10 World Football Characters Everyone Loves to Hate
The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may be adored by millions, but they are also hated in equal measure.
The football world is capable of producing characters that dissect the very fans that adore the sport like no other. The reasons for the hatred, dislike and venomous disdain vary. Some guys are detested because they are so talented, some for their character, some for not having any character and some for just being so divisive that fans can only adore or abhor them.
Almost every club has one, a player the opposition just love to hate. A few lucky, or unlucky, clubs, depending upon your point of view, may even have two or three of these eccentrics at any one time.
Here, Bleacher Report takes a look at 10 world football characters everyone just loves to hate.
The obvious place to start is with the boy from Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo.
From the very first moment he burst onto the pitch against Bolton Wanderers on August 17, 2003, Ronaldo has divided opinion.
Given the No. 7 jersey by Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo was compared with the likes of George Best, David Beckham, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona right from the get-go. United's fans wondered what was so great about this young Portuguese that Sir Alex Ferguson paid £15 million for, whilst the rest of the footballing world wondered who this show-pony was and why did he step over the ball so much and go down so easily?
Roll on 10 years and Ronaldo has grown into one of the greatest players of the modern age. In all probability, he will win the Ballon D'Or in 2013 after finishing second to Lionel Messi three times since 2009.
He has managed to score an incredible 324 goals in 522 career matches. The vast majority of those coming at two of the greatest clubs in the world, Manchester United and Real Madrid.
The very mention of United or Los Blancos is enough to make half the planet hate the 28-year-old.
But lets face it, Ronaldo is ridiculously talented, ridiculously rich and is ridiculously good looking.
What's not to hate?
Cristiano Ronaldo forms one half of the most divisive debate in world football. Meet the other half, Lionel Messi.
There is little doubt that the 5'7" 26-year-old is one of the greatest exponents of the game we have ever seen.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2005, the skinny kid from Rosario, Argentina, has scored an amazing 313 goals in 379 matches for his only club, Barcelona.
In a world that lacks the same level of talent football has had in previous eras, Messi stands out as a player of supreme ability, a genius if you will. The 5'7" maestro is simply mesmeric to watch.
Rarely is the ball allowed to leave his incredible sphere of influence. When he is in control of the ball, it might as well be glued to his foot.
Like many of the greatest players before him, Lionel Messi is a player who excites fans and causes alarm in defenders at the same rate, to such an extent that whole teams and managers go out of their way to neutralize the prodigious talent.
The last player to cause such terror in defenses was his international manager, Diego Armando Maradona.
The only player who even comes close to matching Messi in the modern age is Ronaldo.
You often hear people asking; Is Ronaldo better than Messi?
The answer, as ever, is in the question.
And Ronaldo and Real fans hate him for it.
Has there ever been a more divisive player than striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Actually, the next guy would have a lot to say about that matter.
Say what you want about Ibrahimovic, but no one can take away his medals.
The 31-year-old Swedish international is viewed by many fans of the English and Barcelona game as an expensive show-pony and lazy luxury-type player. Across the rest of the continent, he is viewed as one of the best players around.
He has played for seven clubs across five different leagues, has scored 269 goals in 536 appearances and has won an astonishing 10 league titles. The most amazing fact about those league wins is that he won eight in a row between 2004 and 2011.
Not bad for "an overrated footballer," as Martin O'Neill once said on BBC. (h/t The Telegraph)
Huey Lewis once sang, "The power of love is a curious thing. Make a one man weep, make another man sing." This is the truest thing that can be said about Mario Balotelli.
There is no middle ground with Balotelli. You either love the eccentric 22-year-old, or you hate him.
In his short but eventful career, he has played for three of the biggest clubs in the world—Inter Milan, Manchester City and AC Milan.
At each club, he has been loved by their fans irrevocably but has been hated by the opposition in equal measure. He has still to break 200 games as a professional and has only scored 70 goals despite his declaration to TuttoSport in 2010 that he was the second-best player in the world behind Lionel Messi.
Fans love Mario for a variety of reasons. There is no doubt about it, the Italian international marches to the beat of a different drum. He is one of the most controversial men in the modern game and is hated by traditionalists because of his lack of professionalism both on and off the pitch.
He is a man who cannot seem to stay away from the headlines.
He is unplayable for the opposition when on form and is equally unplayable for his own team when off form.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson may have retired in May after 26 years and 38 trophies with Manchester United, but he remains a hated figure across the Premier League.
The enduring and iconic picture of Ferguson pointing at his watch has the power to infuriate the opposition like no other menial act. To the many fans whose teams lost against the Red Devils, this act was the most perfect symbol of Ferguson's perceived powers over referees. In 2012, Duncan Alexander of Opta found for the BBC that when Man United were losing, they had an average of four minutes and 37 seconds added time, compared with three minutes and 18 seconds when they were winning.
Add in his legendary arguments with a variety of managers and ex-players and he is a man who many love to hate.
Joey, Joey, Joey.
How do you solve a problem like Joey Barton?
