The antihero, the flawed protagonist, the shitehouse. We love to see them fail, we love to see them prosper. From Tony Soprano to Patrick Bateman to Walter White, we are hardwired to love these characters – they justify our flaws and help ease our internal conflicts – and ultimately, we can’t keep our prying and sadistic eyes off of them.
Diego Costa: a big, snarling brute of a man. This is a man who would sell you his own grandmother if it meant winning a penalty against a mid-table team. A man who provokes, pulls, grabs, kicks and punches his way into the elite striker discussions, and how boring would football be without characters like him? If you’re a fan of a premier league club, I imagine one of the games that troubled you the most between 2014-2017 was that of Diego Costa’s Chelsea. Costa himself describes his style of play as “strong and noble”, a sentiment presumably not echoed by fellow pro Seamus Coleman, whose own goal against Costa’s Chelsea was antagonistically over-celebrated by the Spanish striker.
Sergio Ramos is one of the greatest defenders to play the game – but my word is that man a shithouse. The entire nation (and presumably the entirety of several other nations) looked on in glee as Eric Dier clattered into him on his own goal line in the most fantastically needless manner. Ramos had become something of a pantomime villain after he judo-threw Liverpool’s talismanic forward Mo Salah, ending his Champions League final prematurely, but this tackle from Dier ignited England – as if the very fact it was on Señor Shithouse himself had given the game an extra lease of life.
Jose Mourinho is a folkloric figure in global football. An undeniably excellent manager, he is often the subject of ridicule due in large to his childlike petulance and underhand tactics of goading managers, the press, fans and often his own players. A man who delivers lines such as “I won’t lose my hair speaking about (Antonio) Conte”, who shoves fingers into opposition coaches’ eyes and who uses those same fingers to aggressively point out how many Premier League titles he has masterminded. This man has given us more drama over the last 15 years than ITV.
What do these characters have in common? They are unquestionably shitehouses – correct, but they are more than that. They are serial winners, and the narrative of nearly every situation they find themselves in runs through them. At their respective peaks they are equally unstoppable. Anyone who says they wouldn’t want a peak Sergio Ramos captaining their side into a Champions League final is either lying or an idiot. Ricardo Carvalho once said of Mourinho “he is used to winning, and when he doesn’t win it gets a little more difficult to live with that”. One way or another, these odious but brilliant characters find their way to centre stage and on their pursuit to the top, they will drag anyone and anything through the mud with them.
As humans, we are psychologically disposed to be drawn towards the antihero, and most of this boils down to the fact that we see us in them. We all universally adore Juan Mata but how many of us have constructed a global humanitarian charity? How many of us however have scored a last minute winner on FIFA and aggressively and silently gestured a ‘shush’ to our opponent? Yep – thought so.
There is a distinction that has to be made here. We are not endeared to people like Roy Keane or Graeme Souness. No-one identified with Roy Keane’s thunderous leg breaking challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland. No-one identifies with Graeme Souness’ constant seething rage, as Ahmed Shooble addresses succinctly here. People do identify however with Mourinho playfully running onto the Soccer Aid pitch to tackle Olly Murs, or Sergio Ramos elaborately cupping his ears to Seville fans after a Panenka penalty.
So let us embrace them, these headline creators. As much as you snarl and gripe at them, as much as you detest everything about them, as much as they fill you with uncontrollable rage….how bloody boring would football be without them?