Football, we’re told, is a team game. Ninety minutes of eleven versus eleven, with the side boasting the greater cohesion, the perfectly executed tactical plan, and the superior team spirit emerging victorious. Which begs the question why, more and more, is the sport becoming dominated by individuals? From a new generation of fans who support players rather than clubs, to the moronic virgin collective that call themselves “Football Twitter”, with handles like RelentlessFirmxno and WickedJxnkinson, whose only relationship with football seems to be spending their parents money on pixels and code dressed up as their heroes.
It’s a fair assumption that this growing support of individual players is the result of more and more individual awards being introduced into the game. As recently as January 2017, FIFA’s imaginatively named ‘The Best Awards’ were introduced to further stroke Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego. A successor to the more binary ‘World Player of the Year’ award, The Best honours individuals in both men’s and women’s games, and even hands out awards to coaches and goalkeepers lest they feel left out.
It’s usually goalscorers that pick up the top prizes, of course. The World Cup has bestowed the Golden Boot award for its top scorer since 1982, fully fifteen years after French magazine L’Equipe began handing out the European Golden Shoe to goat herders in Bulgaria and Cyprus. The Premier League hosts its own awards ceremony at the end of each season, as does the Professional Footballers Association. Everywhere you turn there are gongs on offer to highlight solo achievements.
It all started with the Ballon D’or. Again the brainchild of L’Equipe, the Golden Ball award was established to celebrate the best player in Europe in each year. Since Stanley Matthews first lifted the trophy in 1956, thirty-nine players have had the honour of being Europe’s best footballer bestowed upon them. This year, for the first time since 2007, there’s the slightest chance that neither Lionel Messi nor Ronaldo will walk home with football’s most coveted individual prize, with Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe in the running.
But where’s the fun in talking about which elite, multi-billionaire has made the most of their supernatural talents over the past year? Is there anything more tedious than the Messi or Ronaldo debate? When did football become so polished and po-faced? We’ve decided to present an alternative shortlist for 2018, celebrating the complete bastards at the top end of the game. Who’s had a nightmare year? Who’s been a massive wanker? Who deserves to win the Bellend’or?
Lets look at the contenders:
Three years ago, Neymar had the world at his feet. Dubbed the ‘New Pele’ and part of the most fearsome frontline in Europe alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, with a catchy nickname that stirred emotion in anyone that spent the early-noughties signing in and out of an online messenger service in a bid to get the person they fancied to notice them. The Brazilian wonderkid’s career at the Camp Nou peaked with that incredible comeback against Paris Saint Germain, as Barcelona recovered from 4-0 down to win their Champions League last sixteen tie 6-5 on aggregate, with Neymar the driving force. The natural heir to Messi’s throne, all he had to do was bide his time before becoming the King of Barca.
Patience, though, is a virtue, and our Neymar seems fairly short on those. Instead of sticking around at one of Europe’s most historic and successful institutions, he jumped ship to PSG, a club that didn’t even exist when Pele wowed the world at Mexico 1970, a team backed by Qatari petrobillions, in a league weaker than your nan’s tea, because he wanted to be the main man and give himself a chance of winning the egotists greatest honour – the Ballon D’or. Neymar’s time in Paris started off well enough with the forward scoring goals for fun, but clouds soon began to gather as his relationship with strike partner and fan favourite Edinson Cavani faltered. But 2018 would prove to be something of an annus horribilis.
It began, as years tend to do, in January. A dazzling performance against Dijon saw Neymar score four times in an 8-0 win, but when the Brazilian overruled Cavani to take a penalty for the Parisians to score the eighth goal, the Parc des Princes faithful began to boo their world record signing. Had Cavani taken and scored the penalty, he would become the club’s all time leader goalscorer, and Neymar’s insistence on taking that opportunity from the Uruguayan didn’t sit well with PSG’s support.
The Brazilian also played a part in Unai Emery’s exit from the club, with claims circulating that he disliked the Spaniard’s video sessions, and would rather train with the reserves. In short, he’s acted like a spoilt little brat ever since arriving in Europe. Throwing his toys out of the pram if he doesn’t get enough attention, and proving himself to be a rotten apple, in spite of his obvious natural ability.
