6 of the Most Eccentric Footballers in the Modern Era
When it comes to modern-day footballers, many professional footballers have egos the size of London buses. Despite their eccentricities, they are some of the biggest personalities in the sport and one of the main reasons why fans flock to watch games is to see the sport played with spirit and flair.
If you are relatively new to watching and supporting a football team, you may have missed some of the most enigmatic footballers the world will ever see. As the industry grows ever more professional, there is less appetite for teams to employ unreliable players with a propensity to go off the rails. There’s simply too much money riding on the success of teams to do so. With that in mind, we thought we’d celebrate six of the beautiful game’s most eccentric superstars of the modern era.
Roy Keane was one of the most fearsome midfielders in European football. He exuded an air of calm on the surface, but once that first whistle blew he became a rottweiler of a footballer. You never quite knew whether you’d get the hard-but-fair Keane or the ferocious, blood-thirsty Keane. During his early years with Nottingham Forest, he came to blows with Forest boss Brian Clough and also had multiple run-ins with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson later in his career. A horrifying career-ending tackle on Manchester City’s Alfie Inge-Haaland is what many remember Keane for most.
French forward Eric Cantona is often described as one of the most gifted footballers of his generation. The 55-year-old played only 14 years professionally, after retiring at the age of just 31 in 1997 before going on to play beach football for France for another nine years. Cantona shone during his brief spell with Leeds United and went on to score 64 times in 143 appearances in a Manchester United jersey. In 2004, Brazilian legend Pele named Cantona as one of the 100 greatest living players on the planet. Despite his genius with the ball, his hot-headed nature hurt his ‘brand’ badly. His kung-fu kick aimed at a supporter saw him banned from the Premier League. In his later years, Cantona described that kick as “a great feeling”, leaving many fans puzzled and dismayed in equal measure.
There are few footballers in the post-millennium era of professional football quite like Mario Balotelli. The Italian international has been one of the most unpredictable footballers of his generation. He arrived on the scene with almost unlimited potential. The sky was the limit for him and, despite some early promise with Inter Milan and Manchester City, his volatile attitude to senior management and wider society got him into hot water on multiple occasions. So much so that his future indiscretions were eventually known as ‘Balotelli-isms’.
Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner was described by many Arsenal fans as a player with delusions of grandeur. Bendtner boasted an incredibly inflated opinion of himself, considering himself to be a world-beater. Despite such self-confidence, Bendtner would go on to have modest spells with the Gunners and Premier League strugglers Sunderland. He toiled on loan at Juventus and during brief spells with VfL Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest, before finding a spiritual home with Norwegian side Rosenborg. However, after another goalless stint in his homeland with Copenhagen, Bendtner has been without a club since 2019.
Paolo Di Canio
Spikey Italian playmaker Paolo Di Canio was a ‘box office’ Premier League footballer. He lit up English stadia for both Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United. He also impressed for Glasgow Celtic as well as Lazio. He was another player that had an abundance of self-belief, playing with a genuine swagger. However, one of his most remembered moments in the Premier League was catching the ball in the middle of the Everton penalty area with an empty goal. Toffees keeper Paul Gerrard sustained an injury coming off his goal line and Di Canio sportingly caught the ball to enable him to receive treatment - much to the dismay of West Ham boss Harry Redknapp!
We’ve arguably saved the best for last with this one. Swedish sensation Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a personal ‘brand’ in the world of football for many years now. A proven menace in attack, ‘Ibra’ has scored goals at the highest level with Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. The 40-year-old is still going strong with AC Milan now, having notched 26 goals in 39 games since returning in 2020. Ibra is one of few footballers that refers to himself in the third person during interviews.