Classic Nicknames of Football

We've previously looked at the best football club nicknames around, so now it's time to turn our attention to the best footballers' nicknames. And we're not talking about rubbish ones like Keano, Robbo and Wazza, which are just basically changing a couple of letters in the player's name, we're talking about proper nicknames...

No.1 "The Butcher of Bilbao" Andoni Goikoetxea.

If ever a footballer's nickname conjured up a certain image it's this one.

The Athletic Bilbao hardman gained infamy in the early 1980's for his crunching, injury-inducing challenges on Barcelona playmakers Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster.

No.2 "The Maradona of the Carpathians" Gheorghe Hagi.

He was from Romania. So are the Carpathians. He was brilliant, and had a sweet left foot, like Maradona.

No.3 "Matrix". Marco Materazzi.

Apparently Roberto Scarpini who worked for the Inter website, gave him the nickname during a commentary and it stuck. It relates to the Keanu Reeves film but no-one seems to know exactly why Scarpini chose it though!

No.4 "Il Soldatino" (the Little Soldier). Angelo Di Livio.

Di Livio's fantastic work-rate, stamina and attitude for Juventus and Fiorentina all fitted the nickname, but apparently he was given it by Juve teammate Roberto Baggio because of his distinctive upright running style up and down the right wing - chest out, shoulders back, arms by his sides.

No.5 "The Iron Curtain". Rinat Dasayev.

Clever. See what they did here for one of the best keepers of the 80s? A nod to the imaginary barrier between the West and the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc, and also the physical barrier of Dasayev's fantastic shot-stopping ability.

No.6 "Pitbull" Edgar Davids.

The Dutch midfielder was given the name by Louis van Gaal because of his aggressive, all-action style.

To be fair, he could play a bit too.

Edgar Davids AJAX

No.7 "Psycho" Stuart Pearce.

A great nickname for a huge fans favourite. Nottingham Forest supporters gave him the nickname in the 80s for his crunching tackles at left back. England fans adopted it too having seen the same 100% no-nonsense style in the three lions shirt.

No.8 "Der Kaiser" (the Emperor) Franz Beckenbauer.

A fitting name for the legendary German defender thanks to his regal style and leadership.

No.9 "The Swan of Utrecht" Marco van Basten.

Was it because he had a long neck and belonged to the Queen ?

Or because of his combination of a powerful, yet graceful and elegant style and the fact he was born in the Dutch city of Utrecht ?

You decide.

No.10 "L'Abatino" (Little Abbot).Gianni Rivera.

The golden boy of Italian football in the 1960s and 70s (indeed this was Rivera's other nickname - "Bambino d'Oro"), but outspoken journalist Gianni Brera labelled him L'Abatino - the Little Abbot (an abbot being the head of a monastery) because he thought Rivera's silky style was too nice and that he wasn't willing to do the rough stuff!

No.11 "El Zorro del Desierto" (The Desert Fox).Jared Borgetti.

One of Mexico's most prolific goalscorers, popularly known as "El Zorro del Desierto" (The Desert Fox) - a reference to his birthplace and his first team - Atlas, known as Los Zorros (the Foxes).

No.12 "Razor" Neil Ruddock.

The hulking centre-half claimed that he liked the sound of Canadian boxer Donovan "Razor" Ruddock who'd fought Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, so persuaded his team-mates to start using it!

No.13 "Tarzan" Enrico Annoni.

Tough and uncompromising Italian defender who revelled in the ‘Tarzan' nickname during his Serie A days with Torino and Roma - he apparently paid for a banner to display to the Roma fans saying "Tarzan Thanks You!"

No. 14 "The Professor" Mario Zagallo.

Having retired from playing in 1965 and moved into coaching, he soon got a reputation as one of Brazil's most tactically aware coaches, which quickly lead to the nickname.

No.15 "Il Polmoni di Platini" (Platini's Lungs) Massimo Bonini

Great nickname for an underrated player. Bonini was the non-stop midfield dynamo in the fantastic Juventus side of the early 80s. He did the legwork for flair players like Platini, hence the name.

No.16 "l'Aeroplanino" (the Little Airplane). Vincenzo Montella.

