While some of the best football nicknames can usurp a player’s actual name, there are others that are equally as good but for some reason aren’t as well known. We take a look at monikers in the latter category, while also examining how nicknames can form amongst smaller groups.
Football, along with the greater sporting world, has a culture in which nicknames become commonplace. They can originate from obscure stories or cultural references and stick with a player even after their retirement.
Nicknames can have a widespread recognition with large fan bases just as much as they can with small friend groups. For example, when Jack Grealish broke onto the Premier League scene, much of the storylines revolved around his play, while others focused on his minuscule shorts, low socks, and boy-bandish haircut.
My father, who isn’t the best at remembering players’ names, referred to him as “the player with the sexy legs,” and ever since, in our household, Grealish has been referred to as “Mr. Sexy Legs.” While this nickname for Grealish isn’t widely known or used, it is a nickname nonetheless and will probably stick with him in our family until he fades into relative obscurity.
People usually have little control of what their nickname ends up being (unless you’re Kobe Bryant or George Costanza), and that is what makes them great. For better and worse, there’s a true meritocracy that comes with most nicknames, which is rare in a world full of favoritism, nepotism, and whatever other -ism you want to pile on.
Within the beautiful game, we’ve seen some pretty iconic names. O Fenomeno, Zizou, Gazza, The Flying Dutchman — all of which are still recognizable well beyond their respective footballers’ playing days. However, there are a few more low-key ones that are just as good, if not better than those previously listed. Let’s take a look at some of our favorites.
Stephanie Labbé: The Minister of Defense
Stephanie Labbé has recently announced her retirement from football after an incredible career. While most players have their sparkling moments at the beginning or middle of their playing days, Labbé’s finest moment came at the end. The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics saw the women’s football gold medal game come down to penalty kicks. Between the posts stepped Labbé, a goalie with over 80 appearances for the Canadian national team.
Canada found itself down 2-1 after each team had taken three kicks. And you can probably guess what happened next: Labbé made a massive, sprawling save to give Canada a glimmer of hope after Sweden’s fourth kick. Wildly, only one other goal was scored in the next three spot-kicks, which meant that it would move onto a sudden-death penalty format. On the sixth kick, Labbé made another excellent save, which set up Julia Grosso’s match-clinching strike to give Canada the gold medal.
While Grosso scored the game winner, Labbé was the player who garnered the most publicity and even earned herself a new nickname, The Minister of Defense. Someone even went as far as listing Labbé as Canada’s official National Minister of Defense on Wikipedia. A well-deserved title.
Christian Pulisic: The LeBron James of Soccer
Christian Pulisic has undoubtedly been an important figure in American soccer. While this has earned him the nickname “Captain America,” it is a weird moment on the popular reality TV show Pawn Stars that has given Pulisic his newest nickname, even if it is used sarcastically.
While attempting to appraise a signed Pulisic jersey, Corey Harrison of Pawn Stars said, “This guy is like the phenom guy, right? He’s the LeBron James of soccer?” While I understand how someone who doesn’t watch much soccer could mistake Pulisic as being the greatest player in the world, the comparison is quite laughable to those who have even a basic understanding of the footballing landscape.
Pulisic may end up living up to this new and odd nickname, but it seems more likely that he will be remembered as a great USMNT player, and won’t be in the GOAT conversation like LeBron is when it comes to basketball (that is a conversation for another day).
Aubrey Kingsbury: Brick Wall Bledsoe
Another fantastic goalkeeper in the women’s game, Aubrey Kingsbury (who recently changed her last name from Bledsoe after getting married) had one of the best nicknames in the NWSL. However, “Brick Wall Kingsbury” isn’t quite as catchy as “Brick Wall Bledsoe” is. So what could her new nickname be?
We’ll rule out “The Athlete Formerly Known as Brick Wall Bledsoe,” as it’s a bit too long, in addition to anything that has to do with “King” as that might be a little too obvious. “Can’t Bury Kingsbury” could be a decent option, as her well-traveled career that featured stops in Norway, Denmark, and Australia before becoming an ace for the Washington Spirit shows her resiliency. Plus, it kind of insinuates that you can’t bury a shot when she’s in front of the net? We’ll see if this catches on with the reigning NWSL goalie of the year, who also just earned another call-up to the USWNT‘s January camp.
Roberto Baggio: The Divine Ponytail
Roberto Baggio is one of the greatest attacking players in Italy’s illustrious history. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1993 and scored a bucket full of goals for the national team and every club he played for. He is also famous for his heartbreaking penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup Final against Brazil, which led to Brazil winning the entire tournament.
While his play on the field led him to stardom, fans latched onto something slightly different when deciding on his nickname. He was referred to as il Divin Codino or “The Divine Ponytail,” because of the wonderful hair that he sported throughout most of his famed career. There was even a Netflix movie released last year with the same title.
Cesar Azpilicueta: Dave
This is a weird one. It is not because the nickname has a unique origin story or is overly sophisticated, but because it is just so simple. Cesar Azpilicueta, the Chelsea defender, has become endearingly known as “Dave” to many Chelsea supporters. It started when John Terry decided Azpilicueta’s name was a bit too difficult to pronounce when he joined the club, and as reference to an old British joke, started calling him by the ever plain and laconic “Dave.” This spread to the fans, and they’ve been serenading the Spanish defender as “Dave” ever since.
As it is an old joke, Azpilicueta isn’t the only player whose complex-by-British standards-name led to a “Dave” moniker. Congolese and former Sheffield Wednesday player Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu was given that nickname as well.
What is your favorite player nickname? Let us know in the comments below.