Football also has oddballs!

Sport is not just about heroes. It is also about great characters; they add spice to the riveting theatre that sport is. Over the last quarter of a century, the English Premier League has seen many of them.

Eric Cantona... widely regarded as the greatest player to have donned the Manchester United colours, the French forward earned notoriety for kicking a fan, in true kung fu style.   -  Getty Images

Eric Cantona

He is widely regarded as the greatest player ever for Manchester United. The French forward was known not just for his sublime skills to score and create goals. One of his most talked about kicks, in fact, was not directed at the ball, not a player even. During an away match against Crystal Palace in 1995, he kicked at a fan, in true kung fu style. It earned him a prison sentence, which, was then reduced to community service.

About the affair, he said famously at a press conference: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you.”

He said nothing more. Reporters were left to ponder about the meaning of that statement, for years.

Meanwhile, Cantona showed he had shooting skills of a different sort too: he began to act in films and plays, one of which was directed by his wife Rachida Brakni.

Luis Suarez

Maybe it was in the fitness of things that Luis Suarez arrived at the Premier League while still serving a suspension for biting a player. That was in 2010 and he was with Ajax. His dental adventures would, of course, attract bigger attention globally later.

He may have been dubbed the Cannibal of Ajax by a Dutch newspaper, but he had scored 111 goals from 159 matches for his club before he reached Anfield as Liverpool’s most expensive signing ever. Over the next four years, he proved he was worth the £22.8 million the club spent on him; he scored frequently and was named the PFA Player of the Year in 2014, his last year at the Premier League.

But, he also exasperated the Liverpool management on quite a few occasions. He was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United and biting Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea. He had also handled the ball before scoring against Mansfield Town in 2013.

Mario Balotelli

When Luis Suarez left Anfield for Barcelona in 2014, Liverpool lost not just its most lethal striker, but its most colourful character. As a replacement, the team management could not have thought of not many better than Mario Balotelli.

Mario Balotelli, the bad boy of football. He was fined two weeks’ salary by City because of poor discipline and received a 28-day ban from driving and a £800 fine for over-speeding while he was with Liverpool.   -  Getty Images

It was his second stint in the Premier League, having played for Manchester City for a couple of seasons. He was fined two weeks’ salary by City because of poor discipline and received a 28-day ban from driving and a £800 fine for overspeeding while he was with Liverpool.

He did some good deeds off the field too, like helping a schoolboy resolve the problem with his bully and giving £1,000 to a homeless man after hitting the jackpot at a Manchester casino.

Paul Gascoigne

He was an incredibly gifted midfielder and among the most popular sportsmen of England. But he was a troubled man, too.

Gazza, who played for Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough and Everton among others, had to deal with alcoholism as well as mental issues.

Paul Gascoigne... an immensely gifted midfielder but had to grapple with emotional problems and alcoholism.   -  Getty Images

He had a deprived childhood and had suffered from twitches. Yet, he was able to take care of his family at a young age by becoming a professional footballer.

Dennis Bergkamp

He was one of the most loved foreigners to play in the Premier League ever. He served Arsenal with distinction for over a decade, scoring 120 goals from 423 matches and playing a major role in 10 major title triumphs.

When he retired in 2006, the Arsenal fans celebrated a Bergkamp Day. In his honour, an exhibition match between his former club Ajax and Arsenal was also organised; it was kicked off by his father.

Bergkamp was nicknamed the Non-Flying for his fear of travelling by air. While his team-mates flew for away matches, he travelled by car or train.

Roy Keane

He was revered for his leadership qualities — he captained Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland for long periods — as well as his aggression. In 2004, Pele picked the midfielder as one of the world’s 100 greatest living players.

Roy Keane... revered for his leadership qualities, as well as his aggression.   -  Getty Images

According to The Times, he was also one of the hardest footballers of all time. Alf-Inge Haland would testify that. The Leeds United defender had accused of Keane feigning an injury in 1997 following a tackle, but four years later the Irishman had his revenge, though his rival had moved to Manchester City.

He viciously kicked the Norwegian’s right knee. “An eye for an eye,” an unrepentant Keane would later say.

Stuart Pearce

He named his autobiography Psycho, not because he was particularly fond of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film of 1960. The former England captain was called Psycho by his fans for the passion with which he played his football. He was an uncompromising defender who could scare his opponents, as he did at Nottingham Forest for a dozen seasons.

Joey Barton

More than three million people follow him on Twitter. He delights them with his outspokenness and quotes. Since he is serving a 13-month ban for gambling on football matches, he has plenty of time to tweet, too.

The man whose last appearance in the Premier League was for Burnley has also spent time in jail; he had assaulted two men in a Liverpool restaurant. He had also assaulted his team-mate at Manchester City, Ousmano Dabo. He had once admitted that he was alcoholic.

Joey Barton...controversy is his middle name.   -  Getty Images

Now he is looking forward to his new role as a radio commentator.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto

He must be just about the only top player in the world to publicly say that football wasn’t his passion and that he played it for money. “Football is just a job…there are more important things in life than kicking a ball around,” said the French-born Cameroonian defender who spent much of his career at Tottenham Hotspur.

He, however, rejected the offers to become a porn star after reports came out, quoting Tottenham coach Henry Redknapp, that he wanted to act in adult movies. He laughed off the whole story.

He made a sincere effort to be at home at Tottenham and worked with the local community, especially after the London riots of 2011.

Jody Craddock

He is football’s parallel to Jack Russell, the former England wicketkeeper who was also a talented painter. The former Wolverhampton Wanderers defender is perhaps the only Premier League footballer to have a conducted an exhibition of paintings. He is equally at home in sketching David Beckham and Audrey Hepburn.