The diminutive striker got the name at Genoa, when he first started marking his goals with his trademark arms-out celebration. He carried on scoring and celebrating at Sampdoria and Roma.

No.17 "El Magico" Jorge González

El Salvador's greatest player, he got the nickname having moved to Cádiz in Spain in ‘82 & impressing with his skill. A hero of Diego Maradona, who once said "He's without doubt amongst the greatest 10 players I've ever seen play".

No.18 "Il Genio" (the Genius) Dejan Savicevic.

Mercurial Montenegrin with a magical left foot, given the nickname during his 6 years at Milan in the 90s.

No.19 "Il Puma" (the Puma) Emerson

The defensive-midfielder got the nickname during his time with Roma, endlessly chasing down opponents with a powerful, but elegant style to his game. He was due to be Brazil's captain at the 2002 WC but dislocated his shoulder.

No.20 "Magic Box" Gianfranco Zola

One of the great Italian playmakers of the 1990s, this little genius was given the name by the Stamford Bridge faithful during his seven years at Chelsea from 1996 to 2003, a nod to his talent, stature and his ability to produce something special out of nowhere.

No.21 "The Lion of Vienna" Nat Lofthouse.

The great Bolton Wanderers centre-forward got the name in 1952 after the England vs Austria match, scoring a goal after being elbowed in the face, battered from behind and being brought down by the keeper.

No.22 "The Cat" Peter Bonetti.

Chelsea legend of the 1960s and 70s who got the name because of his agility and lightning reflexes between the sticks.

No.23 "El Flaco" (the Slim One). César Luis Menotti.

With his wiry frame, this nickname does exactly what it says on the tin for the legendary chain-smoking Argentinan coach.

No.24 "The Animal" Edmundo.

The Brazilian striker got the nickname in the early 90s. Some say it was based on his striking instinct, others because of his infamous partying.

No.25 "The Flying Pig" Tommy Lawrence.

The legendary Liverpool keeper was affectionately called this because he still made spectacular diving saves despite his stocky fourteen stone body.

No.26 "Myggen" (The Mosquito) Erik Mykland.

Gifted little Norwegian who buzzed around the midfield. He even started celebrating his goals like a mosquito by flapping his arms!

No.27 "O'Banco e' Napule" (the Bank of Naples). Hasse Jeppson.

Given the tag in 1952 when Napoli broke the transfer record to sign the Swedish striker from Atalanta for 105m Lira.?

No.28 "Plæneklipper" (The Lawn Mower) Stig Tøfting.

One of Denmark's midfield enforcers in the 90s, Tøfting got the nickname for "covering every blade of grass" during his time with AGF, Hamburger SV and MSV Duisburg.

No.29 "El Príncipe" (The Prince) Enzo Francescoli.

A fitting nickname for the Uruguayan playmaker's elegant style on the ball.

No.30 "Big Phil" / "Felipão" Luiz Felipe Scolari.

The World Cup winning Brazilian manager was known as Felipão in his homeland, "Big Phil" was the English take on his Portuguese name. Apparently he wasn't a fan of it.

No.31 "Tante Kathe" (Aunt Kathy). Rudi Völler.

Given to him by teammate Thomas Berthold - both were from the town of Hanau near Frankfurt, where old women with grey-permed hair were sometimes referred to as "Tante Kathe's". Quality work Thomas.

No.32 "Pal e Fierr" (Iron Pole). Giuseppe Bruscolotti.

The right-back was at Napoli for 16 years & became a cult hero at the San Paolo - getting the name for his strength, tackling & never-say-die attitude. Captain from 1978-84, before handing over to Maradona.

No.33 "The Black Spider" Lev Yashin.

A fitting nickname for the legendary Russian keeper, with his iconic all-black outfit and fantastic acrobatic saves.

He also became one of football's most famous one club men, becoming synonymous with Dynamo Moscow throughout the 1950s and 1960s after spending his entire 20 year career there.

Lev Yashin The Black Spider

No.34 "El Mariscal" (The Marshal) Roberto Perfumo.

One of Argentina's great defenders and captain of the team at the 1974 World Cup.

No.35 "Bobo" Christian Vieri.

Taken from his father Bob Vieri, who was a professional footballer in Italy and Australia. He carried it throughout his career and was also occasionally nicknamed "Il Toro" (the Bull) for his powerful style.

