Animals are beloved by the majority of the world’s population and players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have all had special relationships with their pets.
With money to burn, and significant free time on their hands, it’s no surprise that elite players have invested love and resources into the upkeep of a beloved pet.
And we’ve identified eight footballers with close relationships with animals, varying from dog lovers to donkey worshippers.
“Some of my teammates call me Donkey,” Kai Havertz told The Guardian in 2023.
“From day one, I felt a special relationship with donkeys. It’s a very calm animal: maybe I personalised myself in them because I’m calm too.
“They chill all day, don’t do much, just want to live their life. I loved them always. And when I lost, I would go to the sanctuary. You look at the animals, see something human in them.
“It was a kind of recovery, a place I felt peace.”
Havertz has now the ‘Kai Havertz Stiftung’, a charity inspired by animal welfare and expanded to youth development and elderly care of humans too. Nice.
Balotelli has always been an enigmatic character, so it should come as no surprise that he’s taken wildly varying members of the animal kingdom to heart.
Alongside a dog and a falcon, the former Manchester City firecracker adopted a micro pig simply because he could.
“Finally my little pig arrived!,” he announced on Twitter in 2013. “She is only 2 month old! Is a she but i called her SUPER! ;-).”
However, that was swiftly followed up with a tweet suggesting the matter wasn’t that clear cut: “Actually can’t find the willy so i think is a she ahahaha but maybe a he! Ahaha.”
Super was later barred entry from England when Balotelli moved to Liverpool. We’d desperately like to know she (or he) is getting on.
Finally my little pig arrived! She is only 2 month old! Is a she but i called her SUPER! 😉 pic.twitter.com/6rMaRE9wox
— Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) August 9, 2013
We’ve always suspected that Keane is a softie underneath the snarls and disapproval, but it turns out that only canines can activate this hidden level of his persona.
You’ll remember Triggs, the dog that became a household name following Keane’s premature exit from Ireland’s 2002 World Cup squad. “Unlike people, dogs don’t talk sh*t,” Roy said in Triggs’ slightly surreal autobiography.
Sadly, the Labrador Retriever died in 2012 and Keane now has a Labrador puppy and his German Shepherd, Jet, who has been getting a lot of attention on his Instagram account.
“My own family would not be complete without our dogs,” the ambassador for the Irish Guide Dogs has said. We’ll drink to that.
Sanchez is another certified dog lover and his two canines, Atom and Humber, became internet famous during the Chilean’s time in the Premier League.
Arsenal fans even created a banner for the cute pair that was hung at the Emirates until Sanchez left for Manchester United in 2018.
“Atom is one of the characters in a movie called Real Steel,” Sanchez told Arsenal’s official website in 2016.
“Atom the robot is very old and apparently useless but when he starts fighting he beats the best robots in the world.
“I like the movie so much that I thought I would call my first dog Atom. My other dog Humber reminds me of my brother Humberto. My brother is a very sweet guy, just like Humber is.”
The dogs are famous in Chile too, where they’ve starred in television ads.
Kyle Walker & John Stones
Cats are certainly less popular with footballers than dogs, and the general population, but one feline became England’s unofficial mascot during the 2022 World Cup.
Dave, one of many stray cats in Qatar, became a regular visitor to the team’s training camp and was lovingly adopted by Manchester City pair Kyle Walker and John Stones.
“He was just there one day, so we’ve just adopted him, me and Stonesy,” Walker said mid-tournament.
The full-back revealed that it was Stones who came up with the name, adding: “I don’t mind them, obviously, I don’t mind cats, but I don’t like to touch them.
“Dave is just welcome to the table. There’s me John, Kalvin [Phillips] and Raz [Raheem Sterling]. We do get a few guest appearances from Phil and the other lads that want to join us.
“But everyone seems to be moving away because we keep inviting the cat. Some people really don’t like the cat, but I love him, I love him.”
Happily, Dave is nearing the end of his four-month quarantine before making a free transfer to the Etihad. Aww.
Depay has a tattoo of a lion on his back and his autobiography is called ‘Heart of a Lion’ – of course he’s got a lion.
Rare photo of Memphis depay with the Teranga lion pic.twitter.com/qqtqnensTH
— CERTIFIED HATER (@_itsabdou) November 21, 2022
Horses have long been popular with footballing figures, with Michael Owen and Sir Alex Ferguson both investing significant time and resources into our equine friends.
But Pizarro’s passion for horses trumps the lot. The former Chelsea and Bayern Munich striker once owned a horse with Joey Barton, naming him Crying Lightning after the first single from the Arctic Monkeys’ third album, Humbug. We’re not joking.
“Joey had the same racing manager as me and that’s how I was introduced to him,” Pizarro told FourFourTwo in 2023. “We met and just thought, ‘Let’s have a horse together!’
“We don’t have it anymore but it was called Crying Lightning.
“I love horses. I owned quite a lot back home in Peru and liked to name them after German footballers or cities: Don Jupp, Uli Hoeness and Müller… Gerd, not Thomas!”
Pizarro reportedly owns more than 50 racehorses in South America, regularly attending meets since retiring in 2020.