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European football's best nicknames

Published: Monday 27 January 2014, 14.04CET
The Sphinx, The Onion, The Trout, The Little Lawnmower, Dragon-Head – journeys through time and space to reveal European football's best nicknames.
European football's best nicknames
Porto's one-time boy wizard Ricardo Quaresma ©AFP/Getty Images features

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Published: Monday 27 January 2014, 14.04CET

European football's best nicknames

The Sphinx, The Onion, The Trout, The Little Lawnmower, Dragon-Head – journeys through time and space to reveal European football's best nicknames.

Creativity in football is not exclusive to the players on the pitch or the coaches in the dugout. asked our team of correspondents and Twitter followers to come up with their favourite footballing nicknames – past and present – and these are the most shining examples. If you can think of any better ones, log in and add your comments.

The Baby-Faced Assassin
Ole Gunnar Solskjær (NOR)
The Cardiff City FC manager's striking ability – and strikingly boyish looks – earned him this popular nickname. Even at 40, he could still pass for 14.

Aleksandr Kokorin (RUS)
Russia team-mate Roman Shirokov first coined the moniker after noticing that the FC Dinamo Moskva forward bore a resemblance to Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber.

Big Ass
Dragan Vukojić (MNE)
A bizarre back-handed compliment, Guzo (big ass) implies laziness, but it was used with affection for the FK Budućnost Podgorica ace of the 1970s and 80s, whose immense skill and vision made up for any perceived lack of effort.

©Getty Images

Billy 'Cesar' McNeill

Billy McNeill (SCO)
A misheard one. Though his leadership was extraordinary, Celtic FC colleagues did not call their European Champion Clubs' Cup-winning captain Caesar, but Cesar – a reference to Rat Pack film Ocean's Eleven. The Hoops squad liked to model themselves on the movie's stars, and McNeill got Cesar Romero's role on the basis he was the only member of the young Celtic side to have a car.

The Devil
Rıdvan Dilmen (TUR)
A Fenerbahçe SK favourite at the turn of the 1990s, Dilmen was named Şeytan (the devil) by coach Kemal Dirikan at Muğlaspor because he was agile, quick and supremely cunning.

Ferenc Deák (HUN)
Another back-handed compliment, 1940s Hungary striker Ferenc Deák was known as Bamba – a Hungarian word suggesting someone slow and dull-witted – for his habit of dawdling around the centre circle, lulling opponents into a false sense of security before chasing down through balls to score. It was an effective method: he netted 66 times for Szentlőrinci AC in 1945/46.

Jan Koller (CZE)
The totemic forward never got away from the dinosaur sobriquet his height earned him as a youth player. "When I moved abroad, there was always a Czech player in the squad who would revive the nickname, so it followed me through my career," he recalled. However, he was sufficiently happy about it to attend a naming ceremony for a giraffe at Olomouc Zoo, called Dino in his honour.

Cătălin Munteanu (ROU)
One of the most experienced players at FC Dinamo Bucureşti, Munteanu spent much of his career in Spain, but could never escape the label Cap de Zmeu (dragon-head), accorded rather unkindly for the size of his head in proportion to his body.

The Eel
Dragoje Leković (MNE)
The Montenegrin goalkeeper, a regular for Yugoslavia in the 1990s, was tagged Jegulja (the eel) – or Jego for short – from the start of his career because he was long and skinny.

The Gardener
Julio Cruz (ARG)
According to legend, the former FC Internazionale Milano forward was dubbed El Jardinero because he was working as a groundsman at his first club CA Banfield in 1993 when he was asked to make up the numbers in a practice matched and impressed sufficiently to earn a contract. Alternatively, the epithet stuck after he was photographed sitting on a tractor. At Inter, he was also known as Poncherello due to a perceived likeness to a character from 1980s television show CHiPS.

Harry Potter
Ricardo Quaresma (POR)
Fans at his clubs in Portugal admired Quaresma – especially in his younger days – for the way he worked magic on the pitch, referring to him as the world's most famous boy wizard.

The Little Aeroplane
Vincenzo Montella (ITA)
Now coach of ACF Fiorentina, Montella earned the nickname L'Areoplanino (the little aeroplane) for the characteristic arms-out celebration which greeted each of the goals the 1.72m-tall striker scored.

The Little Lawnmower
Stig Tøfting (DEN)
Denmark coach Richard Møller Nielsen awarded midfielder Tøfting this unusual appellation because of the amount of work the industrious player got through in midfield.