No.36 "L'Ange Vert" (the Green Angel) Dominique Rocheteau.

Classy winger in those fantastic green shirts of Saint-Étienne in the 1970s.

No.37 "El Loco" (the Madman) Ramón Quiroga.

The Peru keeper certainly lived up to his nickname in the 1978 World Cup when he appeared out of nowhere to floor Poland's Grzegorz Lato in the other half of the pitch !

No.38 "The Non-Flying Dutchman" Dennis Bergkamp.

The elegant forward suffered from aviophobia (the fear of flying) and had to find alternative methods of travelling to European matches or international tournaments.

No.39 "Mächtig Maus" (Mighty Mouse) Kevin Keegan.

Following his move to the German side Hamburger SV in 1977, the Volksparkstadion fans named him after the cartoon superhero, due to Keegan's 5ft-8in size and all-action style.

No.40 "The Galloping Major" Ferenc Puskás.

When Kispest AC became the Hungarian Army team in the 1940's and were renamed to Budapest Honvéd, their players were given a military rank. So their great striker was given this tremendous nickname.

No.41 "El Buitre" (the Vulture) Emilio Butragueño.

The name started in the 1980's during his days with Real Madrid's youth team due to his penalty-box poaching prowess.

It also coined one of the great football partnership nicknames, "La Quinta del Buitre", for a group of five homegrown players at Real Madrid at the same time, lead by Butragueño.

No.42 "The Baby-faced Assassin" Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Youthful looks.

Deadly finishing.

A great nickname from the Old Trafford faithful in the 90's for their Norwegian striker.

No.43 "Il Divin Codino" (the Divine Ponytail) Roberto Baggio.

He played football like a God. And he had a ponytail.  

Roberto Baggio Ponytail

No.43 "La Brujita" (the Little Witch) Juan Sebastián Verón.

The Veróns keep it in the family - his dad, the great Estudiantes midfielder Juan Ramón Verón, was nicknamed La Bruja (the Witch).

No.45 "Penna Bianca" (the White Feather) Fabrizio Ravanelli.

Apparently Rav had already gone grey by the age of 14.

No.46 "Chopper" Ron Harris.

Chelsea hardman from the 1970s, his name came from his love of chopping down the opposition.

No.47 "Il Bisonte" (the Bison) Gunnar Nordahl.

The Swedish legend's power was duly acknowledged by Milan fans with this tag.

No.48 "Batigol" Gabriel Batistuta.

One of the most famous footballer's nicknames of the 1990s.

Not the most subtle, but given his phenomenal goal rate at Fiorentina, it's pretty appropriate.

No.49 "El Pibe" (the Kid) Carlos Valderrama.

His dad was a pro-footballer and one of his team-mates called it him when he used to go along to the matches. It stuck.

No.50 "Der Bomber" (the Bomber) Gerd Müller.

Or Der Bomber der Nation (the Nation's Bomber). A great German goal-scorer.

No.51 "Crazy Horse" Emlyn Hughes.

Given the tag early in his Liverpool career after rugby tackling Newcastle United's Albert Bennett.

No.52 "Pequeño Buda" (Little Buddha) Iván de la Peña.

Small shaven-headed midfielder. Genius at times with Barcelona and Espanyol.

No.53 "Totò" Salvatore Schillaci.

Shot to fame as the Golden Boot winner at Italia'90. Why "Totò" ? Simple, it's the shortened form of Salvatore.

No.54 "O Fenômeno" (the Phenomenon) The great Ronaldo.

Self explanatory, but if you've been living on the moon and don't know why, just type his name into YouTube...

No.55 "De Stofzuiger" (the Vacuum Cleaner) Willy van de Kerkhof.

The Dutch midfielder got the tag in the 70s as he quickly chased everything down with manic determination.

No.56 "O Canhão" (the Cannon) Eder.

Why ? The Brazilian left winger could kick a football really, really hard.

No.57 "Der Afro" (the Afro) Paul Breitner.

Does what it says on the tin for the great German.

No.58 "Bello di Notte" (Beauty at Night) Zbigniew Boniek.

Boniek, one of the greatest Polish footballers of all-time, got the name from Juventus president Gianni Agnelli due to his sublime performances for the club in European night matches during the 1980's.

