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5 instances when footballers backed up their arrogant comments with on-field performances

  • A look at five instances when footballers shot from the mouth and followed up with performances to boot.
  • All but one of the said players are presently active.
Modified 14 May 2020, 01:56 IST

Ronaldo with the infamous "cojones
Ronaldo with the infamous "cojones' celebration

The famous English author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stated in his story of Sherlock's 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter':

“My dear Watson, I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician, all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own powers.”

It means modesty is an overrated virtue and that when people say they are modest, they are almost lying.

Arrogance and finesse by footballers have always walked in tandem. There have been a few players who failed to 'walk their talk', not living up to their tall words.

However, a few knew what they were saying and followed up their words with phenomenal on-field performances. On that note, we look at five instances when footballers backed up their arrogant comments with befitting performances on the field.

Five instances when footballers backed up their arrogant comments with on-field performances

#1 Cristiano Ronaldo versus Atletico Madrid (UCL 2018/19)

Ronaldo with the five-finger gesture
Ronaldo with the five-finger gesture

Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Italian Serie A side Juventus after nine successful seasons with Real Madrid. A year later, his return to Spain with the Bianconeri wasn't a happy one as the visitors lost 2-0 to Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in a Champions League Round of 16 first leg game.

Frustrated by Atletico's dogged defending and his misses from close range, Ronaldo was struggling to bring his A-game on to the pitch. The home fans took every single opportunity to mock the Portuguese sensation after a miss or a wayward pass.

Irked by the jeers and catcalls of the Metropolitano faithful, Ronaldo showed five fingers to the home supporters. It was a reminder to the hosts that he has five Champions League titles in his kitty while Atletico have none.


The situation exacerbated when Jose Gimenez pumped in Atleti's opener from a goal-mouth scramble. To add to Ronaldo and Juventus' woes, Diego Godin smashed in a second to send the home fans into rapture as the visitors fell behind by two goals.

CR7 celebrating his goal against Atletico
CR7 celebrating his goal against Atletico

Juventus failed to muster a response as Atleti won the first leg by two goals. As if to add insult to injury, Atletico manager Diego Simeone seemed to provoke Ronaldo with a 'cojones' celebration. Simeone later claimed that the gesture was aimed at his fans rather than the Portuguese maestro.

The Atletico manager seemingly forgot about Ronaldo's heroics against Atletico when the Portugal striker was with Real Madrid.

In the post-match conference, when Ronaldo was asked about Simeone's 'mocking' celebration, the Juventus striker angrily reiterated that he has five Champions League titles while Atletico Madrid have none.

Juventus had lost the battle at the Metropolitano, but the war was there to be won on home turf. In the return leg, the Bianconeri made their intentions clear right from the off as Ronaldo summoned magical vim with every passing minute.

With only six minutes on the clock, Giorgio Chiellini prodded the ball home from close range only for the goal to be rescinded due to a foul by Ronaldo. Juventus bossed possession but failed to make any inroads in the final third, thanks to some resolute Atletico defending.

But the Bianconeri were only warming up to the task in hand. Ronaldo halved the deficit with a thumping header in the 41st minute. Federico Bernardeschi turned in a peach of a cross, and Ronaldo sped past his marker to halve Juventus' arrears.

Two minutes into the second half, Bernardeschi and Ronaldo combined again to restore aggregate parity for Juventus. Ronaldo's towering header was clawed away by Jan Oblak, but only after the ball had crossed the line. The goal stood, and Atletico looked crestfallen.

The visitors mustered some resistance that barely lasted for a few minutes when Ronaldo intervened once again. It was Bernaderschi yet again at the heart of Juventus' attacking play.

Following his two brilliant assists earlier in the game, Bernardeschi made a blistering run four minutes from time. Angel Correa couldn't keep up with the Italian's run and ended up shoving Bernardeschi inside the box. The referee had no qualms to signal for a penalty.

