Shithousery is one of football’s most underrated qualities. Many think they’re capable of it, but the truth is some are much better at it than others.
It is a term with a fluid definition, and one which some Proper Football Men might choose to look down on, but as long as football has existed, so has shithousery.
It’s about pushing things as far as you can. Sure, keeping it within the broad rules of the game can be useful, but it’s not essential to the shithouse. As long as he can get away with the act, the laws are arbitrary.
And no matter how much we all like to feign outrage from time to time, there’s no getting away from the fact that everyone wants a shithouse in their team. And people only moan about the shithouse playing for the opposition because we secretly wish he was playing for ours.
We were going to put together a shithouse XI, but it soon became clear that this sort of player is disproportionately found in the middle of the park, be it at centre-back, central midfield or centre-forward.
It makes sense – after all, why wouldn’t they want to be in the thick of it all at all times, but it’s something we hadn’t considered in great depth before now. Still, without further ado, here is our rundown of 13 of the game’s shithouses-in-chief.
There was a stage during Jens Lehmann’s time at Arsenal when you couldn’t see a brawl in a Gunners game without the German goalkeeper getting involved – it wouldn’t matter if he was nothing to do with the incident which sparked it, or even if he was in the same half of the pitch.
Goalkeepers are expected to dive, just not in the manner of the man who made us well aware that the word ‘Invincible’ referred to the results and nothing more. They definitely aren’t expected to get involved in brawls, but Lehmann was a different breed.
If there was an award for most head-to-head clashes with opponents, Pepe would surely win it. But he did keep you guessing: would he stick the nut on or throw himself to the floor feigning agony?
Or, as at the 2018 World Cup, would he do both? After upsetting Mehdi Benatia with a hefty challenge during Portugal’s group-stage game against Morocco, Pepe threw himself on the floor when Benatia tapped him on the back for a row, then realised he was missing out and jumped to his feet to go toe to toe. It was classic Pepe.
He got away with things just as often as he was caught in the act, and he got caught a lot.
It was between Huth and Jon Walters from Tony Pulis’ Stoke City side, but Huth edges out his former colleague’s more subtle shithousery having put his unique talents to good use to win the Premier League title with Leicester City.
One of the funniest men in football, Huth even managed to inspire one of the great Louis van Gaal press conferences after pulling Marouane Fellaini’s hair in 2016, leading the then-Manchester United boss to comment: “It’s not in the books that somebody has to grab with the hair. Only in sex masochism… then it is allowed.”
He also inspired Fellaini to repeat the rather unique foul a couple of years later…
— robert huth (@robert_huth) December 6, 2018
It would impossible to complete this list without the man who got away with the highest-stakes moment of shithousery in football history.
Rule one in the shithouse handbook is to never give up, however much it looks as though you have failed. As long as there is time left on the clock, there’s time for you to win your chosen battle.
Sergio Ramos isn’t a shithouse, he’s a shithotel. From pulling opponents’ pants down when they’re not looking to getting tactical red cards, the Spaniard has everything in his repertoire.
He doesn’t always get away with it, as emphasised when Real Madrid were eliminated from the Champions League in his planned suspension, but Ramos almost always seems to have the last laugh.
He’s the anti-James Bond, giving his critics just enough material to let them think this is the time good will triumph over evil, only to invariably win out in the end.
When Jose Mourinho led Inter to the Champions League title in 2010, he was always going to need a player who encapsulated his own mentality of stepping on everyone else to cross the finish line.
Motta wasn’t always the most talented player, but he was well trained in the dark arts and well aware of his own ceiling. This meant on those occasions he knew he was incapable of carrying a team himself, he was more than able to bring an opponent down to his own level. And, in a way, isn’t that just as useful?
When Motta was sent off in the semi-final against Barcelona, he was furious – not because the decision was harsh, per se, but because, after getting away with so much, that is what he was being punished for.
Busquets was the man on the receiving end of Motta’s red card foul in that semi-final, and the sight of the prone Barcelona midfielder uncovering his face to have a sneaky look around will live long in the memory.
It’s the act of the man who has been on both sides of this kind of battle and knows which buttons to push. Busquets’ shithousery gets kicked up a notch when you realise he has no need to do any of this, and probably just gets a kick out of it.
I know what you’re thinking, Scott Brown gets caught out and sent off a lot for a supposed shithouse. Well, you’re right to a point, but have you stopped to think that, were he not such an efficient shithouse, he’d be sent off in every game? That’s what we thought.
The best shithouses are the most committed; those who never take a day off. People like David Batty, who did this in a friendly.
If you’re up against Mark van Bommel, you have two tasks. You need to get the better of him, and you need to control your own mind to prevent yourself from lamping him at any given moment.
Van Bommel was the kid who sat behind you in class, jabbing you with his pen whenever the teacher’s back was turned.
Even when you were patient enough not to rise to the bait, enough of your attention had been taken away from your A-game in order to focus on not screwing up – he had more than one way of winning.
Herrera might be Van Bommel-lite, but that’s still a pretty good place to be.
Manchester United have always needed an element of snide in their squads in order to keep up their image of pantomime villains.
If your identity is built on being hated for getting away with things, what better than someone whose face screams “who, me?” but whose actions point to a guilt betrayed by those looks.
Speaking of baby-faced assassins, Lamela’s early struggles at Spurs could very easily be put down to the fans not knowing what sort of player they were getting.
Aesthetically, Lamela seems like a flair player whose biggest vice might be going down too easily, which makes his digs and kicks that much easier to get away with.
You might still want more from a then-record signing, but while Tottenham have other players scoring the goals, the presence of someone to break up play and mentally break the opposition will always be invaluable.
Diego Costa is the shithouse’s shithouse.
When the next generation of mini-shithouses go to shithouse high school, they’ll have Diego Costa patches on their rucksacks and posters of him inside their lockers.
Before classes start, they’ll watch videos of him getting Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista sent off. He’ll be on all the instructional clips they watch in class, showing them how far to pull the thread without going too far. He is, in short, the pinnacle.