Do some footballers simply need to be hated?

“I know people will boo me but I love that. The more you boo me the more power I get. I don’t want people to love me – I just want them to respect me.” (Daily Record)

El-Hadji Diouf is no stranger to controversy. His attitude, conduct and general demeanour invite a weekly dose of abuse that rains down from the stands. However, is the Leeds United winger the only man who enjoys such unfavourable attention? It appears that a growing number of players are developing an addiction to the hatred that comes their way. Is it fair to suggest they can only produce their best performances to an unrelenting chorus of boos?

Luis Suarez carries the weight of an entire city on his shoulders. The footballing Mecca known as Liverpool is a breeding ground for hope and expectation, desperate to relive the glory days of decades gone by. The current strikeforce is so bereft of options that if he doesn’t find the back of the net, it’s difficult to see the club picking up three points. The heavy feeling of responsibility must be overwhelming.

Liverpool’s new number 7 – a digit with royal connotations – is perhaps the only recent acquisition on Merseyside to have justified his hefty transfer fee. However, he has still attracted more criticism and ridicule than the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson combined. Putting aside the race row with Patrice Evra, there’s no denying his frequent niggles at defender’s heels coupled with his apparent lack of balance have further damaged his reputation.

However, with the Uruguayan now pigeonholed and seemingly forced down to a path of no return, is it any wonder that he persists with this playing philosophy? When supporters focus all their attention on hurling insults, they neglect supporting their own team, which serves to benefit the victimised player and his team-mates.

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The club’s supporters have stood by him, singing his name with the same gusto that was once reserved for fellow adopted striker Fernando Torres. It seems that the more boos he receives, the further he is pushed into the arms of the Liverpool faithful. This love-hate relationship he shares with English football seems to be an effective motivational tool and has propelled him to the top of the goalscoring charts this season.

Another player rapidly accumulating an undesirable reputation is Gareth Bale. The Tottenham winger is seemingly desperate to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo, right down to his egotistical nature and distinctive free-kick technique. Having once been confined at left-back, Bale is now relishing his free role at White Hart Lane and all the attention that comes with it.

Tottenham’s recent victory against Fulham saw Bale pick up a hamstring injury as well as a second consecutive booking for diving. Ashley Young has distanced himself from the ‘serial offender’ tag since attracting criticism last year, but it will be interesting to see if Bale follows suit upon his return. If not, will the Welshman seriously pursue his desire to play abroad, perhaps in Spain, where theatrics are praised rather than persecuted?

Joey Barton is certainly a man who thrives on the negative attention. It’s unsurprising that he has decided to resurrect his career in one of more notoriously ‘intense’ regions of France. Unlike Bale and Suarez though, Barton is no world-beater – despite what he might say – and therefore resembles a pantomime villain. A successor to Robbie Savage.

The tenacity of Barton’s playing style will inevitably stir a negative reaction from opposing supporters, but as we’re all aware from his thought-provoking if slightly preachy website, the man likes the sound of his own voice – even if it is followed by a string of expletives. Barton may have failed to fulfil his potential, but there was certainly a time during his stint with Manchester City and Newcastle, when you would rather have him on your team than line up against him.

As much as it pains me to say it, football needs these characters; they provide an unpredictable element to a game built on raw emotion. Gary Speed once told the aforementioned Diouf that ‘people never boo a bad player’, and while I have definitely booed a few in my time, there is still an element of truth to his words.

Supporters are unlikely to be unsettled by those who cannot make an impact on the game. When such players hear their name associated with all manner of derogatory terms, it’s like adding fuel to the fire. They thrive on the attention and strive to silence their critics by raising a single finger to their mouth or cupping their ears after putting their name on the scoresheet.

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