Barton has a list of controversies against him as long as his arm.
From stubbing a cigar in a youth-team player's eye to fighting with a 15-year-old teenage fan while on tour in Thailand and, lest we forget, getting six months jail time courtesy of a drunken brawl outside McDonalds in Liverpool over Christmas in 2008, Barton has seemingly done it all.
In recent years, our Joey has managed to stay away from drunken brawls and punch-ups. He hasn't, however, managed to stay away from controversy.
Barton has discovered Twitter and seems to have taken to social media with a vengeance.
With over two million supporters expecting him to lash out, Barton does not disappoint.
He has waged war on Irish international footballers, had a humdinger of a spat with Dietmar Hamann and most recently has waded into Queens Park Rangers for being relegated, to name but a few of his ill-thought out tweets.
Considering that Barton was sent to France by QPR after receiving a 12-match ban for a punch, kick and headbutt on the final day of the 2012 season, he should know that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
There seems to be two distinct personalities battling it out for control in Luis Suarez's brain.
One is a sublimely talented footballer who possesses all the skills to become one of the modern era's great players.
The other seems to be a cheating, conniving fraudster who will do anything to gain an advantage in the field of battle.
There was a time when almost every single Liverpool fan would defend the Uruguayan.
He has courted controversy since joining the Reds and has been banned for 20 games without ever receiving a single red card. Those suspensions came courtesy of a racist comment towards Manchester United's Patrice Evra in late 2011 and for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013.
Then add in Suarez's admission to diving and you see a man who could only be loved by the fans of the team he plays for.
After intimating to El Pais (h/t Goal.com) that he now wants to join Real Madrid after Liverpool have stuck by him through thick and thin, even the Reds' fans might not love him anymore.
John Terry had to feature on this list somewhere.
Say what you want about his character, but there has not been a better English center-defender over the last 20 to 30 years.
That being said, Terry may be one of the most unlikable characters in the game off the pitch—unless you're a Chelsea fan.
His off-field indiscretions have become notorious, from drunkenly mocking American tourists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to fighting with a nightclub doorman and being suspended from England international duty as a result.
He urinated in a glass in a nightclub before dropping it on the floor in 2002, parked his car in a disabled spot at a pizzeria, reportedly had an affair with his best friend Wayne Bridge's wife and allegedly called Anton Ferdinand by a racial slur before eventually being acquitted; all courtesy of The Telegraph.
It would be fair to say that only Chelsea fans would agree with the banner they drape at Stamford Bridge.
For the uninitiated it reads "Captain, Leader, Legend."
David Beckham played his final professional game on May 18, 2013, over 6,700 days after he made his debut for Manchester United on December 7, 1994.
From inauspicious beginnings against Galatasaray in an ultimately doomed Champions League group game, Beckham would go on to play over 700 matches for United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain FC, LA Galaxy and Preston North End.
He is the first Englishman to win league titles in four different countries, the first Englishman to score in three World Cups, the first British player to play 100 games in the Champions League and is the most-capped English outfield player of all time with 115 caps.
Beckham also won every major domestic trophy imaginable.
So, why all the hate?
When it comes to David Beckham, there will always be critics.
Valid arguments can be made that the Englishman was not nearly as talented as the English media and his PR and endorsement machines made out. He was the embodiment of style over substance as a player and possessed a very average skill set.
What he did have in world-class spades was a right foot that was heaven-sent and a work-rate that would match the very best players across the ages. Despite his frequent indiscretions on the pitch, he was also an incredibly honest worker and was happy to sacrifice his game for the greater good.
That being said, David Beckham: Legend? Discuss...
What makes Chelsea's Jose Mourinho such a brilliant manager? There are many words to describe the 50-year-old Portuguese: pragmatic, enigmatic, inspirational and thorough are but a few.
However, he is perhaps best described by himself. His unveiling at Chelsea in 2004 has become legendary. Few know that his "I am a special one" declaration was merely an attempt to show the skeptical English media that he was someone to take seriously after they had questioned his credentials to manage in the Premier League.
From there his legend grew, and now after 13 years there can be no doubt about the fact that Jose Mourinho is indeed a very, very special manager. He might even be the best coach in any sport.
He does carry a fair amount of baggage, though.
His barbs are legendary, and his scorched earth style of management means that the longest he has stayed at any club is just three and a bit seasons.
Mourinho comes into all his clubs and immediately sets about creating an "us against the world" atmosphere. It is an atmosphere that thrived at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Porto but not at Real Madrid where they expect the world to follow them.
At each and every club, he came in like the whirlwind from the Wizard of Oz and immediately whisked his new team off to another land.
Those who did not follow were unceremoniously jettisoned as ballast.
He has risked the ire of referees and UEFA, oppositing managers and assistants, and at times his own players. He has accused ambulance drivers of not doing their job properly, labelled Arsene Wenger a voyeur and has come across as crass, calculating and not having the game's best interests at heart.
There is no doubt that he is a brilliant manager, but he brings unwanted baggage wherever he goes and always manages to find a way to burn bridges.