After NK Dinamo Zagreb fans taunted Cristiano Ronaldo during their Champions League group stage kickoff match last week, the Real Madrid striker offered an explanation for the supporters' jeers: "It's surely because I'm good-looking, rich and a great footballer. They're jealous of me. I don't have any other explanation."
Football fans love discussing (read: ranting about) players with big egos, so today, we decided to compile a list of who we thought had the biggest, baddest egos in world football. This list includes players (active and retired), managers, owners, club presidents and one late, great bighead to rule them all.
If we forgot anyone, have your say in the comments. But don't get too cocky.
The former Rutgers ace may be one of the best players to come out of the US of A, but Alexi Lalas may have thought he was better than he actually was.
Although never a bad player, he's always bitten off more than he can chew. The defender aimed perhaps a little too high after a trial run with the reserves at Arsenal, had a solid run at Padova, but only lasted two seasons before being absorbed back into the MLS, where he experienced his swansong after being sacked as general manager of the L.A. Galaxy in 2008.
Quintessential ego moment: His music career, during which he released a solo album called Ginger. It's not bad, and you've got to admire the guy for trying out a different passion, but there are just some things that should not be attempted. For a further explanation, just listen to his cover of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair."
Pelé's name is practically synonymous with football. He's known the world over, is a legend and an ambassador for the game. But even the King can sometimes run his mouth off, like in his recent spats with longtime rival Diego Maradona. And some fans have criticized him for letting his regal title go to his head, acting as the ultimate authority for football while at the same time a 'puppet' for Sepp Blatter and FIFA, ignoring changes that other players and fans would argue need to be made.
Although, we suppose when you're Pelé, you can act however the heck you want.
Quintessential ego quote: "When Pelé's quiet, he's a poet... but he just talks sh**." —Brazilian star Romario on the legend. (He later apologized.)
The young Arsenal keeper has built a reputation as one of the best young goalies in the game and became a fan favorite at the Emirates last season, but he does have a tendency to talk a rather big game for his age and level of experience.
The former Chelsea and Bayern Munich star had his share of moments of bad behavior, most notably when he got sent off for stomping on Momo Sissoko's leg during a 2006 match.
His move to Chelsea was accused as being a money-and-ego ploy by his German fans, and his career started off marred by accusations of disinterest (see below) and clashes with teammates, including William Gallas (who is also on this list). There's also his now-notorious row with Germany head coach Joachim Löw: when Löw offered him the opportunity for one last international match at a friendly against Brazil, Ballack refused, calling the whole thing 'a farce.'
Now, back at his old club Bayer Leverkusen, Ballack is hoping to shake it off and perform for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and Champions League.
Quintessential ego quote: "One is trying desperately to recapture his old form, while the other seems to be playing with a huge cigar in his mouth." —The Telegraph's Alan Hansen, criticizing Ballack for his lethargy and lack of interest on the pitch
Forsaking your fans is one thing, but defecting to their longtime, storied, incredibly bitter rivals is another entirely. Figo is hardly the only one to do this (Mo Johnston, Samuel Eto'o, Emmanuel Adebayor...), but he was one of the first to do it in a big way and one of the few to go from one right to the other. He faced abuse from Barça fans for the move, even getting a pig's head thrown at him. Some probably still haven't forgiven him.
Quintessential ego moment: His last name rhymes with the very thing this list is saluting, which fans and the press have had field days with.
The Arsenal boss remains the Gunners' most successful manager in history, but the buzzword often used to describe his fatal flaw is 'hubris.' Despite the club's recent struggles, Wenger remains stuck in his own manner of doing things and highly resistant to change in tactics and mindset.
However, the man known as 'The Professor' may not see his ego as such a bad thing.
Quintessential ego quote: "Without an ego you do nothing in life. You just have to know how far you can go with it. What you can never forgive yourself is to turn around at the end of your career, look back on it, and say to yourself, 'I could have done more'.” (from The First Post, July 22, 2011)
The longtime (former) president of FC Barcelona and current president of Real Madrid both have a whole lot of power, two historic and wildly successful clubs locked in a bitter war and two massive egos to their names.
Pérez, seemingly unaware of the global financial crisis affecting his native Spain (and everywhere else) particularly hard, bought two of the world's biggest players for a total of about €300 million just as the global economy was starting to take a downturn.
Laporta has been accused of carrying his own political agenda into his practices with the sporting enterprise and more recently, was part of the unprofessional, condescending behavior surrounding Barça's luring of Cesc Fábregas from Arsenal.
