Playing The Name Game..

Nicknames have always been an important part of football lore. Edson Arantes do Nascimento would never have rolled off the tongue so readily as Pele did after the teenage Brazilian became a household name following his exploits at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden. Over the next few weeks, there should be several more monikers etched into the global consciousness and here are some of the players who could be making their names in South Africa, literally so.

All eyes will be on Argentina ace Lionel Messi to see if he can inspire La Albiceleste to their first world crown since Mexico 1986. Football reporters have been running out of words to describe the improbably gifted Barcelona wizard, and should La Pulga (The Flea) turn it on in South Africa, he will no doubt have them – along with bemused defenders – scratching their heads again.

Messi is far from the only player whose nickname comes from the natural world. Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez is known as El Conejo (The Rabbit), while Honduras striker David Suazo goes by the title of La Pantera (The Panther), a tribute to his predatory instincts. Italy's Gennaro Gattuso has never been afraid to throw his weight around on the pitch, which explains why fans call him Il Rino (The Rhino). No less imposing a presence is Brazil’s Julio Baptista, otherwise known as La Bestia (The Beast), although all these denizens of the animal kingdom have reason to fear 'The Hunter', aka Klaas Jan Huntelaar, the front man hoping to shoot the Netherlands to success.

Argentine Tradition
Like Messi, most Argentinian players acquire a nom de guerre or two during the course of their careers. With El Apache, Carlos Tevez would not be out of place in a western, while Gabriel Heinze's German ancestry has led to him being dubbed El Gringo. Juan Sebastian Veron takes after his father Juan Roman in more ways than one: following in the footsteps of La Bruja (The Witch), the midfield sorcerer has been casting spells under the name of La Brujita (The Little Witch) for many years now. Gonzalo 'El Pipita' Higuain, meanwhile, is another chip off the old block. His father Jorge went by the name of 'El Pipa', Argentinian slang for nose.

Team captain Javier Mascherano's leadership qualities are reflected in his title of 'El Jefecito' (The Little Leader), the original 'Jefe' being his mentor, the River Plate legend Leonardo Astrada. If that were not enough, Argentina can also call on the regal presence of Diego 'El Principe' Milito and their very own madman in Martin 'El Loco' Palermo.

England are relying on the superhuman powers of the player dubbed by their media as 'Captain Fantastic'. His fellow Liverpudlian and international team-mate Wayne Rooney is known as Wazza in the dressing room in deliberate homage to Paul Gascoigne's moniker 'Gazza'. He is also called 'The White Pele' for his barnstorming displays on the pitch.

Spain are investing their hopes in a pair of 'kids': Fernando 'El Niño' Torres and David 'El Guaje' Villa, while Australia will be looking for some inspiration from their resident magician Harry Kewell, also known as 'Harry Potter' or 'The Wizard of Oz'. Portugal have a conjuror of their own in Deco, or O Mágico to his fans and team-mates.

Cartoon Character
There is no shortage of sobriquets elsewhere. Uruguay’s long-haired hitman Diego Forlan bears more than a passing resemblance to the well-known Argentinian cartoon character 'Cachavacha', hence his unusual moniker, while Robinho’s penchant for stepovers make him an obvious choice as 'O Rei Das Pedaladas' back in Brazil.

USA midfielder Clint Dempsey moonlights as hip-hop artist 'Deuce' in his free time and he could make quite a double act with team-mate DaMarcus Beasely, dubbed 'Jitterbug' for his dancing skills. Adding a sense of majesty to the world finals will be France's Franck Ribery, baptised 'Kaiser Franck' by his followers at Bayern Munich, and Mexico stalwart Rafael Marquez, similarly dubbed 'El Kaiser de Michoacán', in reference to his home state.

Flying the flag for Asia, meanwhile, are Korea Republic's Kim Nam-Il, whose ability to clean up at the back has made 'The Vacuum Cleaner' the obvious choice for his nickname. Few South Korean players will cover more ground in the tournament than his team-mate Cha Du-Ri, hence his moniker 'Autobahn' (German for motorway). Opponents of host nation South Africa, finally, will hope that defender Aaron Mokoena's nickname 'Mbazo' (The Axe) is not an accurate reflection of his tackling style.