Then there was the World Cup. If Neymar was going to realise his dream and lift that coveted gong for narcissism, he’d have to post some impressive performances in Russia. Instead he brought two hairdressers with him, turned up to the first game against Switzerland looking like Fernandinho had spilt a bowl of ramen on his head, and spent the whole game pretending he was playing ‘The Journey’ mode on FIFA. In the second match against Costa Rica, he spent most of his time on the floor or moaning at the referee, before earning a booking for a pathetic attempt at winning a penalty. A late assist and goal saved Neymar and his country from worldwide ridicule, though he still provided those watching with a moment of pant-wetting melodrama as he fell to his knees in tears at the final whistle. After a 2-0 win over Costa Rica.
Against Serbia, Neymar rocketed to the top of the ‘most memed player of the tournament’ charts, producing a quadruple Salchow after an innocuous challenge that left gifmakers across the world with Retweet buttons in their eyes. Brazil’s exit at the hands of Belgium in the quarter-final was a disappointment, but no great surprise given the form and attitude of their talisman. Undoubtedly one of the world’s most talented footballers, Neymar will never reach the heights he’s capable of unless he stops acting like a four year old at a wedding reception.
Had we not just made this award up as a one-off filler feature to make up for a lack of well-researched, well-timed and well-written content, Cristiano would surely have cleaned up every year for the past decade. Yes he’s one of two of the greatest footballers on the planet. Even heading towards the twilight years of his career he continues to score goals and win trophies at an unprecedented rate. As a physical specimen, he’s a cause of envy and embarrassment for 99% of the human race. He’s also a preening vainglorious dickhead with a very large question mark hanging over his head surrounding the REDACTED of a REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED in REDACTED, an accusation for which he’s almost certainly REDACTED.
Away from REDACTED, Ronaldo showed at the World Cup that he’s both a complete tosser and a brilliant footballer in equal measure, firstly by having the gall to turn up sporting that goatee beard that made him look like a REDACTED, and then with the sly elbow on an Iranian player that should have seen him sent off, only to stay on the pitch because, well, he’s Ronaldo.
Admittedly the formerly petulant forward appears to have mellowed with advancing age, and these days can even be seen joining in with the celebrations when one of his teammates scores, rather than scowling at their temerity to ignore the pass to him before trotting back to the halfway line indignant. His biggest celebration since joining Juventus, however, was reserved for his goal against Manchester United in the Champions League, revealing his Steve Bruce embossed abs in a show of reverence to his former club’s history.
In truth its been a quiet year for Ronnie (besides REDACTED of course), but any Bellend’Or list without him just wouldn’t seem right.
Monsieur Pellicules is a new entry for this year’s Bellend’Or, having largely flown under the radar in the Worst Kind of Person stakes. That all changed ahead of Atletico Madrid’s Christmas Party last December, when little Antoine thought it’d be a grand idea to black himself up to dress as his favourite basketball player. Having wildly miscalculated how this show of “banter” would go down, Griezmann was quick to remove the photo posted on social media, though presumably removing the brown body paint he’d daubed himself in head-to-toe took a little longer to get rid of. Let’s hope he didn’t miss Happy Hour.
But it’s not racial insensitivity that earns the French forward a place on this year’s list however. Instead we’re focusing on his actions this summer. You might think we’re referring to his Fortnite-inspired goal celebration that would make a fourteen year old shudder with embarrassment to the point of seizure. Or perhaps his declaration of love for Uruguay ahead of France’s quarter-final meeting with La Celeste despite having no connection whatsoever to the nation, and which prompted Luis Suarez to shut him up in the press.
But no, Antoine earns his place on this list for the most rage-inducing use of video technology at the World Cup. In the days leading up to the tournament, Griezmann teased that he would be announcing where his future lay after rumours that Barcelona were attempting to lure the striker away from the Spanish capital. Then, on the opening day of the World Cup – THE OPENING DAY OF THE WORLD CUP – the Frenchman posted a forty-five second video on his Twitter feed announcing that, in fact, he’d be staying at Atletico.
For services to delusions of grandeur, Antoine Griezmann takes his place among this year’s nominees.