Quintessential ego quote (Laporta): "I am very confident that Arsenal will end up understanding the situation. For Cesc, the best thing would be to complete the transfer as soon as possible, before the start of the World Cup. But I recognize that it will be complicated because Arsenal are totally within their rights to stand firm and we have to respect that.” (from TotalBarca.com)
And speaking of Barça, here's another gem from the Blaugrana.
Barcelona are known for being team players and relying on a cohesive passing game, so it's no wonder that the centre of the Barça ego comes not from individual stars, but the team collectively having an ego about the club itself, as seen in some of the obnoxious group efforts in the campaign to lure Cesc Fábregas. In one fell swoop, defender Dani Alves insulted his former club Sevilla and Fábregas' Arsenal, declaring both clubs to be less than the elite force of Camp Nou.
Quintessential ego quote: “I forced my exit from Sevilla. I saw the train passing by and I wanted to be in business class.” (from The Guardian, July 7, 2011)
There are plenty of English starts who could appear before Frank Lampard on this list, but what the Chelsea star has a tendency to do is obsess over how he is perceived and then act as though he doesn't.
When he won the Footballer of the Year award in 2005, he used his acceptance speech as a means to take a jab at the press and threw in a complaint about his treatment at West Ham in there. Although, he did at the same time express a whole lot of gratitude and used the end of his speech to salute a terminally ill young fan named Lucy and raise awareness about a support network for children and families dealing with cancer.
Quintessential ego moment: The publication of his 2006 autobiography, Totally Frank, where readers and critics accused him of using his book as a means to complain about the low points of his career and deride the haters.
Flaxen-haired football-cum-commentator and reality show star Robbie Savage is pretty aware of his own ego, and it's hard to disagree with the player's notoriety, stack of yellow cards (the Daily Mail named him the 'Dirtiest Player in Premier League History' in 2008) and history of some pretty nasty moves and accusations of provoking other players on the pitch.
Like all great egotists, sporting and non, Robbie Savage is a frequent self-promoter on Twitter, updating fans (he's got more than 449,000) mostly about his appearances on the UK celebrity dance competition show Strictly Come Dancing. Are you on #TeamSavola?
Quintessential ego moment: In a 2001 match against Derby County, Savage, then at Leicester City, reportedly dove into the penalty area and, upon seeing the referee's granting of the penalty, gave an exuberant fist-pumping celebration to the fans. Derby fans were not amused, to say the least.
Roy Keane is a legend, no doubt, for Ireland and Manchester United and had a solid career as a manager. But his short temper has led to some headliner-worthy rages, in which he disrespected and alienated fans, managers and teammates and in some cases, had very big consequences.
Keane's most famous rage came in 2002 in what is now known as the 'Saipan incident,' where the ROI captain lashed out at manager Mick McCarthy, calling him a 'f***ing wanker' and saying he didn't rate McCarthy 'as a person.' Because of the outburst, Keane lost his captaincy and was declared ineligible to compete in the 2002 World Cup, a competition the Republic of Ireland have not qualified for since.
Quintessential ego quote: "We're 1-0 up, then there are one or two stray passes and they're getting on players' backs. It's just not on. At the end of the day they need to get behind the team. Away from home our fans are fantastic, I'd call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch. I don't think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell 'football', never mind understand it." —Ranting about the lack of energy from Manchester United fans at Old Trafford back in 2000
The Chelsea defender was a fan favorite at Stamford Bridge until a few choice remarks rubbed fans and teammates the wrong way, leading to accusations of some pro-Gallic bias.
Quintessential ego moment: LeBoeuf lost some fans after a 1998 appearance on BBC show They Think It's All Over, when, after some mockery from the panel, he responded with "I don't care what you say, I've won the World Cup." Although his comments were likely lost in translation, when fans accused him of playing the arrogant Gallic stereotype, LeBoeuf shot down his detractors as being thick. Haters gonna hate.
The Italian superstar is a notorious attacker who has seen great success during his many stints at various Serie A clubs, but he's also perceived to be a notorious diver by fans and opponents alike.
Toni has also been accused of chasing the dollar (or Euro), with fans outraged at his move from Palermo to Fiorentina claiming he was in it for the money. But his most famous row came while at Bayern Munich, with manager Louis van Gaal, with whom he developed a highly contentious relationship (accusing the manager of dropping trou in front of the squad, for starters) which would have consequences for team and player.
Quintessential ego moment: Falling asleep during a team meal on Louis van Gaal's second day as Bayern Munich manager? Not a good move, and it certainly set the pace for the rest of their relationship.
Roo is one of the world's best strikers, with back-to-back hat tricks already this season and quite a few Premiership titles to his name already. But as we all know, with great talent and power often comes a great ego.
