13 of football’s biggest pantomime villains: Alli, Ronaldo, Suarez…

Football supporters love to have someone to hate – and Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United players have been among the biggest pantomime villains in the game.

There’s something wonderful about a player who has the art of winding opposition players and fans up to their heart’s content, while often thriving off the attention.

It’s the love for a scapegoat that can easily see a player’s reputation spiral, as a character is developed for diving, bad challenges or general irritability.

We’ve taken a look back at some of football’s most memorable pantomime villains, with all kinds of completely ridiculous stories to boot.

Dele Alli

Alli has made his play to be the current Premier League player everyone loves to hate, after much has been made of a couple of dives and off-the-ball incidents.

“That’s when he’s at his best,” Harry Kane said after a victory at Burnley in 2018 during which Alli was booed throughout.

“I think it makes him play better, he fed off the crowd. He was the pantomime villain out there but he got two assists.

“He’s a great person and he’s a great player. He’s got that aggressive side to him and that’s what makes him who he is.”

Luis Suarez

Time after time Suarez has cemented his status as an exceptional pantomime villain.

Not content with his one bite at Ajax, he went on to lay his gnashers on Branislav Ivanovic while at Liverpool and Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, but his most shithouse moment possibly came in 2010.

Suarez’s Uruguay faced a Ghana side who everyone had grown to love at the South Africa World Cup in 2010.

The tie was an epic, and in the last second of injury time, Suarez blocked a goalbound effort on the line with his arms. The red card was shown, and the penalty was given.

But as Suarez left the field, and Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the spot kick, he rattled the crossbar, and the the then-Liverpool man celebrated on the touchline, much to everyone’s discontent, before Uruguay went on to win on penalties.

Joey Barton

Modern football’s premier wind-up merchant and the epitome of a pantomime villain.

Everything from stubbing a cigarette out on a team-mate’s eye to sparking 10-man brawls in pre-season, Barton just had everything that made fans love to hate him.

He was one of the first footballers to truly take to Twitter, using it to criticise everything and anything, from then-current employers Newcastle right down to Emmanuel Frimpong (#frimpmong).

Oh, and of course he has had spats with Piers Morgan, Gary Lineker et al.

Cristiano Ronaldo

The world is a Ronaldo love-in of late after his scintillating form and his stunning overhead kick against Juventus – but don’t forget your roots.

Cast your mind back. It’s 2006. It’s the World Cup. Young Manchester United team-mates Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo face off. Remembering now? The stamp? The appeals that followed? The wink?

Ronaldo was public enemy No.1 following that incident, and that’s without even mentioning the Lionel Messi lovers.

Marco Materazzi

It was Zinedine Zidane’s last game of an illustrious career, in a World Cup final. The world was watching one of the true greats hang up his boots and were poised for the fairytale ending as the game was deep in extra time.

Quite the contrary in fact, but an ending that won’t be forgotten.

Materazzi, playing for the opposing Italian side, was out to wind Zidane up, and a taunt about his sister was what did it, before the Frenchman laid one of football’s most impressive headbutts ever square to the chest of the centre-back.

Out came the red card, and the collective heart of the football world sank as Zidane trudged off the field.

David Luiz

Another winker, Luiz propelled himself to new levels of hatred when he went down in a heap at Old Trafford – already with a bad rep for throwing himself to the ground – earning Manchester United man Rafael a red card.

While on the ground and facing away from the pitch though, Luiz gave a cheeky wink in the direction of United fans, before laughing as he lay on the floor until a red card was produced.

Diego Simeone

Simeone has managed the impressive feat of being hated as both a player and a manager.

Notably hated in England, his theatrics as David Beckham flicked a leg in his direction saw the England man sent off at the 1998 World Cup, but he wasn’t done there.

Since becoming a manager, Simeone’s eccentric style has seen him earn a lot of critics, and his actions don’t do him any favours either, with one particular incident seeing him throw a ball onto the pitch in order to prevent a counter attack.

READ: 10 of the most memorable manager sendings-off: Wenger, Moyes, Vivas…

Diego Costa

Your typical pantomime villain. One side absolutely loves him, the other hates him. Diego Costa in a nutshell.

We can imagine that it’s alright having a player who winds people up and scores a load of goals – that is until he’s demanding a move away.


El Clasico contests in the last 10 years have been full of serial baddies, the likes of Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos and Pepe all clashing with their similar style of referee-mongering.

But Pepe became despised by the vast majority of football fans after his early days at Real Madrid saw him commit foul after foul while still managing to play act on the floor whenever possible.

In 2009, he received one of the most shocking red cards in history when he fouled Getafe’s Javier Casquero before taking two swipes at kicking him, stamping on him twice and then swinging at not one but two other Getafe players. He received a 10-match ban.

Robbie Savage

A wind-up merchant in the mould of Barton (though not to the extent of stubbing cigarettes out in a team-mate’s eye), but Savage has done brilliantly to go on and actually make a career out of getting under people’s skin.

As radio phone-ins collided with social media to bring the airing of views to another level, Savage was there, every Saturday night, turning the screw on some ranting Arsenal fan.

Craig Bellamy

While Bellamy actually wound his career down in a decent light – and has in fact gone on to become an insightful pundit for Sky – he will always be remembered by some for his early-career antics.

Going for a sleeping John Arne Riise with a golf club, launching a chair at John Carver and abusing Alan Shearer by text message are just some of his misdemeanours.

“The gobbiest footballer I’ve ever met,” said Sir Bobby Robson, which comes as no surprise.

READ: 8 pairs of team-mates who hated each other ft. Man Utd, Liverpool & Arsenal

Danny Tiatto

“As far as I’m concerned, Danny Tiatto doesn’t exist,” said Kevin Keegan, Tiatto’s former manager at Manchester City.

The Australian full-back was well known for his love for a tackle and ability to wind people up, but despite making over 150 appearances for City, enough was enough for Keegan.

Brought on chasing a comeback in 2002, Tiatto was soon walking in the other direction, being sent off after just six minutes, with Keegan seething: “If one of my players was hit by that tackle, I would be absolutely livid, I was absolutely disgusted with it.”

This was only a year after Tiatto was sent off just 12 minutes into a match against Norwich City for a sly arm in the face, with Keegan having to restrain his player as he went for the fourth official on his way off the pitch.

Sergio Ramos

As Benedict O’Neil so eloquently put it: “If fouls are offensive and dives defensive, then Ramos is the complete package: one of football’s only box-to-box cheaters.”

Now read his whole article on Ramos’ admirable villainy.

READ: A begrudging tribute to Sergio Ramos, football’s irreplaceable anti-hero

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