For Liverpool and Croatia centre-back Dejan Lovren, 2018 will be remembered as the year he rose from slapstick example of how to piss transfer funds away to delusional criminal with a World Cup runners-up medal. When Harry Kane and co. left Lovren with twisted blood at Wembley last season in a match that saw the defender hooked after half an hour, it looked like his career in England would soon be coming to an end. Instead, he arrived in Russia a new man and, alongside Goblinesque defensive partner Domagoj Vida, provided the foundation for Zlatko Dalic to lead Croatia all the way to the final without winning a knockout game in regulation time.
That run prompted Lovren to announce, without a hint of irony, that he’s “one of the best defenders in the world” as he simultaneously took credit for “taking Liverpool to the Champions League final” in a campaign that saw the Reds concede 19 goals in 15 games, and “taking Croatia to the World Cup final”, which they lost 4-2. What some of the actual best defenders in the world thought about this is unclear, though a certain Real Madrid centre-back may have had a few words to say about it the next time their paths crossed.
In September, Lovren was then charged with perjury for his part in the Zdravko Mamic scandal, in which the Liverpool player was accused of unlawfully receiving half of the transfer fee for his move from Dinamo Zagreb to Lyon and subsequently paying it on to Mamic. In the interest of fairness, Lovren has pleaded his innocence publicly, and perhaps his head was filled with ridiculous notions like being the best defender in the world for him to notice that money resting in his account. Or maybe not.
Finally, in a bid to prove himself as one of the greats, he planted an elbow on Sergio Ramos in Croatia’s Nations League meeting with Spain, then filmed himself bragging about it afterwards. Ultimate wee lad behaviour.
When you come at the King of the Shithouses, you’d best not miss. Dejan Lovren’s chances of scooping the prestigious Bellend’Or award this year are slim given the calibre of arseholes he’s up against, and you’ll struggle to find a bigger one than Sergio Ramos. The Sovereign of Snide, The Master of Malevolence, Chief Commander of the Starship Bastard. There are few in the history of the game as totally committed to villainy than the Real Madrid captain, who’s twin ambitions have been to win trophies and make enemies. By now he’s lost count of both.
Remarkably, Ramos is yet to receive a red card in 2018, despite having a disciplinary record that would make Al Capone wince. In December last year he was sent off for the 24th time in his career – a La Liga record – but don’t be deceived into thinking the defenders advancing years have seen him mellow. If you can’t play dirty, play smart. If Ramos were a fictional wizard, the curriculum for Defence Against the Dark Arts could have been written with him in mind. This year, he’s taken bellendry to a whole new level.
Firstly, there was the Champions League final, and a well-timed armbar/judo throw that ruled Mohamed Salah out of the game after half an hour. The bleating of Liverpool fans in the aftermath saw an unprecedented surge in public sympathy for Ramos, but the wink and pat on the shoulder from the defender the next time the two met suggested there was more than a hint of purpose in a challenge judged ‘accidental’. This season he escaped censure after a thundering elbow into the boat of Viktoria Plzen’s Milan Havel, despite the Czech’s nose exploding on impact. His reputation as a hard-tackling, no-nonsense winner appears to have succeeded his reputation as a nasty little fucker.
As captain of Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos already fits the mould of football super-villain, but in his new guise as misunderstood elder statesman he’s earned himself license to wreak true havoc.
Should rank outsider Thibaut Courtois emerge as this year’s winner, he’ll owe a huge debt of gratitude to Hugo Lloris. Busy kicking back on the flight home from Russia with a bag of dry roasted peanuts and polishing his bronze medal with a can of Brasso, Courtois could look back on a satisfying tournament in goal for Belgium. Long considered one of the best ‘keepers in the world, the Chelsea man had only further enhanced that reputation during the World Cup, and could consider himself unlucky to miss out on the Golden Glove that would surely be winging its way to the tournament winning custodian. Then Lloris, having presumably overdone it on the Remy Martin at half-time, gifted Croatia a second goal in the Luzhniki Stadium and forced FIFA’s judging panel to rethink their choice for the tournament’s top stopper. And so Courtois was announced the winner, and the surprise heel-turn of the summer began.
Returning to Cobham, Courtois’ first port of call was to walk into the managers office, realise that no-one actually knew who the manager was yet, and then find the first person in a club-branded suit to demand a payrise. When Roman Abramovich turned out his pockets and made a sad face, Courtois fucked off. After a fortnight of tossing off training and sending saucy hand-nudes to Florentino Perez, Courtois turned up at the Bernabeu dressed in a bondage outfit aimed at asexuals, simultaneously shafting Chelsea and earning Real’s city rivals a pretty penny on the subsequent sale of their own goalkeeper.
