Football supporters thrive on animosity. We need to be able to shake our fists in the air and yell all the bad words at our hated teams and players.
When Jose Mourinho left Chelsea, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, a gifted manager of a rival team was out the door. I wouldn’t have that same level of dread when Liverpool faced Chelsea. On the other hand, I knew I’d miss his presence in the league. The pacing. The brooding. The eccentricity. To me he was evil. But he was the ingenious side of evil. If he came to a match wearing a top hat, long black cloak, twisting a long, curly moustache I wouldn’t have been surprised. I didn’t want a Premier League without Mourinho. It would be like Star Wars without Darth Vader. I needed my villain.
With Mourinho gone, I had to turn to my reserve villain: Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s been the chief bad guy for most non-United supporters for a while and fills the bill perfectly. And I even have a couple United friends who seemed wary of expressing their love for him. They were thankful for his talents for sure, but one friend seemed almost relieved when he left, like: “Thank God I don’t have to defend his cheating anymore.”
But now Ronaldo’s off to Spain. I’m without a pure villain. I’m glad the threat he can create out of a millisecond of time and an inch of space is safely away from English stadia. But at the same time, I’ll miss his presence. I’ll miss despising him. Who’s going to fill his boots for me in the season(s) to come?
In looking for a suitable replacement I need to consider what made Ronaldo my top football villain. For me it boils down to three things:
1) The Cheating – Ronaldo’s prolific history of diving makes your average Olympic gold medalist look like an underachiever. While he toned it down the last couple of years, he still managed to make an art form out of it. It was almost an athletic feat in and of itself each time he did it.
2) The Smugness – Ronaldo perpetually gives of the air that he’s better than everybody and he knows it. It’s fine to be better than everybody. But, good lord, man, find a way to feign looking modest. As an overpaid world class athlete you owe it to us. Practice in the mirror in the morning.
3) The Greatness – Ronaldo is brilliant. His skills on the ball are unreal. His set pieces are often devastating. The true villian needs to be a great player. I need to despise him because the endless threat he poses to my side. Any Joey Barton can be irritating. But it takes a player of Ronaldo’s caliber to be a top-shelf bad guy.
4) Plays for a Rival – If Ronaldo had been at Aston Villa or Tottenham I don’t think he would have earned my ire in the same way. Since I support Liverpool and he was United’s top gun, he’s an easy choice. I can understand why Steven Gerrard fills the role for so many United supporters even if he’s my favorite player. That’s how this thing works.
So in looking for a replacement I turn to Liverpool’s rivals…
Fabregas - He looks like he could be full enough of himself to fulfill condition 2) and he’s certainly great, but he’s not as devastating as Ronaldo and I don’t know him to be a cheater. He’s actually a player I’ve always liked so I don’t know if I could make a villain out of him. If he has more goals against Liverpool like his 80th minute scorcher in Oct 2007 I may reconsider him. But for now he’s out of the running.
Arshavin – This guy only enters the fray because he scored 4 goals at Anfield and crushed Red title hopes. I’ll need to see a lot more of him to know if he can fit top villain status. For now he’s just a one-off villain. He can’t touch Ronaldo’s consistent and long-standing work.
Terry – John Terry is certainly brilliant and smug and plays for a rival. His love for towering over a referee to intimidate and influence the call certainly hugs the cheating line. He’s on the down-slope of his career though. Too injury prone. If I make him a villain he’ll probably retire or move to the MLS and I’ll have to start this process all over again.
Drogba – Didier Drogba might be the best candidate I can think of. Olympic class diving. Top-shelf skills. Smuggly bursting with ego. I may have to wait and see how much of a role he plays for Chelsea though. Last season Anelka played so much as a lone striker and earned the golden boot and kept Drogba out of the running. If Drogba gets the starts this year he may be my man.
I know Everton are rivals, but it’s hard to make a villain of any of them since David Moyes gets so much out of such an inexpensive side. I completely respect that and I hope they win the Carling or FA Cup in the near future to have something to show for their efforts. If forced to chose, I guess Tim Cahill because of his goals against Liverpool last season and for some reason I love seeing anyone named Neville see a red card, but in truth I can only feel ire toward Everton on derby day. The rest of the season, I have no problem with them.
The rival rule alone suggests they should have the winner hands down. But while they collectively enjoy most of my football ire I just can’t feel that strongly against any individual United player now that Ronaldo’s gone.
Giggs - Filled the brilliance role in his heydey but is now on the wan. He’s one United player I’ve always respected. Can’t hate him.
Rooney - Doesn’t seem to cheat. Isn’t smug. He’s brilliant when he’s fit but that’s not enough to be my top villain.
Vidic – Top defender. He’s got the skills but not the Ronaldo-sized ego. Given the chance, I’d accept him as a Liverpool player. No go.
Owen – I don’t want to hate Michael Owen. If he scores ten goals against Liverpool or he gets the winner in a deciding match that gives United the title by a mere point over us, I’ll feel differently. For now, he can’t be my villain.
I am shocked United don’t have any better contenders. Hopefully it’s a sign they don’t win the league.
I’m afraid I have to go with Drogba. He’s been in Ronaldo’s shadow all this time. Now, I’ll give him this season to blossom into true evil glory and become my top football villain. Good luck, Didier. I believe in you.
So that’s my pick. How about you? I accept you won’t all share my perspective and some of you will pick Steven Gerrard. I’d like to hear your take on this as well. Just keep the language clean. It’s a family website.