The Manchester United star is peachy as long as things are going his way, but he has a difficult time controlling his frustration when things do not. He sulks and rages whenever he isn't at 100 percent on the pitch. He was declared a 'prima donna' in the British press around the time of the World Cup, but then again, that was in the News of the World, so we don't have to believe that.
Quintessential ego moment: After a hat trick last April, Roo burst with an expletive-laden goal celebration that had the FA in a tizzy.
In another place and time, Maradona would have been a lot higher on this list, but there are just so many egos to cover. One of football's greatest and most controversial figures, Maradona has battled plenty of demons that come with fortune and fame and is perhaps the embodiment of 'cult of personality.'
His pride leads to outspokenness—he's accused Pelé of having a gay affair with a coach and has called Lionel Messi a ball-hog. Maradona's ego has the immensity to also be the subject of myth, such as the conspiracy theory that he was out to derail Messi's international career in an effort to remain Argentina's greatest footballing legend.
Quintessential ego moment: We couldn't choose anything but the notorious 'Hand of God' goal (his words) in the 1986 World Cup, where Maradona scored on a handball, batting the ball into the net, but the referee never saw it and Argentina defeated England. The impressive audacity of it—it can only be the work of a Maradona.
The former England manager has the third-best win rate of anyone with the job at 60 percent, bested only by Sir Alf Ramsey and Fabio Capello. But you would never know the way his controversial run in that position ended.
Hoddle's tactics and beliefs raised eyebrows and even sparked some outrage, from his bringing faith healer Eileen Drewery to help the England squad to, not bringing on Paul Gascoigne on a personal note, claiming the disabled are experiencing karmic punishment for sins in a past life. Fans saw his tactics as self-indulgent and the work of an international boss lost in his own world.
Quintessential ego quote: “He was also completely besotted with himself. If he had been an ice cream, he would have licked himself.” —former teammate Tony Cascarino on Hoddle
The Scottish player and manager (or sometimes both at the same time) had a stellar career at Liverpool and helped revitalize a struggling Rangers side in the late 1980s. But in his demanding and highly ambitious role, Souness required a commanding ego, which led to many a row with officials and the Scottish Footballing Association. During his unsuccessful spell as a Liverpool manager, he infuriated fans by appearing in The Sun (a major faux pas for anyone involved with the Reds) on the third anniversary of the Hillsborough stadium disaster.
On the bright side, he did expose and try to end a sectarian-influenced discrimination policy at Rangers by bringing Catholic player Mo Johnston to Ibrox (although he won over a few fans, overall it didn't end well and Johnston went on to Everton).
Quintessential ego moment: Souness was frequently banned and reprimanded for naming himself as a substitute.
'The Guv'nor' has been all over England and Italy as a player and manager, with his legendary ego following close behind.
The man Sir Alex Ferguson once called 'Big-Time Charlie' was part of a Manchester United squad with big personalities, big egos and big wins, and he has embraced it. His volatility led to clashes with Sir Alex Ferguson and even got him the reputation as a bully, particularly in his homophobic abuse of former Chelsea player Graeme Le Saux, who, ironically enough, isn't actually gay.
Ince recently fired on his former England national team, accusing players of not taking the privilege seriously and the club of "giving out caps like confetti." In 2007, when Fabio Capello included Ince as a potential candidate to be part of the England coaching staff, he said, "Absolutely no chance."
Quintessential ego quote: “Cantona, Keane, Schmeichel, me—we all had egos and we were winners. We wanted to succeed for each other and that is what Roberto is trying to get out of City now.” (from The Daily Express, January 29, 2011)
The itinerant striker is a legend of the game with nearly 1,000 goals to his name and a career spanning nearly 25 years. His performances earned praise from some of the game's greats, including Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona.
But perhaps, like so many fellow greats, Romario let things get to his head, just a little bit, most notably in his feuds with fellow Brazilian footballing legends Zico and Edmundo.
A one-club guy and a loyal Red to the core, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will forever be a legend at the Kop, leading Liverpool to two league cups and the 'miracle of Istanbul' Champions League title in 2005.
Although fans still express their love for him in spades, it's almost as if Gerrard has come to expect it. When he's not in a central role on the pitch, he has a tendency to sulk. There's a reason they called him 'Stevie Me.'
Quintessential ego moment: When Rafa Benitez took Gerrard out in the 70th minute of a 2007 Merseyside derby, the captain said he was 'hurt' by the decision and demanded an explanation, even though Liverpool won the match.
The 24-year-old attacker has drawn comparisons to the likes of French greats like Robert Pirés and Zinedine Zidane, a brilliant playmaker who has already become a lethal part of Manchester City's attack.