Unlike our other nominees, however, Courtois’ tale provides a slice of life-affirming schadenfreude as, having left a Premier League side under a cloud of uncertainty, he took his place between the posts for Real Madrid’s worst start to a season this century. Meanwhile, Maurizio Sarri has steered Chelsea towards something approaching a title race, while Los Blancos sit three points outside the Champions League places. Karma, eh?
Look at little Lucas Moura. Isn’t he lovely? Isn’t he just adorable? With his male pattern baldness and his electric pace. Look at him tearing Manchester United to shreds at Old Trafford and then posing with home supporters for photos after the match. Isn’t he just the perfect gentleman? Oh no, hang on, he’s a fascist.
Moura hit the headlines in September after taking to Twitter to add his name to the depressing list of dazzling Brazilian footballers endorsing far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. In his declaration of support, the Spurs (right) winger suggested that Bolsonaro offered something different to the liberal candidates, saying “at least I am not seeing the same proposals and speeches”. Yes Lucas, it’s a bore isn’t it, championing things like equality and attempting to fight poverty. He also came out in support of “police militarization” because not enough people are getting shot, apparently, and rubbished suggestions that Bolsonaro was racist, stating that if he were, he “would be in jail”.
So, just for Lucas, here’s a reminder of some of those Bolsonaro quotes:
“They’re animals who should go back to the zoo” – on black activists.
“They do nothing. They are not even good for procreation” – on a Brazilian black settlement.
Not forgetting the President-elect’s suggestion that he “couldn’t love a gay son”, and telling a congresswoman that he “wouldn’t rape” her because she was ugly. Yes, this is the hill Lucas Moura has decided to die on. I for one can’t wait for Harry Winks to unveil his ‘Free Tommy’ tattoo, while Moussa Sissoko gives Jean-Marie Le Pen a reacharound.
If there was a Lifetime Achievement Award for being a total weapon, John Terry would surely be odds-on favourite to pick it up. From banging his teammates fiancee, to hurling racist epithets at opposition players, via parking in disabled bays and getting changed into a full kit despite not playing a minute of the Champions League final, Terry’s made a career out of being a massive shit. Though now retired, Chelsea John was hardly ever likely to go out without giving these young whippersnappers one final lesson in being a terrible person.
For those that may have missed it, Terry spent the final season of his career in the second division with Aston Villa, putting in a string of impressive performances after demanding the captain’s armband, and leading the Birmingham side to the play-off final, before defeat to Fulham gave the great and good one final viewing of his best ‘Dejected Patriot In Pain’ impression. That failure to secure promotion meant that Terry could relieve himself of his duties at Villa quicker than you can say “it wasn’t actually my mum in that video”, having earned £3.6m in his year at Villa Park, a sum that went some way to engulfing the club in a financial crisis.
While Dr Tony Xia was busy trying to convince anyone to throw a few quid at his destitute investment, Terry was busy curling up on the sofa to watch the World Cup, taking time out of his day to post a photo on Instagram of him watching the Portgual v Morocco game, for which Vicky Sparks was commentating, with the caption ‘Having to watch this game with no volume’. After the inevitable backlash for this brazen misogyny, Terry feebly claimed that the sound system installed throughout his house had broken. Which is obviously bullshit.
Having bankrupted his former club and criticised a burgeoning broadcaster, Terry then set up a deal to play for Spartak Moscow this season on a massive contract, only to renege at the last minute. Having decided to retire, Terry posted a message on social media that looked remarkably like the opening trail from Star Wars. Presumably the former England captain thinks of himself as something of a Luke Skywalker, when in fact he’s the kind of character that even Darth Vader thinks is a bit of a dick.
And so Terry’s year came full circle, taking up the role of Assistant to the Manager at Aston Villa, and upstaging the appointment of Dean Smith, a promising English coach and boyhood Villa fan, who’d worked his bollocks off to get the job of his dreams, and who will undoubtedly be usurped by Terry once the snivelling fucker gets a hold of the chairman’s ear.
Form is temporary, class is permanent, and being an arsehole is a way of life. John Terry: Captain. Leader. Bellend.