In general, footballers get a bad press. You can understand why with the antics of some, but it means others are unfairly tarred with the same brush.
So in celebration of the Premier League’s all-round good eggs, the anti-Suarez brigade if you will, here is a likeable starting XI of current players.
The only rule when compiling this list was no more than one player per team, with an emphasis on loyal servants, selfless workers and those who bring a smile to your face.
The 41-year-old former American international is a true stalwart of the Premier League era. In 15 seasons as part of the English game, Friedel has proved himself to be an excellent goalkeeper, incredibly dependable—holding the record for most consecutive appearances—and a real gent too.
Now displaced by Hugo Lloris, he is still a valued part of the White Hart Lane furniture.
The last signing of the City of old, Zabaleta arrived at the City of Manchester stadium a day before the influx of Sheik Mansour’s unimaginable wealth. His wholehearted performances hark back to pre-mercenary times.
A versatile player, tough-tackling yet classy, Zabaleta is a consummate pro and criminally underrated. He is one of the finest defenders in the top flight.
After his six months away in Germany, it’s good to have Scharner back. This week he agreed to spend the rest of the season on loan with former club Wigan. A veteran of over 150 games for the Latics in his first spell, the Austrian’s leadership skills and quirky persona make him popular with the partisan and neutral alike.
A respected member of the Fulham and Northern Ireland squads, Hughes has captained at both club and international level. As a solid, unfussy sort of centre-back, he conducts himself with quiet dignity on and off the pitch.
Remarkably, Hughes also holds the record for most Premier League appearances without a red card, testament to the quality of his well-timed tackles.
Given Ashley Cole’s long list of misdemeanours, Baines is always going to be looked on favourably in comparison.
But while having an international rival with quite such a rap sheet is helpful for the Everton left back’s image, he has impressed on his own terms too. There’s much to admire with Baines’ preposterous sideburns, swerving set-pieces and marauding runs down the left.
It may seem strange to say now, but when Mulumbu first signed from PSG, he didn’t seem up to it. However, after relegation and a year of adjustment in the Championship, he came back to the top flight ready to show his worth.
In the subsequent two-and-a-half seasons, his blend of industry and ability has been central to West Brom’s success, with the Congolese international now adored by supporters.
Britton is a talented pass-and-move player who, but for a brief spell at Sheffield United, has been with Swansea since 2003. Along with teammate Alan Tate, currently on loan at Leeds, he has represented the Jacks in the top four divisions. Much-vaunted pass completion rates aside, this is the achievement he deserves to be recognised for.
The Reading captain leads by example, showing the way to survival with committed performances and no little ability either. The shuttling wide man has also earned plaudits for his down-to-earth attitude, making considered comments about the damage done by modern football’s unsustainable wages and celebrity culture.
The impish playmaker has been Norwich’s creative fulcrum for four years now. Having assisted an unseemly number of goals on the Canaries’ rapid rise to the top flight, he surely deserves greater international recognition in Trapattoni’s functional Ireland side.
Despite delighting with his trickery, until last October Hoolahan had earned just a solitary cap from back in his Blackpool days.
With their big spending ways, shabby treatment of managers and continued employment of John Terry, Chelsea are far from being the most likeable club in the league.
However, the merits of Juan Mata are rather easier to appreciate. A talented attacking midfielder with a silken touch, sharp finishing and a wispy beard, what’s not to love?
He’s always had that air of photogenic innocence about him but is finally starting to justify the early hype. Expectations were unfairly raised by his shock selection for the 2006 World Cup, and he had to cope with the crushing blow of being left out four years later for what should have been his coming-of-age tournament.
Yet throughout, he has remained level-headed and is getting the rewards for having added a clinical edge to his game.