But Nasri also somewhat embodies the stereotype of the cocky upstart. He famously fell out with the French. Nasri handled his big-money transfer to City in an unprofessional manner, slamming the fans who had been loyal to him at Arsenal in his first interview as a Blue, saying they lacked passion.
Quintessential ego moment: In his autobiography, former Arsenal teammate William Gallas blasted a young player, widely believed to be Nasri, for disrespectful behavior he saw as unbefitting to a young player. And if William Gallas says you have a big ego, you probably have a big ego.
When Craig Bellamy transferred to Liverpool on deadline day, some fans were worried because of the reputation that preceded him. The Welsh international has become something of a nomad due to his clashes with authority and inability to get along with coaches and teammates, most recently falling out with Roberto Mancini before his move to Kenny Dalglish's side.
His disrespect on the pitch often leads to rows with referees and players alike, although he claims to have cleaned up his act, praising new manager Kenny Dalglish and establishing the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which established a football academy for disadvantaged kids in Sierra Leone.
Quintessential ego moment: Big bad Bellamy has been implicated in several acts of violence, but never convicted: his alleged victims include two women in Cardiff, a fight with a pitch invader during the Manchester derby in 2009 and the one that made the most headlines, where he confronted Liverpool teammate John-Arne Riise with a golf club after a karaoke night.
The colorful former Bayern Munich keeper was one of the best in the world during the height of his career and has a slew of Bundesliga and European titles to his name, but his persistence and ambition on the pitch sometimes translated into his having a big ego.
Kahn sometimes seemed off in his own little world during his time at Bayern—he skipped out on a Bundesliga title celebration because he was listening to his Walkman despite being the captain of the team and, after missing a 2002 league match citing injury, Kahn was seen out golfing and partying at the disco. It's Olli's world, and the rest of us just live in it.
Quintessential ego moment: Kahn was painted as the stereotypical self-involved, philandering football star by outraged fans after he left his pregnant wife for 21-year-old 'party chicken' Verena Kerth.
If you were the most recognizable football star in the world (other than Pelé), you'd probably have a massive ego too. Becks compares himself to Jesus in body art and, dissatisfied with his spell with the L.A. Galaxy, has gone on loan to AC Milan twice, angering Galaxy fans who scorned Becks for his lack of commitment to the MLS side.
To his credit though, Becks has also used his fame for good as a UNICEF ambassador, an advocate for organizations fighting malaria in Africa, visiting the troops in Afghanistan and now, with the L.A. Galaxy, he's become involved with MLS W.O.R.K.S..
Quintessential ego quote: "t's Jesus being carried by three cherubs... My thought of it is ... at some point my boys are gonna need to look after me, and that's what they're doing in the picture." —Beckham gets messianic about his new tattoo
The itinerant El-Hadji Diouf brings power and versatility to any attack, but alas, you'd probably never know because his destructive behavior on and off the pitch tends to take up more headline space.
He is notorious for spitting in the faces of opposing fans (including an 11-year-old Middlesborough supporter) and oppositional teammates, has been labeled a diver and has been deliberately sent off while playing for Bolton in 2007 so he could play in an international match for Senegal. There's also a string of more serious offenses, among them drunk driving and allegedly punching the ex-wife of one of his Senegal teammates at a club in Dakar.
The talented striker is now without a club after falling out with Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean, who terminated his contract before the start of the season by mutual consent.
Quintessential ego moment: In a January 2011 match between Blackburn and Queens Park Rangers, Diouf taunted QPR striker Jamie Mackie, accusing him of faking an injury when he had actually fractured his leg in two places, allegedly chanting 'F*** you and f*** your leg.' The incident led to a tunnel brawl between the two sides.
It takes an ego to rein in egos, which is what Sir Alex Ferguson inevitably has to do sometimes as the manager of the Premier League's most successful club, Manchester United, and its A-List players. And he does so with a "my way or the highway" attitude that is now the stuff of legend.
Fergie's devotion to the club and its success has led to some controversial behaviors and actions, among them his alleged "mind games" with rival managers and hostility toward the press, particularly the BBC, who he attempted to boycott. And when his son Darren was sacked from Preston North End, Ferguson sent three United players back early from loan spells at PNE, a move many fans saw as an act of revenge (Ferguson has denied this). Nobody messes with Sir Alex.
Quintessential ego moment: At a recent press conference following United's 1-1 Champions League draw with Benfica, Ferguson snapped at ITV reporter Kelly Cates—who also happens to be Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's daughter—when she asked about whether Anders Lindegaard's solid performance against Benfica would mean his inclusion in the weekend's match. “I don’t know why you ask these questions," he told her. "You are just looking for stupid little things.”