Ronaldo stepped up and calmly drove the ball past Oblak and into the Atletico net with clinical precision, sparking frenzied celebrations that lasted long into the Turin night.

It was the Portuguese captain's first hat-trick in Juventus colours, and a record-equalling eighth hat-trick in the Champions League. At full time, Ronaldo pulled off a 'cojones' celebration of his own as the Bianconeri overhauled a two-goal first-leg deficit to move into the Champions League quarterfinals at Atletico's expense.

#2 Eric Cantona versus Liverpool (Premier League 1995/96)

Cantona performing the kung-fu kick
Cantona performing the kung-fu kick

You do not walk away to the admiration of countless fans after kicking an opposition supporter unless you are the King of Old Trafford, Eric Cantona.

It was January 1995 when Manchester United were locked in a battle with Crystal Palace. After beating league-leaders Blackburn Rovers three days ago, courtesy of a solitary goal from Cantona, United arrived in Selhurst Park full of momentum and confidence.

The in-form Frenchman was going to be a primary target for the opposition, especially in an away game It was Richard Shaw of Palace who was entrusted the task of man-marking Cantona. In a tussle with Shaw that turned physical, Cantona stomped into his counterpart and was promptly given marching orders.

However, it was just the tip of the iceberg. What unfolded next was beyond anyone's imagination.

Racism and hooliganism have always reared their ugly head in football, and it was no different on that night at Selhurst Park. An abusive Crystal Palace fan rained in personal insults at Cantona.

The Frenchman upon receiving his marching orders flew double-footed into the Crystal Palace fan and knocked the living daylights out of him.

Sir Alex Ferguson was so busy rallying forces after Cantona's red card that he didn't immediately realise what transpired at the other end of the pitch. After the game ended in a stalemate, the Cantona incident of knocking down an opposition fan dawned on Fergie like a blasphemous revelation. The Manchester United manager stormed to the dressing room and tore Cantona down with a severe reprimand.

After a long deliberation with the board, Manchester United imposed a four-month ban that saw Cantona miss the remainder of the season and also fined £20000. FA, in their independent proceedings, banned the Frenchman for nine months and slapped him an additional fine of £10000.

What followed after that was very severe as Cantona faced assault charges and spent three hours in a cell before being bailed out. Luckily for the Frenchman, his Queen's Council found the custodial sentence to be flawed and changed it to 120 hours of community service.

It was when Cantona brought out his verbal artillery that later also got featured in one of his movies.

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.

That was the end of Cantona's courtroom theatrics. He returned to action after serving his ban and community service. The Frenchman's first game on his return was against United's bitter rivals, Liverpool.

Cantona's fabulous volley against Liverpool

Cantona took only two minutes to stamp his class on the game. The Frenchman carved open the Reds' defence with an impeccable ball that Nicky Butt slammed past David James.

Much to United's disappointment, though, Liverpool came from behind to take the lead courtesy a brace from Robbie Fowler. However, the setback didn't dampen the Frenchman's spirits. Cantona was at it once again. He sent Ryan Giggs clean through on goal before the United midfielder was clipped inside the box.

Cantona stepped up and calmly fired the spot-kick home, much to the admiration of the adoring home faithful, as the game ended in a draw.

From thereon, the Frenchman scored twelve more goals as United successfully overhauled a 12-point deficit against Newcastle United to win the league title. The Frenchman had better luck when he faced Liverpool again that season. His late volley won the Old Trafford club the FA Cup at the expense of their arch-rivals.

# 3 Zlatan Ibrahimovich on his arrival at Old Trafford (2016/17)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic announces himself at Old Trafford.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic announces himself at Old Trafford.

It has always been a rare event that a footballer clashed with Eric Cantona and did not come up second best. Long after he retired from the game, Cantona hailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival at the Theatre of Dreams.

The King of Manchester United said:

“There can only be one king in Manchester. You can be the prince if you want to and the No. 7 shirt is yours if you are interested. This is my welcome gift to you. The King is gone. Long live the Prince!”

