Soccer is the beautiful game. When played the “right way,” it is a pure experience. Nice passing patterns, soft touches, artistic flourishes. But enough of all that. Remember the time Zlatan Ibrahimovic said that the Barcelona dressing room was like a classroom full of preppy schoolboys? Nobody wants that. Soccer needs villainy. The game’s best side is its dark side. As The Joker said: “I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.” They will take you out. They will plot your downfall. They will steal your girl. You love to hate soccer’s bad boys, but don’t kid yourselves. Secretly, you want to be them. We present a few of the most villainous currently in the game.
- Luis Suarez (Street Smart “Mr Biter”): There are some who think Luis Suarez has lost his bite. Gone are the days when he used to treat opposing defenders’ shoulders like a dental impression, planting his teeth into them as if he were some kind of footballing Jaws out to get Roger Moore’s James Bond. Bad Boy enthusiasts will have felt let down by Suarez when Barcelona played Espanyol in the Catalan derby this season. There was no repeat of the time he loitered around the tunnel after a 4-1 win in 2016 and provoked a scuffle by standing at the top of the stairs and shouting at the Espanyol players: “I’m waiting for you — come here! You’re a waste of space.”
- Sergio Ramos (“Accidental Hitman”):
We all see red from time to time — just not as much as Sergio Ramos. He has seen it more than any player in the history of Europe’s top five leagues. The red card is his business card. Ramos has been sent off 25 times in his career, and it’s disappointing that of the many tattoos all over his body, there are none in commemoration of each dismissal in the same way he wears his Champions League triumphs on his skin. Perhaps there isn’t enough room. A personal favourite — not that we condone violence — was the time against Recreativo when he left the pitch hurling abuse at the ref for daring to expel him for a two-footed tackle and an elbow. Since last year’s Champions League final, Ramos appears to have ascended to a new level when it comes to uniting non-Madrid fans against him. Whenever he gets his perceived comeuppance, a party is thrown on social media. For example, Eric Dier didn’t score when England beat Spain 3-2 in October, but his tackle on Sergio Ramos went viral and attained an equally symbolic status. The fact it did tells us a lot about the perception of Ramos across soccer. People seemed to revel in the idea he got “a taste of his own medicine,” and yet the Spain captain’s reaction to it was equally brilliant. Dier later revealed: “He just congratulated me.” Game recognises game.
In addition to some entirely unintended thuggery against Mohamed Salah and Loris Karius in last year’s Champions League final — “my conscience is really clear about what I did that night,” said Ramos in September — he’s also produced what will probably go down as one of the greatest deleted scenes of all time. Amazon were in his suite filming him watch Real Madrid’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Ajax, and in so doing, they captured a moment of hubris virtually too good to be true. Ramos had deliberately picked up a yellow card in the first leg with the intention of taking the ban now so as to be available for the quarterfinals with a clean slate — except Madrid lost 4-1 and were eliminated. In an interview with himself on social media — Ramos on Ramos — he disappointed us all with the news: “The recording itself was scaled down as the game went on.” Weep.
- Radja Nainaggolan (Party Animal):Serie A’s party animal and a bad boy in the P. Diddy sense, Radja Nainggolan isn’t one to leave before the fun is over. There’s nothing wrong with letting your hair down. There’s nothing wrong with going to clubs called “The Mad House” either, but if a football fan sees you and shouts “go to bed,” you probably shouldn’t be filmed giving him the middle finger. Nainggolan believes life is for living, so if he wants to smoke a cigarette, he will. Roberto Martinez doesn’t like it and won’t pick him for Belgium, but that’s his problem. He should do what Luciano Spalletti did at Roma and organise a sleepover at the training ground so he can keep an eye on him. Another reason people love Radja is he hates Juve. Flag his car down if you see him out and about in Milan and he’ll tell you as much. “All I’ll say is I hate Juve. I’d have even given my balls to beat Juve with Cagliari because I hate Juve,” said Nainggolan to fans through his car window while still a Roma player. “I never lost at the Juventus Stadium with Cagliari. We drew. They won the Scudetto against us when we were in Trieste. I hate them because they always win with a penalty or a free kick.”
