Making the game beautiful: Who are football's true cult icons?

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Mario Balotelli pondering his existence on Earth after scoring against Manchester United in 2011
Mario Balotelli pondering his existence on Earth after scoring against Manchester United in 2011

#17 THE CULT ICONS

Cast your eyes across a football field on any given match day and it’s a reasonable assumption that all human life is there, doing battle. The “beautiful game” attracts a broad cross-section of society, on and off the pitch, but there’s one performing archetype that tends to singularly dictate results, headlines and memories: the wayward star, cult icon, anti-hero or flawed genius.

Call them what you want, the sport has been blessed with many memorable characters, players who’ve found it impossible to juggle their exotic gift with an unpredictable edge that tends to come out and attack, Emu-like, at exactly the wrong moment: George Best, Micky Quinn, Paul Gascoigne, Eric Cantona, Faustino Asprilla, Luis Suarez. All have been blessed/haunted by an ability to take their enviable skill and trash it for kicks. But there are others, many less-known, so let’s salute one from every decade since the 60s:

Gigi Meroni

Considered “Italy’s George Best”, it’s easy to understand the comparison. Devilishly handsome and eager to self-destruct, Gigi Meroni also wore the number seven shirt and was similarly dynamic as an attacking force. Starring on the right wing for Coma, then Genoa, he first tasted infamy in 1963, testing positive for amphetamines and receiving a five-game Serie A ban. After a record-breaking 300-million lira transfer to Torino, he lived a hedonistic, hippy lifestyle with a young div