10 Most Misunderstood Footballers of All Time

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2012

10 Most Misunderstood Footballers of All Time

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    The word misunderstood means for someone to be either incorrectly understood, not appreciated or given sympathetic understanding. 

    These 10 players from the past and present are the perfect definition of players who have been misunderstood throughout their careers.

    Most of the players on this list have had controversial actions overshadow their on-field play.

    Here are the 10 most misunderstood players in world football history.

Mario Balotelli

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    Mario Balotelli has been under scrutiny for his antics since his move from Inter Milan to Manchester City in 2010. 

    Most of the off-field fiascoes that Balotelli is involved in are of his own doing. 

    From being pulled over with over $5000 in cash on him to throwing darts at the City youth team during training, Balotelli has done nothing to shy away from criticism and the spotlight. 

    Balotelli has not helped his reputation with his lack of quality performances on the pitch. 

    The Italian has scored just one goal in 11 EPL matches this season, and he has been relegated to the Citizens' bench behind Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez for the foreseeable future. 

    The arrogant personality of Balotelli would be accepted more if his exploits on the pitch were more impressive, but at this point in his career the 22-year-old is just taking up space on the City squad list. 

Zinedine Zidane

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    It is a shame that the recent generation of football fans only know Zinedine Zidane for his headbutt seen around the world during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final.

    Zidane's performances on the pitch during his vast playing career are a mere afterthought when the Frenchman's name is brought up in conversations these days. 

    For those in the younger generation of football fans that are unaware with the many accomplishments of the one they call, Zizou, here are just a few of them. 

    Zidane won two Serie A titles and one La Liga title, as well as appearing in three UEFA Champions League finals with Juventus and Real Madrid. 

    Zidane also won the Ballon d'Or in 1998, the same year in which he led France to the World Cup title on home soil.

    Let us all hope that the next generation of football fans become aware of Zidane's excellent playing career instead of one bonehead moment that currently defines his career. 

Luis Suarez

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    Luis Suarez has been at the center of controversy for the past two years thanks to his quick thinking at the 2010 World Cup and his racist abuse of Patrice Evra. 

    There is no excuse for what Suarez said to Evra last season during the match between Liverpool and Manchester United. 

    But, there is plenty of excuses for why he deliberately handled the ball on the goal line against Ghana in South Africa. 

    Suarez did what he needed to do for his team to win and handling the ball on the goal line caused Asamoah Gyan to miss a winning penalty kick and Uruguay later won the match in a penalty shootout. 

    Some still complain about the Suarez incident in South Africa, but in hindsight, the Uruguayan made one of the best plays in World Cup history.

    The misunderstood forward is now shying away from controversy for the most part this season, and he has scored 11 goals for Liverpool in EPL play so far this season. 

Roy Keane

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    Depending on which group of supporters you ask, Roy Keane was either one of the great villains who played the game or the former Manchester United captain was one of the best who played during his time. 

    During his 12 years at United, Keane sparked controversy with players from other clubs including Patrick Vieira and Alf-Inge Haaland. 

    Keane is still seen as a villain in the eyes of Arsenal and Manchester City fans, and he probably will gain the same reaction from those sets of fans for quite some time.

    Keane also upset his fellow countrymen when he was sent home before the start of the 2002 World Cup thanks to a dust-up with manager Mick McCarthy. 

    Amidst all the controversy around the midfielder during his career, Keane had himself a great career at Old Trafford by making over 300 appearances during his 12 years at the club.

    As a manager, Keane led Sunderland to promotion in 2007 before he was sacked in his third season with the Black Cats.

    Keane also spent a year-and-a-half managing Ipswich Town before receiving the sack in January 2011. 

Joey Barton

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    Imagine where we would have to find controversial footballers in this day and age if Joey Barton was not around.

    Everyone's favorite tweeting footballer has been in the news ever since he became a professional in 2002. 

    Barton has had plenty of run-ins with the law and made himself present in the modern-day football conversation in May when he elbowed Carlos Tevez during the final EPL match of the season. 

    The 30-year-old is spending this season out of the English media spotlight in France while on loan at Marseille. 

    Not many people know about Barton's playing career because of all his controversial antics, but it does say something about the Englishman's talents that he has played over a decade of top-flight football with Manchester City, Newcastle, QPR and now Marseille. 

Diego Maradona

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    Diego Maradona is one of the most polarizing figures in the world of football. 

    From the Hand of God goal to his drug use and his outspoken nature, Maradona has given the public plenty of things to talk about over the last 30 years. 

    Maradona was the best player of his time and he is still revered in Argentina as the best to play the game. 

    During his playing career, Maradona played in four consecutive World Cups with Argentina and played most of his club career in Serie A with Napoli. 

    Maradona did not shy away from the game after he retired from playing, as he jumped right into management with two Argentinian clubs.

    In recent years, Maradona took the reigns of the Argentina national team and led them to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup before they were eliminated by Germany. 

    Although he has seen his fair share of controversy in the past, Maradona seems to be contributing more to the footballing world as he ages, and we surely have not seen the last of him. 

Pepe

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    Real Madrid defender Pepe is one of the dirtiest defenders in all of football, but he is also one of the best. 

    His defensive prowess has been masked of late due to his strong tackling on opponents that have left the Portuguese defender taking plenty of criticism from pundits and fans alike. 

    His controversial on-pitch habits have been highlighted in the past year, with his alleged stomp on the hand of Lionel Messi during the Copa del Rey in January being the most controversial of all his tackles. 

    Any good that Pepe does on the pitch this season will be overshadowed by his past incidents and the struggles that his club has had in La Liga. 

Gennaro Gattuso

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    For those who are not aware, Gennaro Gattuso is still playing football this season, but he is far away from the San Siro with Swiss club, FC Sion. 

    Gattuso's reputation as a hard tackle has grown with him throughout his lengthy career. 

    The Italian midfielder has picked fights with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Christian Poulsen and Joe Jordan during his 13 seasons with AC Milan, which came to end this summer when he moved to Switzerland. 

    In recent years, Gattuso has steered away from controversy and let his play do all the talking, while other dirty tacklers like Nigel de Jong have filled in for Gattuso in the controversial tackling department.

Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona was the signing that forever changed the fate of Manchester United when he signed with the Red Devils from Leeds United in 1992. 

    Cantona was yet another legendary footballer that did not shy away from controversy.

    The Frenchman had clashes with managers Sir Alex Ferguson at the club level and Aime Jacquet at the national level.

    The dispute with the latter of the two managers resulted in a suspension that made him miss the 1996 European Championships.

    Cantona is now stirring up the football world with his involvement in the development of the New York Cosmos franchise that is bidding to become the 20th franchise in Major League Soccer. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    It is tough to consistently be the second-best player in the world behind Lionel Messi when you have world-class talent that makes you one of the best players to ever play football.

    Cristiano Ronaldo faces that problem on a daily basis and is always cast as the bad guy when he is compared to Messi.

    Ronaldo has given fans plenty to criticize him for with his constant diving and unappreciated showmanship on the pitch.

    The Portuguese star has created plenty of controversy off the pitch when he should be recognized just for his on-pitch performance.

    Ronaldo may never be appreciated for his exploits on the pitch because of Messi and his controversial antics, but there is no doubt that he will go down as one of the best players to ever play the game.