil, Spain and Italy. He won the Ballon d'Or once, World Player of the Year twice and is arguably the most skilful player of all time. Among his repertoire were the flip flap, nutmegs, back heels, rabona's, rainbow flicks, blind passes and perhaps the most eccentric of all, passing the ball with his back.
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