It was a tricky situation for Ibrahimovich. Despite coming across as arrogant at times, self-confidence has always been the character trait that has defined the towering Swede. Ibrahimovic chose to respond with a bit of Eminem, but kept it very respectful yet hilariously arrogant. His response to Eric Cantona was:

“I admire Cantona. I heard what he said, but I won’t be King of Manchester. I will be God of Manchester.”

When you throw such hefty words at the King, you will have to be equally good on the pitch to validate your mettle, or you will not walk away scot-free.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic backed up his words with a befitting performance. The Swede announced his arrival at the Theatre of Dreams with a dazzling volley against Galatasaray.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba

Ibrahimovic's next game was against Leicester City where his header in the 83rd minute helped United notch up their first silverware of the season.

Then arrived his moment in the Premier League. Continuing his tradition of scoring on his debut in every top league that he has been a part of, Ibrahimovich smashed a ripper against Bournemouth to open his English top-flight account.

The next team to suffer at the hands of the marauding Swede was Southampton. Ibrahimovic scored a scintillating header against the Saints and followed up with a picture-perfect spot-kick.

United's city rivals, Manchester City, were next in the crosshairs of Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Despite eventually going down fighting, Ibrahimovich's outrageous side volley had brought the Devils back into the game.

It was precisely why Ibrahimovich's pipe bombs made him a loveable player on the pitch.

#4 Cristiano Ronaldo against Cyprus (2012 Euro Cup qualifiers)

Ronaldo silencing his critics
Ronaldo silencing his critics

In a Euro 2012 qualifier game, unfancied Cyprus conjured a late fightback to snatch a draw against Portugal. Ronaldo found himself massively obscured by two man-markers and failed to make an impact on the game.

In a post-match interview when he was asked why did the fans jeered him, Ronaldo's response seemed downright arrogant:

“It's surely because I'm good-looking, rich and a great footballer. They're jealous of me. I don't have any other explanation.”

However, Ronaldo backed up his comment with an impressive performance in the next game against the same opposition.

When the two teams resumed acquaintances again in that qualifying campaign, Cyprus were down to ten men after just half an hour. The visiting central defender, Sinisa Dobrasinovic, picked up his second yellow card after swinging his arm wildly to thwart a Ronaldo goal-bound effort.

From the resultant spot-kick, Cristiano Ronaldo blasted the ball into the net, drawing first blood for Portugal.

Ronaldo, not for the first time in his career, showcased his magical prowess with the ball. He dribbled past three defenders and the Cyprus goalkeeper to double Portugal's lead on the night.

Ronaldo aiming for a shot
Ronaldo aiming for a shot

Cyprus were soon chasing shadows of the then Real Madrid forward. Ronaldo threaded a perfectly-weighted pass to Hugo Almeida who caressed the ball home to make it 3-0 for the hosts and effectively end the game as a contest.

The final nail on Cyprus' coffin was stamped by Danny who shoved the ball in at the far post after shrugging off a defender.

Not for the first time, Ronaldo backed up his tall words with a performance that endeared him to the home faithful.

#5 Zlatan Ibrahimovich versus Liverpool (Friendly, 2001)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrating a goal for Ajax
Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrating a goal for Ajax

The man to conclude this list is Zlatan Ibrahimovich once again.

During a 2001 friendly between Ajax and Liverpool, the Swedish striker's impudent flip-flap against Liverpool defender, Stephane Honchoz in 2001, elicited this remarkable comment from Ibrahimovich:

“First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog.”

The lanky striker pulled off bedazzling tricks as Ajax rode his heroics to thump Liverpool comprehensively.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich's statement seemed a bit out of place as he hadn't showcased his potential on the biggest stages yet.

However, the Swede knew what he was talking about and then went on to score back-to-back goals against Feyenoord and FC Twente.

Published 11 May 2020, 14:14 IST
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