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The bad boys of soccer: Sergio Ramos, Luis Suarez, Neymar lead the way as players you love to hate

Soccer's best villains match their dastardly deeds with their all-world talent to produce the ultimate in bad boy brilliance.

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."

Football's dark arts: Your guide
- ESPN FC 100: Who are the best of the best?
- Hamilton: Ajax's dream factory

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

Type of bad boy: The bad boy trying so hard to be good

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.

- Wright Thompson: A portrait of Luis Suarez

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 loves to get under the skin of his opponents. And he always makes sure to do it with a smile on his face.

Sergio Ramos

Type of bad boy: The "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.

- Horncastle: Who is the King of Cool?

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.


Diego Simeone is a tough manager to face but an even tougher one to play for.

Diego Simeone

Type of bad boy: A terror on the touchline

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.


Radja Nainggolan can be mean on the pitch, but he reserves a lot of his energy for what he does off it.

Radja Nainggolan

Type of bad boy: The 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."


Scott Brown looks menacing but his brilliance as a bad boy derives from what he makes his opponents do, not what he does to them.

Scott Brown

Type of bad boy: Professional irritant

Rangers Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos was considered a breakout talent in this category, more for the four red cards than the 29 goals he's scored in his first season in Scotland. But then you look at the last one in the Old Firm and how it came about: "Broony" enraged him with a cheeky trip, unseen by the ref, which caused Morelos to lash out. As the ref reaches into his pocket, Scott Brown is laughing at him. He can't contain himself, which is one of a number of reasons why Rangers' fans can't stand the sight of him. It explains the hour-long YouTube video showing one clip of Morelos kicking the former Scotland captain in the groin on repeat.

If Brown ever leaves Glasgow, he knows Zenit would welcome him in Russia. His decision to go out in -11 temperatures wearing a T-shirt while the rest of his Celtic teammates were hoods-up, gloves on and wearing as many layers as possible, led Zenit to proclaim him "Russia's favourite Scotsman."


Icardi is a brilliant striker and a temperamental soul. He rarely has a quiet day without some kind of incident, most of them created by him.

Mauro Icardi

Type of bad boy: The 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.

- Horncastle: Icardi drama with Nara in the middle

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?)


Chiellini looks like the villain in an action movie: smart, calculating and wicked when the time is right.

Giorgio Chiellini

Type of bad boy: The genius with a Ph.D. in breaking an opponent's will

Giorgio Chiellini is not your average villain. If anything, he comes across like an Ivy League graduate who's now running a Fortune 500 Company but needs to let off a little steam after hours. And so, he shows up at Fight Club, loosens his tie, throws some elbows and gets back to the office in time to close a billion-dollar deal. Chiellini has a degree in business administration for which he received perfect grades. He speaks fluent English without having ever lived or worked in America or the United Kingdom. There is a nobility about him in much the same way one imagines there was about his fellow Tuscan, Niccolo Machiavelli, a man who had a few theories about leadership.

Juve's motto is well-known: "Winning isn't important, it's the only thing that counts," which is another spin on "the ends justify the means." So if Chiellini exaggerates contact from Alvaro Morata and ensures that the Atleti striker's goal is disallowed in a massive game, that's fine. Morata knew what to expect. The Spaniard likened playing against him in training at Juventus to being "put in a cage with a gorilla and you have to steal his food."


Jamie Vardy is a difficult player to mark because he simply doesn't give up. It's part of who he was before becoming a Premier League striker.

Jamie Vardy

Type of bad boy: The willing antagonist

How do you relax after a hard day's work? A pint? A glass of whisky, perhaps? Jamie Vardy had days harder than most when clocking off at the factory. But he was no longer assembling prosthetic limbs and carbon fibre when he discovered that the best way to wind down on a night was to pour yourself a glass of Skittles-flavored vodka.

Vardy, a man with a tough background, was at Leicester, with whom he would later improbably win the league before turning down Arsenal, presumably because they're too soft.

When a journalist asked Vardy how he thinks he is perceived as a person, he replied: "probably a t--t." Maybe the biopic commissioned after he won the league with Leicester will change that, or maybe it won't. The striker likes to think: "I'm a nightmare on the pitch, aren't I?" and once had to play with an electronic tag around his ankle given his trouble off it. (And there's been a fair bit of trouble, too.)

Then there's the anti-hero part in which he revels. West Brom's relegation last season robbed him of one of his favourite traditions. He used to love scoring at the Hawthorns and celebrating in one corner. "There was a photo from the season before, the faces are all the same. Their middle fingers are exactly the same."


Diego Costa has had a difficult time since leaving Chelsea but remains peerless when it comes to his dogged pursuit of the ball and of goals.

Diego Costa

Type of bad boy: The UFC fighter in a soccer kit

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.


Neymar is a target for most teams he plays given how good he is. It's no wonder he spends most games getting fouled.

Neymar

Type of bad boy: He's too good -- and he knows it

Haters gonna hate, of course, and Michael Jordan is presumably over the moon now that his crying meme has been replaced by Neymar's glittering stare of disbelief as PSG contrived to crash out of the Champions League in a way they were apparently born to do. Sent from Brazil to annoy ex-pros who remain convinced football was better in their day, when it's not Neymar, it's Paul Pogba who is sending the old man on the porch into an irrational tizz.

Neymar is bad for the simple reason that he's too good at football. So good that it's often humiliating for opponents, particularly when the ball is still and he's dancing around it, taunting you into sliding in for it -- always a mistake because his feet are too quick, and he's gone.

Sometimes you sense he's bored on the pitch by too many lopsided wins and therefore creates his own drama. He seems affronted whenever anyone tries to get even a little bit physical. The hissy fits, the complaining, the arguing, the primadonna petulance that comes with demanding Edinson Cavani give up his penalty, as happened back in 2018.

When James Milner posted a photo of Neymar piggybacking him with the hashtags #expensivepartner #dontdrophim and #oops, it somehow received more than a quarter of a million likes. O Ney. Oh, dear.

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