As football fans, we all pretend to possess a sincere moral compass about what is right and what is wrong in the game. But beneath all that posturing, we also want to win, and sometimes the lines between right and wrong can get blurred in the pursuit of victory.
These lines are usually blurred by those not-so-purest of souls who can lay claim to an unmatched mastering of the dark arts.
Here are seven of the best operators of this much-maligned but much-needed art form.
Where else to start with but the Grand Master of dark artistry himself, ?Sergio Ramos. The man is inexhaustibly evil, but wins at an inordinate rate because of it. Forever the antagoniser and arch destroyer, he has had his fair share of less edifying moments over the years, but despite the legend surrounding him, he has never been concerned with anything more than team success.
Many may hate him, but there are few players who have brought so many moments of joy to those who support the Spanish national team and ?Real Madrid.
?Long-time partner of the aforementioned purveyor of all things villainy, Pepe’s technical talents seem to have waned in recent times, but the 36-year-old is still as savvy as ever when it comes to gaming the opposition.
In the 2018/19 season, across spells with both Besiktas and Porto, where he made his name as an up-and-comer before joining ?Real Madrid in 2007, Pepe has notched an impressive 10 yellow cards, but zero red cards. That’s exactly the kind of combination of needle and restraint that we’re looking for.
The last of our trident of centre backs, and what a final spearhead. Giorgio Chiellini must be utterly horrible to play against. Perhaps even more than his predecessors on this list, he has the most infuriating/admirable combination of hardness in the tackle and porcelain-like sensitivity when he’s on the other end of it.
It can be painful to watch, but it’s clearly paid off, and ??Juventus wouldn’t want it any other way.
This is Ander Herrera checking if Ruben Loftus-Cheek is okay in the most ?Ander Herrera way possible. This was the same game in which he ‘inadvertently’ elbowed someone. And it was far from the only game in which he has conducted himself with such depravity. But, in his time in the ?Premier League, he also appeared as one of the only players who could man-mark such titans as Eden Hazard out of a game altogether.
And it is therefore a depravity that Manchester United fans will undoubtedly miss.
Ahh, Scott Brown. Scottie Brun. Born out of the embers of blood, sweat, tears and Irn Bru, his is the story of the Scotsman who could… do some dangerous things on the field for his love of winning.
However, for all his dastardly work, Brown remains the most expensive player to ever be transferred between two Scottish clubs, and even at 33 years of age, it’s still easy to see why.
This is Luis Suarez celebrating his goal for Barcelona against former side Liverpool, because why would Luis Suarez do any different?
Over the years, Suarez has bitten three players, won penalties and free kicks for comparative flea bites and hauled his country to the World Cup semi finals with a well-timed handball, but he has also won 18 major trophies, scored over 400 career goals and won two European Golden Shoes.
Who else but this guy? Diego Costa has effectively defined this era of dark artistry with his unrivalled commitment to the cause. Sometimes this has been for the better, like when he bullied his dark arts contemporary Pepe to score in Spain’s 2018 World Cup opener or coaxed Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista into a red card during that Premier League-title winning debut year with Chelsea.
Sometimes it’s been for the worse, like how he has collected more yellow and red cards than goals and assists for Atletico Madrid this season. But one thing’s for sure: he’s always entertaining.
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