With Mario Balotelli returning to Liverpool, apparently for a pay cut, the Premier League is about to fall in love again with one of the true characters. Sports editors up and down the land will be partying.
Let’s face it. Most players are dull as dishwater to interview. They spend their junior years being coached out of saying anything interesting, talk in generalities about “the Gaffer” and taking each game at a time. When the camera rolls, most of us drop off. A few, however, have managed to break that mould. Here we run down the players who have lit up the Premier League over the last 20 years.
Super Mario is back! The best story of the summer! As well as being a great player, Mario is great entertainment. Whether it’s chucking cash out of his car window dressed as Santa or setting his house on fire by letting fireworks off from a bathroom window, there’s never a dull moment in Mario’s world.
Joseph Anthony Barton might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Most fans I’ve spoken to tend to view him as complete cock, but I like that he has an opinion on things, isn’t afraid to voice them and is happy to take the piss out of himself.
His website proclaims “I’m a footballer, ex-con, ranting anti-celebrity, football’s philosopher king, loving dad and violent thug all rolled into one”. He’s certainly self aware. His twitter feed is usually a joy to behold as he answers the abuse he gets on a comical fashion. When it comes to entertainment, I’d take one Joey Barton over a room full of Stevie Gerrards any day.
A player I always hated unreservedly. Known as Lily, after the famous British drag queen, Savage spent his playing career kicking more talented players and tending his long blond hair.
The story that endeared me to Savage was his response to abuse from the fans during his Premier League years.
“Where’s your caravan, where’s your caravan” sang a section of fans towards Savage.
“Being towed by my Ferrari” responded Savage.
Multimillionaire footballer 1 – 0 hard working fan paying £50 a ticket
The sorry state that Gazza is currently in shouldn’t take away from the entertaining footballer he was in his prime. It’s wasn’t just his football that was dazzling, his humour was too. He was always lively when interviews, always trying to catch people out and living up to the cheeky cheaply reputation he’d built for himself.
The comedy stories surround Gazza are almost endless, but two stand out (although only one is from the Premier League). At The Riverside, Middlesbrough, he lost his marker, Andy O’Brien during an injury break in the game. OB went into a panic, looking all round the ground for Gazza before play started. The crowd was quiet because nothing was happening, so Gazza bellowed at the top of his lungs from the other side of the pitch, while frantically waving his arms “oi big nose, I’m over here”. Almost everyone in the crowd heard it and spent the next 10 minutes chuckling.
Gazza’s other golden moment was his first day training with Lazio. While signing, he’d spotted the chairman’s daughter and taken a shine to her. He spent the few days between his documents being finalised and his first training session fanatically learning Italian. By the time of his first session, he’d decided to buy all his team mates English dictionaries, because it was easier than learning Italian. The only Italian phrase he’d managed to nail he tried on the chairman on his first day. It loosely translated as “your girl has fantastic tits”.
Proving that you don’t have to be a complete dick to make this list is David James. James was always an honest interviewee and spoke with an intelligence and eloquence rarely found in footballers. He bagged himself a regular column in the Observer newspaper, a highbrow publication most players would have trouble spelling let alone reading.
In an honest, engaging and sometimes funny style, James has used his column to cover issues like why footballers can’t do anything for themselves, the insecurities players feel when new managers join, the tedium of international training camps and why senior players should show leadership when clubs are in crisis. In short, it’s a great behind the scenes look into the world of professional football.
Keaneo was another player I hated unreservedly on the field but enjoyed watching him in front of the camera. Anytime someone pointed a mic at him, you could guarantee the Man Utd press officer was going to be in for a long night. Officials, players, managers, opponents, fans… No one was soared Keane’s anger when he felt the need to go on the attack.
This lovely description was thought to be about Rio Ferdinand:
“Just because you are paid £120,000-a-week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham, you think you are a superstar,”
And then there was his famous prawn sandwich quote:
“Away from home our fans are fantastic, I’d call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don’t realise what’s going on out on the pitch. I don’t think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell ‘football’, never mind understand it.”
The man Liverpool fans refer to as God (‘Trouser’ would’ve been a better nickname), was always good value off the field. He managed to mainly avoid the “take each game as it comes” chat while being interviews and gave journos plenty to write about too.
He got fined in 1997 for revealing a t shirt after scored which showed support for 500 sacked Liverpool dockers, which was the start of a few controversial on field incident that cemented his spot into this list.
Fowler made front pages across the world when he wheeled out his, erm, unique goal celebration against Everton. After scoring a penalty he dropped to his knees and started pretending to snort the goal line like a line of cocaine. He’d been abuse by Everton fans over an unfounded allegation of coke use and decided to have a pop back.
Later the same year, showing a remarkable disregard for the FA’s disciplinary system, Fowler was taunting Graeme Le Saux over the (unfounded) rumours he was gay. The abuse of Le Saux had a bit of a darker edge, which Le Saux later explained (his account is well worth a read) although Fowler has since apologised.
Naismith isn’t a celebrity footballer, in fact, he’s probably not even the most famous person in his house. But he is a bit of a legend in Liverpool, where he plays for Everton.
This year Naismith, a guy who regular helps out with charities, took some of his hefty wages and bought a load of tickets for unemployed people. The local job centres will dish them out to fans who can’t afford to go to a game. It’s only a small gesture, but one he didn’t have to do and one most players never appear interested in doing.