Football is a game of passion, and passion draws a very thin line between sanity and insanity. There are players who are passionate, and then there are players who are over-passionate. It’s the overflow of emotions that sparks them up, and that is when the madness driven by passion comes out, sometimes to showcase their brilliance and sometimes to bring out the idiot in them. The beautiful game has quite a few over-zealous servants, who cross the line between sanity and insanity very quickly and produce moments of raw power display. Here are the Top 10 players whose aggression, energy, enthusiasm, pride and passion can drive the morale of their whole team.
10. Jean Makoun (Cameroon)
An excellent defensive midfielder whose rise to the top of the European game has been built on his bullish determination, aerial prowess and limitless stamina, he has become known as known as ‘The Sergeant’ or ‘Le Nettoyeur’ (‘The Cleaner’) during his nine-year stint in French football. As he proved with his goal against Real Madrid in the Champions League in February, he can strike a great shot from distance too. He is mostly neat in his tackles and is probably one of the few in this list who manage to control their aggression a bit. Nonetheless he still qualifies to be one of the top ten hard tacklers to take part in the World Cup in South Africa.
9. Khalid Boulahrouz (Netherlands)
Nicknamed “Khalid the Cannibal” for his ability to “eat up” his opposition, he has the knack of going out of control when the situation is not in his favor. Has a handful of “red cards” in his resume so far, and showed the world that he cannot be intimidated by his opponent, when he tackled Cristiano Ronaldo in the most infamous game of World Cup 2006 between Netherlands and Portugal in the round of 16. Keep an eye on this ‘Cannibal’ because he can unleash his wild side any moment he feels so.
8. Jeremy Toulalan (France)
He’s the man who’s being considered as the successor of Claude Makelele, who was extremely influential during the fairly recent period of French national team success. Toulalan is very comfortable on the ball and an excellent reader of the game. He has impressed with his size and presence, being strong and dominant. The position of a defensive midfielder is very important for France because the French play with Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda upfront, who don’t really fall back for defense. His tackling on most occasions is clean, and he is a very efficient player to have in midfield. He shows a lot of maturity and when it comes to controlled aggression he is top notch.
Claude Makelele’s Successor?
7. Christian Poulsen (Denmark)
As a holding player he not only reads the game but also provides the tackles, the passing and the example to team-mates that coach Morten Olsson depends upon. Known best for his controversial disciplinary history on the pitch, Poulsen usually targets the opposition playmaker’s weakness, and tries to physically neutralize him. Not long ago, he earned a red card for punching Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg in the stomach during a World Cup qualifier, causing a Danish supporter to run on the pitch and attempt to attack the referee, another fan to press legal charges on Poulsen, the Danish minister of justice to plea for his expulsion from the national team, and a member of the Copenhagen metropolitan police to call for the midfielder to submit to a 30-day jail sentence. That caused Denmark to take a 3-0 loss, as the game was abandoned due to the madness, but the rest of Poulsen’s tough persona can often lead his team to victory.
Respect my authority or else…
6. Lucas Neill (Australia)
The Socceroos’ captain is a typical Aussie when it comes to aggression and tackling hard. Who can forget the dreaded moment in the last world cup which saw Neill deemed to have fouled Fabio Grosso, which allowed the eventual world champions to slot home a last-gasp penalty. Neill is strong in the tackle, good in the air and links well with the midfield providing positive and quality ball. The 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign saw Australia concede just four goals across 14 matches with Neill a major contributor to that success.
If I’m going down, I’d rather take you with me.
5. Nemanja Vidic (Serbia)
He’s one of the strongest defenders in the world today and a dominant personality on the field, to say the least. United fans have a song where they sing “He comes from Serbia, He’ll effing murder ya”. Vidic said of this: “I know the words. I want to win and do my best no matter what. I really thank them for their support – but I am not a killer.” He may not be a killer but his instincts on the field truly are. Serbia had a stunning World Cup qualifying campaign because of Vidic’s organization at the back. At club level he has been stellar for Manchester United, forming a solid backline. Vidic’s hard man image may attract the attention of referees in South Africa meaning he is likely to get a suspension if Serbia make progress, but his style will be central to their hopes of keeping out the opposition.
4. Lucio (Brazil)
Intensity, aggressiveness and passion could describe Lucio on the field. He was the defender that partnered Walter Samuel in defense for Inter Milan, winning the treble in the process. This devout evangelical Christian who frequently talks about the importance of faith in his life is more likely to run you over during a game than give you the sign of peace. The dangerous looking Brazilian is a monster on the field, a short fused player who can tear his opponents apart. He apparently holds the FIFA World Cup record for playing 386 consecutive minutes without committing a foul in World Cup 2006, a streak which was finally broken in Brazil’s 1–0 quarter-final loss to France. One of the best defenders of the world, Lucio has the aggression and power to dominate and intimidate any kind of attacker.
3. Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
El Jefecito (The Chief) is reckoned as the soul of the Argentine national team, and Diego Maradona’s decision to appoint him as the captain of the national team came with a statement “I want Mascherano to be my captain because I believe he is the Argentinian player who is closest to the idea I have about the Argentinian shirt – sweat for it, sacrifice for it, being a professional, being close to the team-mate.” and he’s damn right about these things. Mascherano is a shrewd customer on the field and rarely lets his emotions in control. He fights not only for himself but for his teammates as well. Never afraid of the bookings, if he feels like sharing his thoughts with the referee, he makes sure the issue is well explained to the referee. Has a knack of picking red cards for unnecessary aggression but that’s what makes him a ferocious player.
2. Wayne Rooney (England)
The young lad, who is the spearhead of the England attack, resembles every bit the lions that the team’s crest flaunts. Once on the field the Boy Wayne becomes a lion and his roars are always loud. In a list featuring mostly defenders he is one player who tracks back to defend as hard as he can and on a few occasions has actually defended better than the team’s defense line for Manchester United. He probably has an unlimited supply of adrenaline as he just keeps going on and on and on. The most important player for Capello and England, and they wouldn’t want to lose him to an injury or suspension in any of the game. Apparently, USA recently revealed that they will test his patience to the core in the group match, and Rooney has already made the news for his short temper and his love for the four letter notorious word in the friendly game against Platinum Stars. Rooney is a notorious F-bomber, who was once caught on camera serenading an official with no less than 20 expletives in one outburst. All eyes will be on Boy Wayne and his temperament on the field, because it can very well effect England’s chance to win the World Cup after long.
1. Gennaro Gattuso (Italy)
This list simply cannot be complete without Gennaro “Rino” Gattuso – the gladiator, the snarling Italian Bulldog, the maniac. The nicknames assigned to him depict his fighting nature. Rino is a hard tackling defensive midfielder, and widely regarded as the most aggressive players. He achieved a measure of notoriety for his post-match celebrations after Italy won the World Cup in 2006, during which he removed his shorts and ran around the pitch in his underwear, until FIFA officials forced him to cover up. Not only that, the way he celebrated with his coach Marcelo Lippi after the victory, where he literally smashed him to show his emotions as if Italy had lost because of Lippi. He offers more fight and determination than the rest of the squad put together, and is the mettle the team rely on when the going gets tough.
This list by no means is a comprehensive list and there are many more that could have been included, so feel free to talk up about the hard tacklers not included here in the comments.