Now at Birmingham City, striker Marlon King is a sad example of what happens when a talented footballer, absorbed by the lure of money and fame, does some highly reprehensible things. There was friction with management and outbursts, including the casino brawl with Hull City teammate Dean Windass and a string of 14 convictions, two which led to jail time.
It seemed trite to give King a "quintessential ego moment" spot considering the gravity of some of the offenses for which he was convicted, most notably the 2008 sexual assault and battery of a woman at a London nightclub, for which he served 18 months and was sacked from Wigan Athletic. There's ego, and then there's something worse.
He may be on a hot streak at new club Tottenham, already a fan favorite at White Hart Lane thanks to goals in his first two appearances, but Adebayor has one of the Premiership's biggest egos.
The striker has had rows with his own teammates (most notably Nicklas Bendtner while both were at the Emirates), performed garish goal celebrations mocking fans of his former club Arsenal and said he was 'insulted' when Roberto Mancini dropped him from the squad for City's America tour. Why did they drop him, you ask? For refusing to train with the reserve and youth squads.
Quintessential ego quote: "Today I've the impression that you have to be Italian to have a place in this team." —An indignant Adebayor asks if his nationality is to blame after being shifted out of the Monaco squad in favor of Christian Vieri and Marco Di Vaio
The AC Milan forward is undoubtedly talented and has quite a few titles to his name, but he made his 'I'm-too-good-for-this-I-don't-need-to-be-here' mentality ever present during his stint at Manchester City. He brought goals to Eastlands, but he also brought an attitude.
His big-money flight home bankrolled by City, partying and reminding the press and the club that he could have—and wanted to—be at Chelsea in his two seasons there showed a star with a sense of self-entitlement the size of San Siro.
Quintessential ego moment: While at City in 2008, Robinho decided to try his hand at manager and offered the club suggestions for fellow Brazilian players he thought would help them to improve, including Kléber and Thiago Silva (the latter now plays alongside Robinho at AC Milan).
Certainly, all the media attention and hype isn't helping the ever-growing ego of the 19-year-old Brazilian wünderkind. The Santos striker has plenty of talent and buzz about him, but the bosses of the Brazilian club have worried that if his behavior is not reined in, they could be 'creating a monster.'
Quintessential ego moment: In a now-notorious 2010 incident, Neymar, after missing a pair of penalty shots, was not allowed to take Santos' third. The striker threw a temper tantrum, chewing out his teammates and threatening to never pass to them again. When Neymar was left out of the starting lineup when the Peixe faced rivals Corinthians, and when further attempts at a ban were taken, the club sacked Dorival Jr. as the manager.
The 'Jewel of Bari' has talent in spades and a stellar career to his name, a great playmaker who worked well in many an attack formation. But his fiery temper and tendency towards disrespectful often preceded his talent at the height of his career. He frequently clashed with authority while at AS Roma, Real Madrid and early on in his time at Sampdoria, arguing in the dressing room with Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello and early on in his time at Roma, gave a referee the bad omen-wishing sign of the horns for sending him off.
Now 29 and a striker at AC Milan, Cassano has matured and calmed down thanks in part to wife and family, but his hot-tempered legacy lives on in Italian footballing slang (see below).
Quintessential ego moment: Cassano's attitude on the pitch is so notorious that Fabio Capello invented a word in his dubious honor. A 'cassanata' refers to a player whose selfish, petulant behavior is a detriment to the spirit and unity of the team.
AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimović is one of the best technical players around and is consistently a force in league and European play. And he's got the big head to match his imposing 6'5" frame and mantlepiece of awards.
He was known to carry a sense of self-entitlement while at Inter, has had a troubled relationship in the past with the heads of the Swedish national team and fell out with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, a tension which came to a head when he left Camp Nou before the ceremony for the Joan Gamper Trophy in 2010. While at Barça, the striker was accused of having a 'selfish' attitude on the pitch by the Blaugrana coaches.
Quintessential ego quote: “I am north, south, east and west. I am Zlatan Ibrahimović." –From a passage he wrote for the Smemoranda School Diary, a book given to Italian schoolchildren, in which he tells his life story through the cardinal directions. Awww.
Overhyped and underserving, the 27-year-old winger, currently at West Ham United, was once declared 'the new David Beckham,' but although he performed well at Blackburn Rovers, he certainly had the ego one would expect from a Beckham.