The Little Pea
Javier Hernández (MEX)
The Real Madrid CF forward uses Chicarito (the little pea) as his shirt name. It comes from his father – also Javier Hernández – who was called Chicaro (pea) because of his striking green eyes.

The Little Snowflake
Ronald Koeman (NED)
During his time at FC Barcelona, the Netherlands midfielder was called Floquet de Neu (the little snowflake) because of his blond hair; oddly, the name came from a white albino gorilla in Barcelona Zoo.

Mickey Mouse
António Simões (POR)
It might be an insult elsewhere in the world, but 1960s and 1970s SL Benfica star Simões was dubbed Rato Mickey (Mickey Mouse) for entirely deferential reasons – a nod to the fact he was small but very energetic.

The Mosquito
Erik Mykland (NOR)
There are plenty of other mosquitos in European football, but none enjoyed the nickname – Myggen in Norwegian – quite as much as little Norway midfielder Mykland. He even took to flapping his arms mosquito-style when he scored a goal.

Vasilis Hatzipanagis (GRE)
Greece's home-grown version of Diego Maradona, Hatzipangis was a master dribbler who once said: "When I see defenders in front of me, I want to dribble around every one of them." His extraordinary footwork inspired an alias in honour of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

One Size
Fitz Hall (ENG)
Trust us – if you are a native English speaker, it is funny. See also Neil 'Dissa' Pointon.

©Getty Images

Cristián 'The Onion' Rodríguez

The Onion
Cristián Rodríguez (URU)
The Club Atlético de Madrid man came to Europe with a mighty reputation and an even better nickname. Fans in Uruguay called him El Cebolla (the onion) since his speed of foot and quick runs were enough to make opposition defences weep.

Alessandro Del Piero (ITA)
Former Juventus owner Gianni Agnelli liked to compare his strikers to top Renaissance artists, with the youthful Del Piero being bracketed alongside his older team-mate Roberto Baggio. "If Baggio is Raphael, Del Piero is Pinturicchio," he said. Pinturicchio literally means 'little painter', but was also the name used by celebrated artist Bernardino di Betto in his pomp.

The Sleeping Giant
Roman Pavlyuchenko (RUS)
While coaching Russia from 2006–10, Guus Hiddink dubbed forward Pavlyuchenko the Sleeping Giant – a tribute to the player's height and his habit of not doing much in games apart from scoring decisive goals.

Rob Rensenbrink (NED)
One of the Netherlands' key players of the 1970s, the forward was De Slangemens (Snake Man) to Dutch fans due to his lean frame and slippery dribbling.

The Sphinx
Robert Herbin (FRA)
AS Saint-Étienne's coach in their 1970s heyday, Herbin's mop of red hair made him impossible to miss in France, yet it was his enigmatic press conferences – never a word wasted – that elicited comparisons with the famous Egyptian monument.

Milan Osterc (SVN)
The erstwhile Slovenia forward played all over the world, but never escaped the nom de guerre handed to him as a teenager following his move to NK Gorica. He was labelled Jagoda (strawberry) because the region where he grew up, Prekjmurje, is famous for its strawberries.

The Tractor
Javier Zanetti (ARG)
The evergreen Internazionale right-back became El Tractor soon after his transfer to Italy in recognition of his strength, resilience and stamina on the field.

©Getty Images

Jason 'Trigger' McAteer

Jason McAteer (IRL)
Not a reference to any shooting ability, rather to the dimwit character in popular TV comedy Only Fools And Horses. McAteer nonetheless learned to live with his name, celebrating the many mishaps in his career as an after-dinner speaker. Roy Keane, who fell out with McAteer in 2002, took the joke further by calling one of his dogs Triggs.

The Trout
Günter Siebert (GER)
Later FC Schalke 04 president, Siebert helped the Gelsenkirchen club win the German title in 1958 and was known as Forelle (trout) for his ability to wriggle through defenders' grasps.

Giuseppe Bergomi (ITA)
Team-mate Giampiero Marini was astounded at the size of the teenaged Giuseppe Bergomi's moustache when he first started training with the seniors at FC Internazionale Milano. "What? Are you really 18? You look like my old uncle," he said. Bergomi was Zio (uncle) ever since.

The Wizard of Oz
Harry Kewell (AUS)
The ex-Leeds United AFC, Liverpool FC and Galatasaray AŞ forward's moments of magic – and Australian heritage – made this an open-goal moniker (which followed him to Turkey as Oz Büyücüsü).

Last updated: 28/04/15 14.22CET

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