While footballing fans around the world celebrate the achievements and talents of their favourite players, you’re never far from a pub or a website dedicated to compiling their greatest moments.
However, for every wonder goal or solid performance at the back by the biggest names, there are those footballers who, while regularly making the first team and proving their commitment to their club, never quite make it into these elite lists. Loved by their fans but not necessarily by the record books, this is our Cult XI.
Goalkeeper – René Higuita
Higuita made his name during a friendly against England in 1995 when, faced with a looping shot by Jamie Redknapp, he invented the Scorpion Kick. By the time he hung up his boots for good in 2010, he had scored 41 goals in his career including three for his national side Columbia; he was one of the main set-piece takers for the team and never shied away from taking penalties as well as trying to save them.
Defender – David Luiz
The man who Gary Neville said plays as if “controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation” has won fans’ hearts at Chelsea, with his sheer passion for being there. He’s the one who cheered down to his “geezers” aboard an open-top bus, as the Blues paraded their 2012 Champions League trophy.
Defender – Patrice Evra
The Manchester United stalwart put in a great shift for the club which brought five league titles and a Champions League – but it’s his international mutiny at the 2010 World Cup which put his French team under the harsh media spotlight, calling their group stage knockout an “enormous disaster”.
Defender – Philippe Albert
Having earned a big-money move to Newcastle United thanks to his efforts at the 1994 World Cup, the Belgian centre-half is arguably loved by most fans simply for his audacious lob against Manchester United in 1996, contributing to their 5-0 win over the Reds.
Defender – Emmanuel Eboué
What started as an ironic chant directed at opposition fans of Arsenal became sincere as the Ivory Coast right-back built an unassailable reputation during his stint with the Gunners; “You’ve only come to see Eboue!” was the song aimed at this cult hero as he helped Arsenal to runners-up spot in the 2006 Champions League and two League Cup finals.
Midfielder – Dirk Kuyt
Dutch international Kuyt was a hero among Liverpool fans; his tenacious attitude, tremendous workrate and keen penalty scoring finally brought success in the form of the 2012 League Cup. He may not go down in the history books, but the man who appeared at a team Christmas Party as Superman cannot be doubted in terms of club commitment.
Midfielder – Marouane Fellaini
The young Belgian star has struggled to live up to his previous form at Everton since joining Manchester United – but thanks to his trendy ‘do, the North West of England will be in curly wigs for years to come, having been sold as accessories by both clubs and often spotted in the stands during Belgium’s international games.
Midfielder – Eric Djemba-Djemba
So good they named him twice? The former Cameroon international dazzled Sir Alex Ferguson into making a £3.5 million bid in 2003 for his services, but since then he has failed to live up to expectations, regularly featuring in Transfer Flop lists. He does have a great name though.
Midfielder – James Milner
One of the highlights of Twitter has to be its parody accounts of famous names, and Boring James Milner is no different; spawning from the real Milner’s distinct averageness as a player in whatever position he plays from week to week. Reliable but hardly dazzling, Milner is the very definition of a squad player. Surely Milner will be part of this summer’s World Cup England team, providing stability and squad depth to the side.
Striker – Mario Balotelli
Need we say more? The man whose Google search auto-completes with words like ‘antics’ and ‘crazy’; the man who gave a grand to a homeless person because he liked his style; the man who, when stopped by police in his sports car and had £25,000 in the passenger seat, told them “because I’m rich”. Balotelli’s antics speak for themselves – as does the love he got from Man City fans.
Striker – Emile Heskey
Notoriously loved, but notoriously bad, his crowning moment was scoring in the 5-1 win against Germany for England during the World Cup Qualifiers. Since going Down Under to play for the Newcastle Jets, his reputation has taken an ironic twist, with fans going online to praise the man who had seemed so unimpressive in his strangely-long England career for club and country.
Being a cult player is not something that can be earned by being the best on the pitch, but by becoming something of a hero (or anti-hero) among the fans. For example Djemba-Djemba is never going to be considered one of the all-time greats, but will probably remain in supporters’ minds long after he has retired.