Zbigniew Boniek Juventus

No.59 "The Wizard of Dribble" Sir Stanley Matthews.

When it comes to famous footballers' nicknames, this is one of the daddys.

Fast and skilful, the ball seemingly glued to his boot. What a player.

No.60 "Chippy" Liam Brady

Surprisingly it's nothing to do with that lovely left foot of his. When he moved to Arsenal aged 15 his mum told the scout he'd be ok as long as he was given lots of chips. "We'll call him Chippy" said the scout. And they did, for the next 8 years.

No.61 "der Blonde Engel" (the Blond Angel) Bernd Schuster

That mop of golden hair. And those heavenly passes from his position in the centre of midfield. You get the picture.

Schuster was one of the finest 1980s playmakers, and whilst his disagreements and early retirement from the West German national team meant that his skills went largely unseen by a global audience, he had a great thirteen years in Spain with their three giant clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.

No.62 "Sparky" Mark Hughes

He got the name aged 7, after a kids comic called Sparky, because it (almost) rhymed with Mark.

No.63 "El Niño" (the Kid) Fernando Torres.

Atlético Madrid fans gave him the tag as he came up through the youth ranks and made his 1st team debut aged 17.

No.64 "Bam Bam" Iván Zamorano.

Powerful, aggressive Chilean striker named after that surprisingly strong little Flintstones character.

He formed one of South America's greatest strike partnerships alongside Marcelo Salas, together scoring 59 goals for La Roja in the 1990s.

No.65 "Rombo di Tuono" (Rumble of Thunder) Luigi Riva.

The legendary Cagliari forward Luigi Riva was given the name by Italian journalist Gianni Brera, due to his strength, speed & powerful left foot shot.

No.66 ""Choccy" Brian McClair.

We love this one. Chocolate Eclair, Choccy McClair. And that, ladies & gentleman, is how you got a nickname in the 1980s!

No.67 "The Tin Man" Ted McMinn.

The Scottish winger got the nickname at Rangers in the 1980s for his unusual running style. He went on to achieve cult-status at Derby County, becoming a huge fan-favourite during his 5 years at the Baseball Ground.

No.68 "La Farfalla Granata" (The Maroon Butterfly) Gigi Meroni.

Silky right winger who would almost float past defenders for Torino (and maroon being the colour of their shirts).

No.69 "Lo Zio" (the Uncle). Giuseppe Bergomi.

Bergomi got the name after playing in the 1982 World Cup Final as an 18 year old, but looking like a veteran with his bushy tache & even bushier eyebrows. Here he is at Inter that same year - the 18yr old Uncle...

No.70 "The Mozart of Football" Matthias Sindelar.

Arguably Austria's greatest ever player, with a nickname to match, given because of his elegant style and beautiful dribbling. He was also known as "Der Papierene" (The Paper Man) because of his slight frame.

No.71 "Valdanito" Hernán Crespo.

Affectionate tag given to the Argentine striker in the 90s after comparisons to fellow free-scoring countryman from the 80s - Jorge Valdano.

No.72 "Canhotinha de Ouro" (Golden Left Foot) Gérson.

A nickname that does exactly what it says on the tin for the great Brazilian midfielder.

No.73 "Billy" Alessandro Costacurta.

How to get a nickname for the rest of your career in Milan... Apparently when he was in the Milan youth team he was a big basketball fan and Milan's team, Olimpia Milano, had their sponsor "Billy" emblazoned across the shirt!

No.74 "Tonka" Ray Stewart.

West Ham United's hard-tackling right back, one of football's greatest penalty takers who was famous for powering in his unstoppable shots from the 12 yard mark, was named after the toy manufacturer - who's toy trucks were famously marketed as indestructible.

No.75 "Das Kopfball-Ungeheuer" (the Header Beast) Horst Hrubesch.

Got the tag at Rot-Weiss Essen in the 70s thanks to his mighty heading prowess. At Hamburger SV he formed a deadly partnership with right-back Mani Kaltz, powering home his crosses time & again.?

No.76 "Batman" Marco Simone.

No one seems quite sure where the Batman tag came from, but the brilliant little Italian forward had a tattoo to match it.

