It’s difficult not to imagine that Luis Suárez has a “goodwill meter” that he lets fill up to a certain point before jettisoning all of it in one go. Having arrived in England fresh from serving a ban for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal – and with his part in Ghana’s exit from the 2010 World Cup still fresh in the memory – it took a quick adjustment to English football for people to start thinking maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.
James McClean is one of the finds of the season, a £350,000 steal for Sunderland from Derry City. Depending on what you read, he is now worth anywhere between £10 million and £200m and could yet be on his way to Euro 2012 after winning his first cap in February's friendly against Czech Republic.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it turns out, tells a story the way he plays football: he pulls no punches. The player, who has kung-fu kicked his Milan team-mates Rodney Strasser and Antonio Cassano, punched Jonathan Zebina and reportedly kicked Mark van Bommel on the shins several times during a half-time interval, published his autobiography in Sweden at the end of last year. It did not disappoint.
Some footballers stay in the game when their playing career ends, others break into a whole new world. Stuart Ripley, who started out at Middlesbrough, won the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers and was capped twice for England, has managed to do both. Ripley is now a solicitor working in Manchester with the major law firm Brabners Chaffe Street.
"Depression and the emptiness after the end of my career was probably the main reason. I was 35 years old and an injury deprived me of a life on the top shelf overnight. My status disappeared." Such confessions are becoming sadly familiar.
Are footballers "role models"? This question invariably reappears when a player's behaviour is called into question. Anecdotal experience tells us that on-field antics are frequently copied: the upturned Cantona collar, the (attempted) Ronaldo step-over, the Klinsmann dive, "words" with the ref. Equally, footballers' off-field activities have always attracted public attention. Step forward Mario Balotelli, firework safety spokesman and Manchester City enigma.
It has never been unusual for Scottish players to move south at an early age. Denis Law and Billy Bremner never kicked a ball in club football at home, while more recently Darren Fletcher arrived in Manchester before he was a teenager. None of these moves, however, generated the publicity recently given to Islam Feruz's decision to move from Celtic to Chelsea.
After the initial excitement, it only took a few difficult games for questions to be raised about Phil Jones. "In the end... Jones is there to stop, not start, the fun," wrote Paul Hayward in the Guardian. And he is right, of course. A defender should be able to defend. Less understandable is the desire to move Jones into midfield – as Alex Ferguson did against Liverpool – simply because he can trap a football. It seems that Jones is just the latest victim of English football's love affair with converting the centre-half.
As first impressions go, Joe Cole's at Lille was about as good as it gets. Just 21 minutes into his debut as a substitute in a league game against St Etienne, Cole recalled his youth. Picking up the ball in the inside-right position, he spun through 360 degrees, set off on a run towards the byline, evaded four challenges and had the presence of mind to pull the ball back for team-mate Ludovic Obraniak to score the third in a 3-1 win.
Three days after Christmas, 1975, 12,000 fans were shoehorned into Flower Lodge to see George Best make his debut for Cork Celtic in the Bass League of Ireland. At that point in his travels through the world game, Best's latest club had been Fourth Division Stockport County. They had reportedly paid him £300 per game. Cork Celtic had lured him across to Ireland with the offer of £1,000 per outing and, for his first game against Drogheda United, Celtic took in £6,000 at the turnstiles.