Coaching Royalty
It is not just the players who have picked up a nickname or two in their time. Argentina's Pibe de Oro (Golden Kid) is none other than national coach Diego Maradona, while Chile fans will be going crazy if his compatriot Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa (The Madman) can inspire La Roja to success. Mexico coach Javier Aguirre is 'El Vasco' on account of his ancestors in Spain’s Basque country.

Lastly, Algeria's players hold coach Rabah Saadane in such high esteem they address him as 'The Sheikh', and Otto Rehhagel has achieved so much with Greece that his status as 'King Otto' is undisputed. Should they or any of their peers attain footballing immortality in South Africa, their nickname is likely to lodge in the minds of football fans worldwide for many years to come.

Below are some of the nicknames for past and current football stars:

  •      Francesco Totti - Er Pupone (The Big Baby)
  •      Lionel Messi - Atomic Flea
  •      Iker Casillas - El Gato (The Cat)
  •      Fernando Torres - El Nino (the kid)
  •      Carlos Valderrama - El Pibe
  •      Zinedine Zidane - Zizou
  •      Paul Scholes - Ginger Ninja
  •      Enzo Francescoli - El Principe (The Prince)
  •      Michael Owen - Wonder Boy
  •      Claudio Lopez - “El Piojo” (The Louse)
  •      Dennis Bergkamp - "The Menace"
  •      Javier Zanetti - The Tractor
  •      Javier Hernandez - Chicharito or "Little Pea"
  •      Eidur Gudjohnsen - Ice Man
  •      Gennaro Gattuso - The Pit Bull
  •      Pablo Aimar - El Payaso (The Clown)
  •      David Beckham - Golden Balls, Spice Boy, or Becks
  •      Guillermo Barros Schelotto - El Mellizo ("The Twin")
  •      Wayne Rooney - The White Pele
  •      Diego Milito - El Principe
  •      Nicolas Anelka - Le Sulk
  •      Roberto Baggio - The Divine Ponytail
  •      Shevchenko - Sheva
  •      Ole Gunner Solskjaer - Baby faced assassin
  •      Dwight Yorke - The Smiling Assassin
  •      Esteban Granero - The Pirate
  •      Franz Beckenbauer - The Kaiser
  •      Ferenc Puskas - The Galloping Major
  •      Eusebio - The ' Black Panther'
  •      Paul Ince - The ' Guv' nor'
  •      Kevin Keegan - Mighty Mouse
  •      Darren Anderton - Shaggy
  •      Paul Gascoigne - Gazza
  •      Jack Charlton - The Giraffe
  •      Marco Van Basten - The Swan of Utrecht
  •      Ruud Gullit - Il Tulipo Nero
  •      Stuart Pearce - Psycho
  •      Roy Keane - Keano
  •      Thierry Henry - Titi
  •      Julio Baptista - The Beast
  •      Steven Gerrard - Captain Courageous, Huyton Hammer
  •      Carlos Valderrama - 'El Pibe' (Means 'the kid' as well)
  •      Gabriel Batistuta – Batigol
  •      Alfredo di Stefano – La Saeta Rubia (The Blond Arrow)
  •      Diego Maradona – Pelusa (Dishevelled one)
  •      Ronaldinho - Means little Ronaldo
  •      Ronaldo – Ronnie
  •      Hristo Stoichkov – The Dagger
  •      Peter Schmeichel – The Great Dane
  •      Eric Cantona – The King
  •      Michael Essien – The Bison
  •      Samuel Eto'o – Pantera Negra (The Black Panther)
  •      Frank Lampard – Fat Frank, Super Frank
  •      John Terry – JT (Don't be his best friend if you have a pretty girlfriend)
  •      Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Ibra
  •      Carlos Puyol – Tarzan

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