European football's best nicknames
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
As we mark World Animal Day, UEFA.com hails Snake Man, the Trout, the Eel, Dino, Dragon Head and the Mosquito – all among our favourite footballing pseudonyms.
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Creativity in football is not exclusive to the players on the pitch or the coaches in the dugout. UEFA.com 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.
The Baby-Faced Assassin
Ole Gunnar Solskjær (NOR)
The former Manchester United forward's striking ability – and strikingly boyish looks – earned him this popular nickname. Even at 44, he could still pass for 14.
Aleksandr Kokorin (RUS)
Russia team-mate Roman Shirokov first coined the moniker after noticing that the forward bore a resemblance to Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber. The Zenit man is now top of the charts in the FedEx Performance Zone.
Dragan Vujović (MNE)
A bizarre back-handed compliment, 'Guzo' (big ass) implies laziness, but it was used with affection for the Budućnost Podgorica ace of the 1970s and 80s, whose immense skill and vision made up for any perceived lack of effort.
Billy McNeill (SCO)
A misheard one. Though his leadership was extraordinary, Celtic 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.
César Azpilicueta (ESP)
Chelsea players and fans took to the defender as soon as he arrived at Stamford Bridge, though those customary English difficulties with pronouncing foreign names led to him being renamed 'Dave' both on the terraces and in the training ground. Learn how to pronounce his name correctly here.
Rıdvan Dilmen (TUR)
A Fenerbahçe favourite at the turn of the 1990s, Dilmen was dubbed '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 SZAC 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 tolerated it sufficiently to attend a naming ceremony for a giraffe at Olomouc Zoo, called Dino in his honour.
Cătălin Munteanu (ROU)
Former Romania midfielder 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.
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.
Julio Cruz (ARG)
According to legend, the ex-Internazionale forward was labelled 'El Jardinero' because he was working as a groundsman at his first club Banfield in 1993 when he was asked to make up the numbers in a practice match and impressed enough to land 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 1970s television show CHiPS.
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, naming him in honour of the world's most famous boy wizard.
The Little Aeroplane
Vincenzo Montella (ITA)
Now coach of AC Milan, Montella invited the nickname 'L'Aeroplanino' (little aeroplane) for the characteristic arms-out celebration that greeted each of the goals the 1.72m 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 Bayern forward uses 'Chicarito' (little pea) as his shirt name. It comes from his father – also Javier Hernández – who was called 'Chicaro' (pea) due to his striking green eyes.
The Little Snowflake
Ronald Koeman (NED)
During his Barcelona days, the defender was dubbed 'Floquet de Neu' (little snowflake) on account of his blond hair; oddly, the name came from a white albino gorilla in Barcelona zoo.
António Simões (POR)
It might be an insult elsewhere in the world, but 1960s and 70s Benfica star Simões was christened 'Rato Mickey' (Mickey Mouse) for entirely deferential reasons – a nod to the fact he was small but very energetic.
Erik Mykland (NOR)
There are plenty of other mosquitos in European football, but none enjoyed the alias – 'Myggen' in Norwegian – quite as much as little Norway midfielder Mykland. He even took to flapping his arms mosquito-style when he scored.
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 a sobriquet in honour of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
Fitz Hall (ENG)
Trust us – if you are a native English speaker, it is funny. See also Neil 'Dissa' Pointon.
Cristián Rodríguez (URU)
The former Atlético Madrid man came to Europe with a mighty reputation and an even better nickname. Fans in Uruguay called him 'El Cebolla' (onion) since his speed of foot and quick runs were enough to make opposition defences weep.
Alessandro Del Piero (ITA)
Ex-Juventus owner Gianni Agnelli liked to compare his strikers to top Renaissance artists, with the youthful Del Piero being bracketed alongside 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 bagging decisive goals.
Rob Rensenbrink (NED)
One of the Netherlands' key players of the 1970s, the forward was 'De Slangemens' (Snake Man) to Dutch supporters due to his lean frame and slippery dribbling.
Robert Herbin (FRA)
St-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 to the famous Egyptian monument.
Milan Osterc (SVN)
The erstwhile Slovenia forward played all over the world, but never shook off the nom de guerre handed to him as a teenager following his move to Gorica. He was labelled 'Jagoda' (strawberry) since the region where he grew up, Prekjmurje, is famous for strawberries.
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 pitch.
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 his many career mishaps 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'.
Günter Siebert (GER)
Later Schalke 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 Inter. "What? Are you really 18? You look like my old uncle," he said. Bergomi was 'Zio' (uncle) thereafter.
The Wizard of Oz
Harry Kewell (AUS)
The ex-Leeds United, Liverpool and Galatasaray forward's moments of magic – and Australian heritage – made this an open-goal moniker (which followed him to Turkey as Oz Büyücüsü).