Sadly, the days of him broadcasting his New Year’s party live on Instagram appear to be over. Nainggolan claims to have even gone cold turkey on the nicotine. “When I go to restaurants now, I take the food Inter tell me to eat. I’ve lost weight and quit smoking. It’s not easy,” he says, “but I’m managing.”
- Mauro Icardi (Drama King): On the one hand, Mauro Icardi is a stay-at-home dad who likes building furniture for the family penthouse that overlooks San Siro. His attendance ratio at training stood at 97.5 percent. On the other, he’s the guy who will get with your ex and rub it in your face over and over again. There would perhaps be more of a focus on the good if only it could keep up with all the off-the-pitch drama. Remember the “Wanda derby”? The time Inter played Sampdoria, and Icardi and Maxi Lopez, the guy he used to pose for pictures with as a kid at Barcelona and later went out for dinners and the like, didn’t shake hands because the former was now with the latter’s ex, the mother of his three children, and it was all played out on social media.
Remember how Maxi then missed a penalty and Icardi scored twice in a 4-0 win, cupping his ears so he could enjoy the whistles of the crowd? Over the years Maxi mastered the art of the dummy handshake, time and time again. He’s also the guy who released a book at the age of 23 in which he recalls the time he clashed with Inter’s ultras after a game in Reggio Emilia and shortly after returning to the dressing room, asked someone to record him saying: “I will bring 100 criminals over from Argentina who will kill them there and then.” The first edition was pulped and re-released without the offending passage but not before the ultras turned up outside Icardi’s apartment block in Milan and left a banner saying: “We’re here, let us know when your Argentine friends turn up.” He’s the guy whose wife, Wanda Nara, is his agent and goes on national TV in Italy every Sunday night to say she thinks her hubby’s priority is better service from his teammates over a new contract and that the coach should be putting Lautaro Martinez on earlier because he’s Icardi’s good friend. All of which means he’s the guy whose no longer captain of Inter, just a world-class finisher who is as box-office off the pitch as he is in the six-yard box. (Imagine a new streaming series called “The Icardis,” not an all-access football documentary but something more in the style of “The Osbournes” and “Keeping up with Kardashians.” Who could say no?)
- Diego Costa (Mr. Fighter): Antonio Conte probably wouldn’t have shied away from telling Diego Costa to his face, but it was safer to send him a text to let him know that he was no longer in his plans at Chelsea. Despite a tough couple of seasons, Costa is back to doing Costa things now that he’s back in Spain, namely getting sent off early in Atletico’s top-of-the-table clash against Barca — his team’s last chance of reopening the title race — for reportedly making derogatory comments about the referee’s mother. (He’s since been given an eight-match ban and will not play again this season.) “On the pitch, don’t try and put wings on me as I am no angel,” Costa told the BBC in 2015. Costa may be renowned as a hard man, but his teammates always talk about him as a legendary prankster. Earlier this year he snatched up Lucas Hernandez’s clothes, then picked up a fire extinguisher and covered them in foam. Hernandez got him back by doing the same to Costa’s car, which is probably why the World Cup winner has since agreed to join Bayern in the summer.
- Diego Simeone (The Hardman “Touchline terror”): Known to pace around his technical area like a member of the Black Watch patrolling the Wall, one suspects Daenerys and Jon Snow would not need dragon glass or a couple of fire-breathers to defeat the night king if Simeone were by their side. Known for a rather flagrant SNL/Justin Timberlake celebration whenever his Atletico side win, it came back to haunt the manager against Juventus in this year’s Champions League. It was a rare egg-on-your-face moment for someone who believes that “stones” are an integral part of success and one of the things you identify most with his Atletico team. The 48-year-old has lost none of the edge he had as a player and incites the crowd from the sidelines like a capo ultra. All he’s missing is a megaphone. As Koke says: “It’s better if he’s not angry.”
Atleti’s players are reportedly weighed every day, which means that extra plate of tapas you ordered the night before won’t go unnoticed; if the scales tip too far to the right, Simeone will have his assistant, “Profe” Ortega, run you into the ground. “Simeone doesn’t like fatties,” Griezmann insists. His stare alone is probably enough to provoke instant panic-induced weight loss. The “Cholo” diet is simple: a disapproval of junk food brought to you by the man who is machismo incarnate when celebrating big wins by grabbing his groin. Photo Credit: Getty