No.77 "Signor Rovesciata" (Mr Overhead Kick) Carlo Parola.

During his 15 years at Juventus in the 40s & 50s, Parola became so renowned for his use of the overhead kick that he even got a nicknamed it. His image even became famous as the symbol on Panini stickers.

No.78 "El Rey del Metro Cuadrado" (the King of the Square Metre) Carlos Caszely.

One of the great goal poachers of South Americn football, his finishing & skill in tight areas in the box earned the legendary little Colo Colo and Chile forward this fantastic nickname.

No.79 "Het Slangenmens" (The Snakeman / The Contortionist) Rob Rensenbrink.

This one's all about the beautiful slick dribbling style and lean frame of the great Dutch left winger.

No.80 "Sicknote" Darren Anderton.

The talented winger had injury problems throughout his career and was given the nickname by team-mate Andy Gosney at his first club, Portsmouth.

No.81 "Il Baron" (The Baron) Franco Causio.

Great nickname for the classy Italian who starred on the right wing for Juventus and Italy for 11 years in the 1970s and 80s,

His great moustache, big hair and educated upbringing also suited the tag to perfection.

Franco Causio Il Baron

No.82 "El Maestro" (the Teacher) Óscar Tabárez.

He's coached in Spain & Italy as well as his native Uruguay but the name isn't because of his coaching ability and techniques, it's because he was actually a teacher before embarking on his 30 year career.

No.83 "The Guv'nor". Paul Ince.

Slightly unusual as it's claimed he coined the title himself at West Ham United and asked for it to be used at Old Trafford when he made the move to Manchester United. Ince claims to hate it but he did have the number plate "GUV 8".

No.84 "La Zanzara" (the Mosquito). Roberto Anzolin.

An apt nickname for such a relatively small and slender keeper. But despite being only 5 foot 9 the Juventus legend remains one of the greatest Italian keepers of the 60s & 70s.

No.85 "Nijinsky" Colin Bell.

The Manchester City legend's athleticism, stamina and tireless work-rate earned him this fantastic nickname from the Kippax after the great thoroughbred racehorse of the late 1960s/70s.

No.86 "El Chino" (the Chinese) Álvaro Recoba.

The Uruguayan footballing enigma (genius at times, frustratingly lacklustre at others) acquired this unusual nickname due to his Oriental features.

No.87 "El Tractor" (the Tractor) Javier Zanetti.

The Inter legend later became known as "Il Capitano" but to us he will always be "El Tractor" due to his tireless energy up & down the flanks.

What a player.

No.88 "The Volkswagen" Karl-Heinz Schnellinger.


One of the finest left-backs of the 60s & 70s, he had a great career, especially his 11 years in Italy.

No.89 "Spiderman". Walter Zenga.

Fantastically flamboyant keeper got the nickname 'Spiderman' during his 16 years at Inter due to his agility & reflexes.

No.90 "Johnny Bråttom" (Johnny in a Hurry). Johnny Ekström.

The pacy Swede had a variety of nicknames all relating to his tremendous speed - "The Kallebäck-Express" (he was from Kallebäck), "Il Ciclone" (the cyclone) but our favourite is from his homeland - "Johnny Bråttom", meaning Johnny-in-a-Hurry. Quality.

No.91 "Die Katze von Anzing" (the Cat from Anzing) Sepp Maier.

The classic cat reference for one of the greatest German keepers of all-time, this being a standard nickname for goalkeepers given their agility and ability to leap around. Anzing, in Bavaria, was where he was from.

No.92 "Trigger". Jason McAteer.

Named after the Only Fools and Horses character because he wasn't the sharpest tool in the box. When McAteer signed for Liverpool, Rob Jones was already known as Trigger so he was renamed "Dave" for his spell at Anfield.

No.93 "Il Professorino" (The Little Professor). Gianluca Pessotto.

He got the name from Juve fans because he had interest in philosophy & literature, wore glasses and even obtained a law degree during his career. Cracking player too ??

No.94 "Santillana". Carlos Alonso González.