Fans first criticized Bentley for withdrawing from the England U21 squad and later, and perhaps more frequently, for 'showboating,' especially during his stint at Tottenham Hotspur. An attention seeker who loves to entertain (see below), Bentley put more effort into backflips, fancy passes and attempts at the Cruyff turn when he should have been trying to put the ball in the net.
Quintessential ego quote: "Hopefully they want to see characters. They don't always go just to watch the football, they'll come to abuse me. I'll get the banter but I'll enjoy that. It's probably going to be the best moment in my career." —Bentley on wanting to return to the Emirates with Tottenham to troll fans of his former club during the North London derby
A sporting icon in his home country thanks to a stellar career with Club América, Blanco has high-volume scoring, vision and an assertive playing style that make him a valuable asset on the pitch. But he also has quite an attitude, unafraid to confront players and coaches, most notably scrapping with Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe, who left him off the World Cup squad in 2006 in part because of his attitude.
Blanco is named after a legendary Aztec emperor, and he will not let you forget it—his goal celebration of choice is an homage to his mythos-steeped roots, a pose with an arm cocked to the sky he calls 'the Archer.'
Quintessential ego quote: José Miguel Romero, a reporter from the Seattle Times, referred to Cuauhtémoc Blanco as 'the Terrell Owens of Mexico,' and for our readers that know their NFL players, this will probably speak volumes.
'King Eric' has definitely earned a big head—the forward was a fan favorite who helped win four Premiership titles and two FA Cup titles with Manchester United and will forever be a legend at Old Trafford. But his great legacy of creativity and flair on the pitch is coupled with one of a tempestuous ego which got him in trouble with fellow players, managers and fans (one of whom felt the fury of his famous foot).
Like many great egotistical athletes, Cantona tried his hand at acting, starring in two films which were both actually quite good, Elizabeth and Looking For Eric, in which 'the King' plays a sagely, almost mythical version of himself. He eventually went back to football and is now the Director of Soccer at the New York Cosmos.
Ooh, aah, big ego.
Quintessential ego moment: Cantona cemented his controversial status when, during a 1995 match against Crystal Palace, he launched a 'kung-fu' kick and a flurry of punches in the crowd toward CPFC fan Matthew Simmons. He was fined, temporarily banned and served a brief jail sentence for assault, but what he's most remembered for is the press conference, where he issued a highly cryptic 'screw you' to the press: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea, thank you very much.”
A legend during his careers as a footballer in the Eredivisie and Serie A, Ruud Gullit let his icon status get the better of him as a manager, and his career has suffered for it.
Frequently clashing with players and owners, he's been sacked twice (Chelsea, Terek Grozny) and resigned twice (L.A. Galaxy, Newcastle United) as a manager. At Newcastle, he rowed with captain Alan Shearer and other star players, and, letting the grudge show, he left Shearer and Duncan Ferguson out of the starting lineup against Sunderland in the first 1999 Tyne-Wear derby, where Newcastle lost 2-1.
Bad boy Barton's reputation preceded him in his move from Newcastle United to Queens Park Rangers, and although the veteran midfielder certainly has talent, he may have talked himself up a bit too much. Sour over a lack of England caps, Barton took to criticizing his contemporaries (calling Gareth Barry a teacher's pet and firing at veterans Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard) and claiming he was among the best English midfielders.
In addition to a bit of self-overhyping, Barton is still notorious for his antics on and off the pitch, although he's calmed down quite a bit in recent years. Past incidents range from the innocuous to the damaging, from the time he showed his bare bum to Everton fans to that time he put out a cigar stub on another player's eyelid at the Manchester City Christmas party (Barton said it was an accident).
Quintessential ego quote: "I'm a keen football fan and watch football and there are probably six or seven midfielders getting in the squad for an England game and I certainly don't think there are two players playing better than me—English players—at the minute." (from the Daily Mail, January 16, 2011)
Whether he's deserving of the dubious honor or not, and whether or not it has as much to do with the player himself or the ire towards Manchester United during his career, Gary Neville was a player fans loved to hate—he's even referred to himself as being 'the most hated footballer' in England, a title the press took on later. His reputation as a 'teacher's pet,' obnoxious goal celebrations and disrespectful displays toward opponents added fuel to the flames.
And despite his being the most-capped right-back in England football history, Neville wrote in his autobiography that at times his international career felt like 'a massive waste of time.' Ouch.
To his credit though, Gary Neville's talent as a defender helped net Manchester United some big hauls for the trophy cabinet and he's been an advocate for a sustainable future for football—everything at Old Trafford for his testimonial match was operated by wind power.
