5 football players who remained friends despite playing for rival teams

Puyol’s Barcelona giving Raul’s Real Madrid the guard of honour in 2007
Srinishanth Nalagandla

Football is more than a sport for many of us. Apart from being entertainment, we have great emotional attachment towards the sport that it's become a vital part of our lives. We learn a lot about life from the sport itself. We learn about passion, team spirit, a never-say-die spirit and above all, the importance of friendship.

Over the years, we have seen many bromances in the game of football however, some of them stand out. Many players have remained friends despite playing for arch rivals which makes their friendship even more special. On the occasion of international friendship day, we take a look at 10 such players who broke the barriers created by the colour of the jersey they wear to show us true friendship.

#5 Raul and Carles Puyol

Two of the greatest players of their generation, Carles Puyol and Raul Gonzalez are two of the most respected players on the planet. Their friendship began during their time with the national team. Although Raul shot to fame in the late 90s, Puyol quickly caught up in the early 2000s.

They were the respective captains of fierce rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona but remained friends off the pitch. Their friendship is built on mutual respect as they often praise each other. Puyol who was a vital part of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad said, “He was the captain when Spain was struggling and that's when captains prove how important they are," about Raul.

Raul, on the other hand, said: “Puyol is the kind of player you want by your side playing with you, he should be cloned”. The two legends led their clubs with grace and their respect towards each other will be remembered as one of the nicer things you would see during a Clasico.

#4 Marco Reus and Mario Gotze

Gotze and Reus remained close friend even after Gotze move to Munich

Marco Reus and Mario Gotze first met at the Borussia Dortmund academy where they spent six years together. However, Marco left Dortmund to join Rot Weiss Ahlen. After a brief stint at Rot-Weiss where he attracted attention from many clubs, Reus moved to Borussia Monchengladbach. The three fantastic years with Monchengladbach came to an end when Reus moved back to his childhood club Borussia Dortmund.

It is during this period with Dortmund that his friendship with Mario Gotze began to grow stronger. The duo went on to win the DFB Pokal Cup and also reach the finals of the UEFA Champions league together. However, their time together wouldn’t last very long yet again, as Gotze moved to Bayern Munich. Their friendship remained intact despite playing for rival teams.

One of the best indicators of their strong friendship during their time playing for rival clubs was then Gotze paid tribute to Reus after winning the World Cup by holding out Marco’s jersey. To the delight of many football fans, Gotze re-signed with BVB and the duo will hopefully resume their bromance on the field right where they left it off in 2013.

#3 Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas

Xavi and Iker during their last international tournament together for Spain

Probably one of the most popular of the lot, the relationship between Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez is something special. The duo first met during the 1997 U-17 FIFA World Cup in Egypt leading their country to a third-placed finish. Two years later, the duo led Spain to glory, winning the FIFA Youth Championship in 1999. Only a year later, they would meet on the pitch but this time in different colours for their respective first El Clasico.

In 2008, they led Spain to European glory and then the biggest of them all – the World Cup in 2010. However, their friendship would begin to suffer in the years to come after Mourinho took over at Madrid. The Portuguese started a war between the two clubs and the animosity between the players of the two clubs was clearer than ever. It was after the nasty 2011 Supercopa De Espana game that Casillas made a phone call to Xavi in order to resolve the issues.

Iker’s willingness to restore peace between the two clubs did not impress Mourinho who has ever since had a poor relationship with the goalkeeper. However, Casillas and Xavi would go on to unite a Spanish team that consisted a large number of players from both Real Madrid and Barcelona that lifted the European Championship in 2012. Their friendship proved that people are more important than colours, certainly a beautiful story!

#2 Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta

Pirlo and Nesta celebrate their last trophy together in 2011 (source: The Sun)

Although their friendship began during their time in Milan, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta remained friends well after the midfielder left to Juventus in 2011. Nesta who is fondly called ‘Sandro’ by Pirlo joined the club in 2002 while Andrea joined Milan a year before in 2001. Together, they won the Scudetto, Champions League and the Italian Cup with Milan while they also won the World Cup with the national team in 2006.

Pirlo describes in his autobiography about how he would play FIFA with Alessandro Nesta every time they had a break from training sessions. Pirlo left Milan to join Juve in 2011 while Nesta stayed another year with the club. Although Juventus are not Milan’s biggest rivals, the rivalry between the teams were heated after the all-Italian Champions league final in 2003.

“Friendship does exist in football and we are very close, so it's a shame to see him leave, but it is only right that he chooses his path; Pirlo is one of the last who can be called a football genius,” said Nesta after Pirlo left to Juve.

#1 Andres Iniesta and Dani Jarque

Iniesta received international praise for his gesture

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa brings to our mind beautiful pictures of Spain’s fantastic campaign. One of the most popular pictures from the World Cup would surely be that of Andres Iniesta celebrating his 116th-minute winner against Netherlands. The midfielder slotted the ball into the goal and ran towards the fans on his left as he took off his jersey to reveal the words ‘Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros’, (Dani Jarque, always with us).

Iniesta’s gesture was in memory of his friend Dani Jarque who had passed away a year before in August 2009. Dani Jarque who played for Barcelona’s rivals from the other side of the city, Espanyol, began his friendship with Iniesta from their time in the Spanish youth teams. Their friendship deepened as they grew up together in the Spanish youth teams representing the country at every level from 16 to 21.

At the age of 26, Jarque died after suffering a heart attack while on the phone. Iniesta’s gesture earned him a standing ovation when Barcelona player Espanyol in 2010. Their friendship proved that to be stronger than any division between the clubs.

Edited by Staff Editor


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