Pitchside

Ten footballers we all absolutely love to hate

Pitchside

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The ability of footballers to polarise opinion is quite possibly unrivalled in the world of sport.

For those who are revered, their names are chanted by thousands of adoring fans in packed stadia, which become temples of adoration to the supporters' idols.

But where there is love, there is hate.Especially when players at the other end of the spectrum don't do themselves any favours, on the pitch or off it.

These players are detested by rival fans, opponents, even coaches. They are pilloried on social media, lambasted by pundits and in the papers, and whistled and jeered inside grounds.

Here we present the worst of the worst, broken down category by category.

THE ENFORCERS

Football players can broadly be divided into two categories: on one side are the artists and on the other are those who smash the paintings over the artists' heads for fun. Also known as the enforcers.

This rather special breed of player can be aggressive, clumsy, even outright violent on occasion. This includes Pepe, Joey Barton and Nigel De Jong, a small and exclusive band of mercenaries that it's probably best to avoid on the pitch (and off it for that matter).

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Pepe

There will be few tears shed when Pepe calls time on his career. The Real Madrid stopper could easily be confused with mixed martial artist Wanderlei Silva, his fellow Brazil-born athlete (who, by the way, is nicknamed 'the Axe Murderer'), given his sustained propensity to attack fellow professionals in the ring, sorry, on the pitch. Just ask Lionel Messi and Neymar.

The Portugal international has increasingly exasperated with his antics over the years and now not even the Real Madrid faithful are unanimous in their support of him.

Perhaps by way of explanation for his aggressive streak is the story that his entourage reeled out at the beginning of his career: Pepe used to practice tackling on the floor of his house as a youngster and would only stop when his knees were covered in blood.

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Joey Barton

Ah, Joey Barton, the walking, talking, fighting enigma from Liverpool. The midfielder has a rap sheet as long as his home town's wait for a league title, yet he quotes Nietzsche and wears scarves in a dandy-ish way. He has stubbed out a cigar on a youth team player's eye, assaulted a team-mate and served a 12-match ban for attacking three players at once, but he has also addressed the Oxford Union.

He has served a prison sentence for beating up a boy on the street, undergone anger management therapy and upset many, many people with his outspoken views, but he has also represented his country at the highest level. He is, as the Daily Telegraph's Paul Haywood once wrote, both a thinker and a thug. And a half decent football player, although that aspect of his life is often, unfortunately, overshadowed.

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Nigel de Jong

The ultimate on-pitch enforcer, De Jong is considered by many to be that rarity in modern-day football: a genuine 'leg-breaker'. He is regularly late, and sometimes high, into the tackle, and makes no real effort to disguise his intent, as Xabi Alonso, amongst others, would attest to. It was the Spaniard's chest that accommodated De Jong's studs in the 2010 World Cup final in what was a career-defining moment for the Dutchman.

Hatem Ben Arfa and Stuart Holden join Alonso in having fallen at the sword of De Jong, with arguably more serious consequences: Newcastle midfielder Ben Arfa sustained a double fracture of his tibia after a De Jong special, while US international Holden was put out of action for two years with a fractured leg suffered during a 'friendly' against Holland.

It isn't for nothing that De Jong earned the nickname 'The Lawnmower' during his early years, testament to the fact he has cultivated his image as an ultra-aggressive enforcer throughout his career.

THE CHEATS

There was a time, a more genteel age, when players were more honest, the game fairer and the playing field more level. Players, believe it or not, were able to withstand stern tackles, flailing arms and errant elbows, staying on their own two feet unless gravely injured, and diving in sport was a practice reserved for the swimming pool.

These days, of course, it's a different story, with simulation having become something of an art form, albeit a dark art. That's not to say it's condoned by the masses though, and those who excel in this particular department are the first to incur the wrath of the average fan.

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Sergio Busquets

Busquets is a true master of pulling the wool over the referee's eyes. Not only does the Barcelona midfielder excel in simulation, he is more than adept at the kind of minor aggressions that do damage to his opponents, but go unnoticed by the officials.