Quintessential ego quote: "There have been times when I've reflected on my international career and just thought: 'Well, that was a massive waste of time.'" (from the BBC, August 21, 2011)
One thing's for sure: when the 21-year-old Manchester City striker shows off, he really shows off. Balotelli has gained notoriety for some flashy tendencies, including driving around with large wads of cash in his front seat. When Balotelli crashed his car in Manchester last year and local police questioned why he had £5,000 cash in his pocket, the footballer reportedly responded, "Because I am rich."
Even if the buzzy tales of excessive behavior are exaggerated or mere gossip, there's still the bad sportsmanship (mocking fellow Golden Boy nominee Jack Wilshere, who he beat for the trophy) and clashes with management. Oh, and the pure gold statements like the one below.
Quintessential ego quote: "There’s only one man in football who is a little stronger than me, that is Leo Messi. All others are behind me." (from The Guardian, December 21, 2010)
The Danish forward started off as a hot prospect for Arsenal but his delusions of grandeur got the better of him. Although he certainly has the potential to be one of the game's greats, his overconfidence is an animal all its own, as he calls himself one of the best in the world despite a lack of statistical backing. He even scored a point higher than the possible total score on a French psychologist's confidence test.
And, if you are to believe this report from the Daily Mail, Bendtner claimed he deserved his £50,000 a week wage because of the sacrifices he makes, moaning about the fact that his footballing career was keeping him from going 'on a skiing holiday' with his mates. Although the way he said it apparently wasn't overly arrogant, still... a skiiing holiday? Boo hoo. Reckon there are some mountains in Wearside, though.
Quintessential ego quote: "It does not really matter to me who is fit and available. I should start every game, I should be playing every minute of every match and always be in the team." (from The Guardian, February 16, 2009)
He's making bank at Anzhi Makhachkala, where a signing deal made him the highest-paid athlete in the game at €20 million per season, and he's one of the top strikers in the world with a commanding number of goals in league, European and international competitions.
But Sammi Eto'o also has the reputation as a confrontational prima donna, picking fights with officials, players (even having what the press called a 'Zidane moment') and coaches, most notably clashing with Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola.
Quintessential ego moment: His now-infamous chant of 'Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeón' ('Madrid, bastards, salute the champions') at the 2005 La Liga title celebration at Camp Nou earned him a hefty fine, but the chant lives on at Barça's ground.
The longtime Arsenal keeper known as 'Mad Jens' was known not just for his skill in the goal box, but for his attention-seeking antics on and off the pitch, from urinating behind the goal during a Champions League match, to throwing / tearing off items of clothing from opposing players to attacking ball boys and teammates alike.
But hey, if you had 10 consecutive clean sheets for Arsenal, you'd probably have a big head too. He also has a charitable streak, participating recently in Soccer Aid to benefit UNICEF.
Quintessential ego moment: "I wonder if people want to see these scenes. By faking injuries and pulling stunts like those, Hannover wasted 10 minutes. I find it awful that ball boys are being taught to cheat." —When Hannover's ball boy threw Lehmann the ball in a way that missed his arms, the keeper, then at Stuttgart, lambasted both the opposing side and their young pitch assistant.
The Chelsea and England star is a fantastic left-back, one of the best in the world, but he remains an unpopular figure in the Premiership because of his attitude and ego.
'Cashley' earned his rather unflattering nickname for his perceived status as a high-rolling, wage-hunting football megastar. Accusations of his lack of interest in playing for the England squad (despite his being one of their best defenders), leaving Arsenal purely for more money and fame at Chelsea and sleeping around while with his high-profile WAG wife Cheryl Cole (née Tweedy) have turned Cole into a player fans love to hate.
Quintessential ego moment: Cole said the initial offer from Chelsea of £55,000 made him nearly swerve off the road and left him "trembling with anger." 'Cashley' is right.
The Chelsea striker is known for his skill on the pitch and his bouts with bad attitude, a nasty temper and a penchant for arguing, and often these things follow one another. In a 2010 match where Chelsea defeated Wigan Athletic 8-0, Drogba sulked and moaned about not getting to take a penalty in favor of Frank Lampard, but then went on to score a hat trick and win the Golden Boot. Go figure.
But it's equally as important to note that off the pitch, Didier Drogba is a national hero in his home country of Côte d'Ivoire, and rightly so. He's a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programmes, donated the money from a hefty sponsorship deal to build a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan and has been committed to bringing peace and reconciliation to his homeland, even helping to bring about a cease-fire when Côte d'Ivoire qualified for the 2006 World Cup. The striker is living proof that you can't always judge a footballer by behavior on the pitch.
