It’s not just Balotelli. An overegged sense of self-worth is the common denominator in many world-class sportsmen. ShortList’s Michael Hogan celebrates the top 15 sporting egos ever.
(Images: All Star, Rex)
Being a professional golfer must be an odd thing; like living your entire life in a members’ club with a ‘no jeans or trainers’ policy and only ever talking to someone wearing a bib with your name on it. Such isolation and idolisation may have affected Faldo’s mind, making him notoriously cock-sure on the golf circuit. And when he did try to cultivate a jollier personality, it backfired horrifically. After clinching the 1992 Open, he thanked the media “from the heart of my bottom”, then crooned My Way to a cringing crowd.
The legendary heavyweight was the best of all time and liked to remind the world on a regular basis. Even back when he was Cassius Clay, he proclaimed, “I’m handsome, I’m fast, I’m pretty and can’t possibly be beat.” Still, he did it all with such swagger and silver-tongued wit, who’s arguing?
When you’re declared the ‘saviour’ of anything, it’s bound to go to your head, so when South Africa-born KP offered his outrageous abilities to an average England team, he naturally took on board the praise. Cue dodgy haircuts, tattoos and a pop star wife. But who wants a team of Ian Bells?
The NBA’s best player didn’t even feign regret about leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed the local boy out of high school, for a shot at a more glamorous team. Instead, ‘King James’ broadcast his own self-aggrandising, hubristic one-hour live TV show, melodramatically entitled The Decision, to announce which megabucks franchise he was joining. “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat,” he eventually declared, although he did return in 2014, a move that managed to happen without the aid of any reality TV.
Still synonymous with his “I am a Special One” boast on arrival at Chelsea, Mourinho is the master of mind games and touchline histrionics. Many argue that his excesses are a canny ploy to take pressure off his players. Either way, until this season at least, Mourinho’s managerial record shows he can back up the brags.
When you’ve won world titles in five weight divisions, you’re entitled to an element of smugness. So you could excuse Mayweather’s claim to be the greatest of all time. What cannot be excused is the ultimate in egotistic behaviours: referring to yourself in the third person: “Some people say I’m cocky, some people say I’m arrogant, but Floyd Mayweather is the truth.”
The Lucozade-guzzling decathlete refused to carry the England flag at the 1982 Commonwealth Games as he claimed it would “affect his preparations”. When he won Sports Personality Of The Year in 1982, he turned up in casual clothes and began his speech, live on primetime BBC One, with “I feel like shit”. After winning Olympic gold in 1984, he stood on the podium whistling along to God Save The Queen, then appeared for his press conference in a T-shirt emblazoned with, ‘Is the world’s 2nd greatest athlete gay?’ in reference to rumours about Carl Lewis’s sexuality, and proceeded to joke about having children with visiting dignitary Princess Anne.
The ‘greatest manager England never had’ insisted on being called Mr Clough, but became known as Old Big ’Ead. “I wouldn’t say I was the best in the business,” he famously deadpanned. “But I was in the top one.”
Some people disliked Schumacher during his record-breaking run on the track because he was ruthless to the point of breaking the rules; some people because he ‘looked arrogant’. However, most people disliked him because he was the best and he knew it.
If there’s one thing football fans don’t like, it’s players getting above their station. When that station is being arguably the best player in the world, it’s hard to clamber much higher. But Ronaldo has certainly given it a go. When he’s not scoring a gazillion goals, he’s slapping the turf, screaming at refs or prancing around in Armani pants. It’s a stark contrast to La Liga rival and Mr Modesty, Leo Messi — but be honest, whose house would you rather visit?
Not only was the Great Bambino a giant at the plate, but he believed he was a global statesman, too. Ruth was convinced that his 1934 visit to Japan had sealed the friendship between the Japanese and the Americans enough to forestall war. When they attacked Pearl Harbour seven years later, he took it as a personal betrayal. “To hell with Babe Ruth!” even became a Japanese battle cry.
Did the tennis tantrum-thrower like losing? You cannot be serious. He hated losing. A lot. It’s what made him a champion, but also whiny, petulant and his own worst enemy. At least Super Brat had the awareness to admit: “I am an incredibly arrogant, obnoxious jerk and require more attention than a three-year-old child.”
Cantona’s outrageous footballing talent was matched by his outsized ego. He played with collar upturned, chest puffed and a half-sneer on his lips. After scoring, he spun round slowly, gazing imperiously around the stadium as if to announce, “I am King Cantona.”
An undoubted genius of the baize, five-time world champion Rocket Ronnie’s persistent problem is that he gets bored of being so damn good, hence his self-destructive streak and frequent threats to retire. Who can forget his left-handed annihilation of Alain Robidoux in the 1996 World Championship?
One of the most successful batsmen of all time, but that didn’t endear the Yorkshire curmudgeon to team-mates, who saw him as aloof, stubborn and selfish. He seemingly preferred his own personal success to that of the team, scoring so slowly that colleagues would try to run him out.