Football is a colourful sport. Animated by varied characters of sublime talent, inflated egos and choice hair do's, the world of football boasts players of all kinds. Naturally, there are those who simply mesmerise and those who inspire. The type of players who boast flamboyant skill, beat defenders for fun and play to entertain. The Ronaldo’s, Messi’s Bale's of this world.
Of course, there are those in the game who pale by such comparison. Players whose names you'll never see or hear in the news, except perhaps for the odd cameo appearance on 'Forgotten Footballers'.
And then there are those who make the press on a weekly basis, names you become accustomed to reading in headlines who divide fans, split opinion yet entertain in a whole new dimension. Forget the perfect image or the incredible ability, these are the players that you love to read about for all the wrong reasons. I present to you, in no particular order, the marmite men of football past and present...
1. Mario Balotelli
The former Inter Milan and Manchester City front man, now playing his trade at AC Milan, has always been a controversial figure. As a fresh faced 18 year old, his first stint in Italy at Inter under Jose Mourinho was marred by constant quarrels and a poor disciplinary record. After being sold to Manchester City at the start of the 2010-2011 campaign, amid weeks of speculation, Balotelli began his two-and-a-half season tenure under former boss Roberto Mancini.
Despite his undisputed brilliance on the pitch, Balotelli consistently managed to attract negative press wherever he went. Bizarre stories, ranging from handing out £50 notes to complete strangers whilst shopping in Manchester to making a surprise stop at a local Manchester school asking to use their toilet, often appeared in the papers. Not to mention the infamous bathroom firework incident or the training ground bib saga.
Did you know...Mario Balotelli has had his car impounded 27 times and has reportedly paid over £10,000 in parking fines?
2. El Hadji Diouf
Once described by former QPR manager Neil Warnock as 'lower than a sewer rat', El Hadji Diouf is perhaps one of the most hated figures in English football. Currently playing for Leeds United in the second tier of English football, the Championship, Diouf has featured for a number of top flights clubs including Liverpool, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers.
They say with Marmite that you either love it or you hate it. Well, with this chap, it seems there can be no doubt as to which side you should agree with (it's hate in case you were wondering). Having allegedly spat at fans, players and even once a ball boy, Diouf is one of the few players to grace the English leagues as a universally hated figure by fans all over the country.
Aside from the repeated instances of spitting, the motoring offences, racial slurs, nightclub brawls and consistently poor disciplinary record, I'm sure El Hadji Diouf is a great guy...
3. Joey Barton
Of course, an article concerning controversial footballers simply had to feature QPR's Joey Barton. Despite attempts to reform his image (in terms of maturity, not the growth of a dubious pony tail in recent weeks), Barton's reputation will always be overshadowed by his rather turbulent off-the-pitch history. Two separate convictions for assault between 2007 and 2008, following an incident in Liverpool's city centre and a training ground bust up with former team mate Ousmane Dabo, culminated in a six month jail sentence.
Barton, much like Diouf, has also struggled with a poor disciplinary record over the years. Whilst Diouf is an advocate of the spit-in-the-face manoeuvre, Barton prefers to stick with his fists when it comes to a good old fashioned bust up. Just look at the final day of the 2011-2012 season at the Etihad stadium when Barton infamously attacked three players in as many minutes as proof.
4. Eric Cantona
Despite hanging up in his boots in 1997, 'King Eric', as he is affectionately known by many Manchester United fans, is still a prominent name in the world of football. He may have won four Premier League titles in five years and completed two League and FA Cup doubles during his tenure as United's number 7, but many fans will instead recall his infamous 1995 kung fu style launch over an advertising board at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who had screamed abuse at the French forward.
Cantona was subsequently arrested for assault, resulting in a two weeks prison sentence which was eventually reduced to 120 hours of community service. At a press conference following the decision, Cantona gave what is perhaps his most famous, albeit confusing, quotation before departing: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."
Loved by United fans, hated perhaps by others. I'll leave this one to you.
5. Luis Suarez
He is the in form player of the moment. Liverpool's saviour. The one everybody is talking about. In 20 Premier League matches this season, Suarez has slotted home 23 goals. That's an incredible statistic for any striker. It could be argued, however, that upon Balotelli's departure to AC Milan in 2013, Suarez became the League's most contentious player.
The first of two hotly debated incidents concerning Suarez occurred in 2011. During a game against Manchester United in October, Suarez allegedly racially abused Patrice Evra. The Football Association opened up an investigation and consequently found the Uruguayan guilty, who was charged with an eight game ban and fined £40,000.
A year and a half later, in April 2013, Suarez found himself again at the centre of an investigation by the FA, this time following a biting incident on Chelsea full back Branislav Ivanovic. Despite Suarez protesting the case, he was found guilty by an independent panel who charged the forward with a lofty ten game ban. Apparently this was not the first time Suarez decided to take a chunk out of a player, having previously bitten PSV's Otman Bakkal during his time at Ajax. Needless to say, it was a story the press could really get their teeth into (I'm sorry, that's an awful pun).
These are all examples of players who possess unbelievable talent yet continue to risk it all by becoming entangled in the most ridiculous of dramas, both on and off the pitch. Yet, they add to the sport in a way which, although it should not be encouraged, demands attention. They are the sort of players you take note of, not necessarily because they're the most skilled, but because they'll do something different. Aside from the instances of violent misconduct, racial slurs, spitting, kicking and even biting, you've got to give it to them; they'll get you talking. Love them, hate them, you simply can't ignore them.