Quintessential ego moment: Calling Tom Ovrebo a ‘f***ing disgrace’ for his officiating after the 2009 Champions League semifinal in which Chelsea lost to Barcelona.
One could easily make a case that the FIFA President is the most hated man in world football, and he's certainly let his hubris get the better of him when making some highly unpopular statements and decisions.
Blatter's ego is that special kind that reflects both personal disproportionate delusions of grandeur and a lack of connection to the real world. There was the paranoid lack of transparency surrounding the nature of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, which some critics and fans saw as a money-grabbing scheme and others saw as a naïve, aggrandizing attempt to repeat the perceived success of South Africa and position FIFA as this global savior of football.
There was the time he sparked outrage from fans upon meeting with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe (who is, coincidentally, known for his highly destructive ego) and pledging $1 million to help improve football in Zimbabwe, a move criticized for making a deal with an oppressive dictator and for doing so with the usual lack of transparency.
And, when asked what gay and lesbian football fans are expected to do at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, Blatter basically told them to just try not to do any gay stuff while they were there (he later apologized).
Quintessential ego quote: "Crisis? What is a crisis?" —In response to allegations over corruption within the world football governing body, Blatter played dumb and insisted only 'the family' could prevent him from being reelected.
There's a reason 'The Special One' refers to himself in this manner: a treble and a double with Porto, two Premier League titles and an FA Cup with Chelsea, a Champions League cup with Inter Milan, a Copa del Rey with Real Madrid. The itinerant Mourinho is undoubtedly one of the best managers in the game today, but boy, does he have the ego to match.
Warranted or not, Mou's record of self-absorption and bad attitude is often as much of a topic of discussion as the size of his trophy cabinet. There's the time he shushed Liverpool fans for taunting him during a match, the grandiose goal celebrations one would expect from a player but not a manager, the time he tried to escape a UEFA ban by sneaking out of Stamford Bridge in a laundry basket and his tendency to pick some very unsportsmanlike fights, from his beef with Arsene Wenger to the final moments of this year's Supercup, where he poked Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye.
Quintessential ego moment: Giving yourself a nickname is pretty self-absorbed and obnoxious no matter who you are or what you do, and Mourinho took this deed to legendary heights by bestowing the title of 'The Special One' upon himself. Dude.
The French international and Tottenham defender doesn't seem to get along with anyone. After alienating former club Chelsea in a rather nasty fallout in which, if Chelsea bosses are to be believed, Gallas threatened to score own goals until Chelsea let him go to Arsenal (Gallas denies this), he burned bridges as a Gunner by smack-talking his teammates in the press and throwing some pretty big tantrums, most notably in a 2008 draw with Birmingham City when he staged a one-man sit-in on the pitch to protest a call.
Quintessential ego moment: The release of his 2008 autobiography, The Word for the Defense, in which he blasted his former Arsenal teammates, including a young player, likely Samir Nasri, and declared that the Gunners "did not have enough courage" to win the title.
Ronaldo is a tricky one to write about in terms of ego, and fans have no shortage of explanations for his theatrically grandiose comments such as “maybe they hate me because I’m too good" or his choice words for "jealous" Dinamo Zagreb fans.
He's trolling the press and away fans. It's his sense of humor; they're not meant to be taken seriously. It's persona-building. His remarks get lost in translation.
Whatever the explanation though, and whether or not they're meant to be taken seriously, no footballer on this planet comes out with outlandishly arrogant statements at the sheer volume he does, and for that, he takes the No. 2 spot.
Quintessential ego quote: "It's not a problem. In four or five days, I will be beautiful once again." —On taking an elbow to the face from a colliding Mirko Vucinic in a 2007 Manchester United-Roma match
So perhaps giving the top spot to a legend of the game who is now deceased seems unusual, but Brian Clough has left an unmistakable and still-highly-relevant legacy on English football, and yes, that includes an ego big enough to earn him the nickname 'Ol' Big Head.'
In fact, when family members, fans and sports writers decried David Peace's book The Damned United and the later feature film adaptation as being factually inaccurate and in some cases, a defamation of character, they use Clough's ego as evidence.
BBC sports correspondent Pat Murphy criticized the film, pointing to a scene where Clough is hiding in his office during a Derby County match against rival Leeds United. The real Brian Clough, he argues, would have never been so full of self-doubt as to not face his nemesis.
As Murphy says: "The guy had so much passion, so much ego and pride in a performance. Clough would be eye-balling Don Revie from the rival dugout. The very idea of him sitting in his office is just risible."
Quintessential ego quote: “I'd ask him how he thinks it should be done, have a chat about it for 20 minutes and then decide I was right." (from The Daily Mail, September 21, 2007)