By Chris Wright
It’s been a heavy few days on Pies and in football generally, so we thought we’d introduce a breeze of brevity in these troubling times by focusing on the positive for a while.
In no particular order, here are 10 current Premier League players who, try as you might, are just impossible to dislike in any way, shape or form…
1. Jussi Jääskeläinen, Bolton – With more umlauts to his name (literally) than you can shake a stick at, Jussi is a faultless goalkeeper who has spent the last decade-and-a-half keeping Bolton’s ‘goals conceded’ column in somewhat respectable order over the course of his 500+ appearances for the Trotters. He may be older than Saturn’s rings (36), but he’s not aged a day in 15 years and the fact that he looks a bit like the baby from Ghostbusters II is obviously also a massive plus in his favour.
2. Shola Ameobi, Newcastle – Shola, how do I do thy greatness justice? Like a galloping Lipizzaner pony, so refined and delicate that he can only be used sparingly, Ameobi scores exactly three truly great goals a season without ever getting near being first-choice at Newcastle. Personally speaking, I’d have him on the plane to Euro 2012. Sunderland fans (and Newcastle fans for that matter) may disagree.
3. Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Tottenham – After a patchy start to life at Spurs, BAE has flourished into a more than decent left-back over the past two years, while maintaining that whiff of eccentricity that stood him out in the first place. Talks frankly (to a fault on occasion) under questioning, insists on wearing odd boots, moseyed on down to sort everything out after the London Riots and, of course, favours the ‘towering afro’ hair arrangement which, all-in-all, makes him okay by us.
4. Javier Hernandez, Man Utd – Awww, the ‘ickle pea. Bless his little cotton socks. As well as having the saddest eyes this side of Labrador puppies, Chicharito – regardless of his fractious second season at Old Trafford – obviously loves playing football more than anything else in the whole wide world. Well, other than firing off a quick pre-match prayer to our Lord and saviour.
(For the record, had he not buggered it all up by retiring at the end of last season, Edwin van der mother flippin’ Sar would’ve been a shoe-in for a place on the list. Michael Owen would not.)
5. Peter Crouch, Stoke City – Allied to the fact that he’s beaten all the odds to become a professional footballer despite sharing a physique with a malnourished stick insect, he’s also an all-round good egg is our Pete. Just a nice lad, well-spoken, intelligent, self-effacing and polite – qualities, albeit non-footballing, that are frequently absent in your average Premier League numbnut.
6. Dirk Kuyt – The son of a fisherman and a former painter and decorator no less. Dirk the Dutchman is Dutch, which is always a good start in the ‘loveable’ stakes because Dutch people are almost entirely brilliant, though – once you ally that inherent Dutchness with the work-rate of an army ant and a head of hair that looks like a plate of wet linguini – my friends, you’ve got yourself a legend.
7. Ali Al-Habsi, Wigan – Al Habsi appears to have all the makings of a ricket-dropping clanger magnet, yet he really is quite good betwixt the sticks. Plus, his day job is keeping goal…for Wigan…with only Gary Caldwell for protection. I mean, c’mon, you have to feel for the guy on that count.
8. John-Arne Riise, Fulham – What’s got four eyes, hair o’ Nordic flame and a shot powerful enough to be used to test the ballistic capabilities of Challenger 2 tanks? The Kraken, that’s what.
9. Fernando Torres, Chelsea – Look at his little face! That’s what pure joy looks like people. Be honest, regardless of club allegiances, you’re all rooting for Nando to score now aren’t you?
10. Mario Balotelli, Man City – It came as little surprise to learn that most of the hi-jinks that have been attributed to ‘Mad Mario’ Balotelli since he washed up in Manchester are false and/or media fabrications when the man himself debunked rumour after rumour during a candid interview with Parker from the Thunderbirds recently but, at the very least, Mario provides us with a one-man alternative to all the insipid, bland, non-committal-to-the-eyeballs dross that currently permeates the English top flight.
For every ‘the lads done great’ and ‘we just take every game as it comes’ that come mumbling forth, there’s a photo of Mario riding round on a small red bike with stabilisers – and that’s something to cherish.
Any loveable rascals we’ve missed? Venture south and give us a nudge in our ‘special area’…