With no internet in the 1970s and 80s, the only ways of learning about foreign players was limited to (very) occasional matches on TV or radio, World Soccer magazine and Panini Euros albums and World Cup albums. So, in 1980 when we opened a Panini European Championship packet and pulled out a player called Carlos Alonso "Santillana", we would have no idea why he had the nickname. It's actually taken from his birthplace, Santillana del Mar, and literally everyone used it for him, which makes us wonder if there's a striker out there in the English league called "Skegness".

No.95 "Budgie". Johnny Byrne.

The Palace and West Ham United striker from the 50s & 60s was nicknamed "Budgie" due to his constant chattering!

No.96 "El Titán" (The Titan). Martín Palermo.

You could pretty much guess the style of the Boca Juniors legend from his nickname. The mullet-haired colossus was a great goal poacher and became Boca Juniors's record goalscorer.

No.97 "Mandrake". Mario Corso.

The great Inter left winger had a number of nicknames, Mariolino & "God's Left Foot" were 2 others, but "Mandrake" is our favourite - taken from the comic strip character "Mandrake the Magician".

No.98 "Don Leo". Leo Beenhakker.

The Dutch gaffer got this tag of respect after he was appointed Real Madrid manager in the mid 80s & won 3 titles on the bounce. His dry wit & love of cigars all added to the image.

No.99 "El Burrito" (The Little Donkey) Ariel Ortega.

The Little Donkey. In footballing terms, Ariel Ortega was anything but. Ortega starred for River Plate but failed to settle when he tried his luck away from Argentina. However, he is still widely regarded as one of greatest Argentine number 10s.

No.100 "Toni Doppelpack" (Toni Double-Pack) Toni Polster.

Austria's all-time leading goalscorer got the nickname during his time with Austria Vienna because of his reputation for scoring two goals in matches. As well as a great scoring rate with the national team and in the Austrian Bundesliga, Polster had a decent record in Spain with Sevilla, Logroñés and Rayo Vallecano and in Germany with 1. FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Surprisingly, he won the Austrian Footballer of the Year award only twice, in 1986 and 1997.

No.101 "The High Dam" Essam El Hadary.

One of the greatest African keepers of all-time, Essam El Hadary's nickname was due to his imposing size.

No.102 "El Apache" Carlos Tevez.

Carlos Tevez was born near Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, in a tough neighbourhood called Ejército de Los Andes, which, in the 80s, was given the tag "Fuerte Apache" (Fort Apache). It was this name which gave rise to Tevez's own nickname, El Apache, quite fitting given his powerful, tenacious style of play.

Argentina even produced a dramatised television series based on Tevez's rise in the neighbourhood, titled Apache: The Life of Carlos Tevez.

No.103 "El Muñeco" (the Doll) Marcelo Gallardo.

Marcelo Gallardo was given the nickname in the early 1990s when he was breaking through as one the youngest, and smallest, players at River Plate.

No.104 "El Bocha" Ricardo Bochini.

An appropriate nickname in more ways than one for Independiente legend Ricardo Bochini. The "Boch" was obviously taken from his surname to create el Bocha, but, rather craftily, this also means the Ball in Spanish, quite apt for a player who was renowned throughout South American football in the 1970s and early 1980s as one of the finest passers of the ball that the continent had seen.

No.105 "El Hijo del Viento" (Son of the Wind) Claudio Caniggia.

Given that he could run the 100m in less than 11 seconds, it's no surprise to discover that this nickname was down to Caniggia's speed. His explosive pace meant that he was always considered a dangerous opponent, although he rarely stayed more than a few seasons at each of his clubs. He's also one of the few big-name players to have crossed the great Argentininian divide and played for both Boca Juniors and River Plate, the most fierce of all football rivalries in Argentina.

No.106 "o Furacão" (the Hurricane) Jairzinho.

The power, the speed, the strength - such a great nickname for the brilliant Brazilian who scored in every one of their matches at the 1970 World Cup.

No.107 "El Pulpo" (the Octopus) Luis Arconada.

One of the greatest Spanish keepers of all-time, the Octopus nickname was a reference to the fact that Arconada seemed to have arms everywhere, seemingly able to save everything that was thrown at him.

No.108 "El Grandote de Cerro Azul" (the Big Tall One from Cerro Azul) Carlos Hermosillo.

One of the greatest Mexican footballers also has one of our favourite nicknames. It does what it says on the tin for the big striker!