Little niggles, shirt-pulling, studs where they hurt and verbal provocation - Machiavellian genius Busquets has it all. He knows exactly what he is doing, and doesn't care as long as he gets away with it. That he is a supremely talented footballer only intensifies the frustration of watching him play.

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Ashley Young

Young may not be a malicious player in the same mould as Busquets, but he's certainly a diver. In fairness to the winger, there are numerous other Premier League players who could also be fingered. But Young's is arguably the first name that springs to mind given the high-profile and blatant nature of his indiscretions.

He does little to endear himself to the public by remaining largely unapologetic for his crimes, and even Manchester United fans have grown tired of his antics. Young can be a thrilling, skilful player, but the mind boggles as to how he would cope in bygone eras, without the dive in his repertoire.

THE BIG HEADS

The football world - indeed the sporting world - is not short of egos.

There is something to said for the theory that a certain degree of arrogance borne out of unwavering self-belief is necessary to succeed at the very highest level of professional sport.

Samuel Eto'o, Arjen Robben, Mario Balotelli, Nicklas Bendtner and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all fall into this category, although two individuals stand out above the rest...

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Arrogant to the point of parody, the underwear flaunting, free-kick swerving Real Madrid player is a tightly-packed, muscular, bronzed definition of total and utter self-belief. In his mind, he is the best footballer on the planet yet, unlike many others who have a similarly inflated sense of self worth, he has the goods to back it up.

Ronaldo oozes class on the football pitch, if not off it, leading to many conflicted opinions: you want to hate him, but his genius with the ball at his feet demands you at least contemplate otherwise.

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Patrice Evra

Evra is perhaps better known for his arrogance in his native France, where the Manchester United defender was widely vilified for his role in the national team mutiny at the World Cup in 2010 - and has never really recovered his reputation. In England, Evra comes across as having nothing more than a large chip on his shoulder - borne out of his grievances with the French media, who prefer to focus on Arsenal's contingent of players from across the Channel - but back home, he is seen as an arrogant traitor.

He remains the symbol of that strike in South Africa - one of France's darkest footballing days - and his behaviour since has hardly improved. More recently his attack on former players and media pundits sparked yet more criticism. It should be interesting to see how he is received if a reported move to Monaco goes through this summer.

THE PUBLIC ENEMIES

Some reviled footballers do more off the pitch than on it to earn their reputations as figures of hate. Countless tabloid stories of 'love rats' and similar extra-curricular activities mean even highly-regarded footballers are held in a low regard outside of their own football club. Two players stand out in this category, however - John Terry and Ryan Giggs.

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John Terry

A former England captain and a man who has led Chelsea to countless trophies, Terry is an exceptional defender and on the aforementioned credentials, should be a hero. However, his sporting career has run side-by-side with a stream of reports of his personal life, highlighted by the love triangle involving former team-mate Wayne Bridge.

Being charged for racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand during a match took things to another level and proved Terry could also be a nasty piece of work inside a football stadium, too - and smaller-scale things such as showing up for finals he was forced to miss through suspension in full kit and celebrating with the trophy as if he had scored the winner only amplify his standing with non-Chelsea fans.

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Ryan Giggs

From a teenage star to the Welsh Wizard to managing the club he has spent his entire career at, the Manchester United legend's playing career is far from villainous.

However, a highly-publicised affair with Imogen Thomas and reports of love triangles within his own family exposed a completely different side of the midfielder which the non-Old Trafford footballing community now finds difficult to supress under his achievements on the field.

IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN

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Luis Suarez

Suarez is out on his own, by way of being to fall into any of the three above categories.

His penchant for biting opponents, his diving and his arrogance makes Suarez one of the most loathed footballers on the planet. And though Liverpool fans' painstaking efforts to defend him and verbally abuse others who simply point out the facts about the Uruguayan's behaviour aren't of Suarez's own doing, it still doesn't aid his cause.

He's gone some way to redemption this season, after going the entire campaign without biting or racially abusing anyone, while firing Liverpool to the brink of the title with some incredible goalscoring feats.

Yet his continued refusal to show any kind of remorse for racially abusing Evra leaves a sour taste in the mouth - and ensures he still tops any list of football villains.

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