Ronaldinho, Dani Alves, David Batty: 13 famous players who don’t love football

  • Rob Swan
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To become a professional footballer, is it important to genuinely love football?

You’d imagine that in order to reach the top, players need to be enamoured with the sport to a certain extent.

However, there are some professionals who, for one reason or another, aren’t anywhere near as obsessed with the beautiful game compared to the vast majority of their peers.

Take Arsenal’s Ben White, for example. In an interview with Sky Sports in October, the £50 million centre-back admitted that he didn’t grow up watching football and, as a result, wasn’t even aware of what type of player Patrick Vieira was.

White, who currently wears Vieira’s old No. 4 shirt at the Emirates Stadium, confessed: “No I never watched football when I was younger, still don't now. I just loved the game, I was always playing it - never watching it. So I don't know too much about older generations.

“I know [Vieira] was a very good player. But I wouldn't know the details. I'm quite busy, I'm always doing something. I watch myself for analytical reasons. I watch England, maybe. I just wouldn't just sit down and watch a game.”

This will difficult for many fans to get their heads around. How can someone who doesn’t live and breathe football end up reaching the top?

But there are other current and former pros like White who feel similarly.

Others involved in the game dislike the business of football and won’t stick around after retirement.

Ronaldinho

This one will come as a big surprise to most. Ronaldinho is arguably the most skillful footballer of all time, but he can’t be dealing with watching a full 90-minute match on TV.

"I don't like to watch football, I like to play it,” the Brazilian legend was quoted saying by The Sun in January 2018.

"I can't stand in front of the television for 90 minutes, I only watch the highlights."

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Gabriel Batistuta

Gabriel Batistuta, one of the greatest strikers of the 1990s, saw football as a job and little more.

“I do not like football, it is just my profession,” the retired centre-forward once told a TV show in his native Argentina.

The co-writer of his autobiography, Alessandro Rialti, confirmed this was true in a 1999 interview with the Sunday Times, per Eurosport.

“The important thing about Batistuta is that he is not like other players. He is a very good professional who doesn’t really like football,” Rialti said.

“Once he leaves the stadium, he doesn’t want football encroaching upon the rest of his life. He is a very sensitive and intelligent man. When we were doing the book, he came to my office and for five full days he spoke about his family and his life in Argentina.

“But when it came to the football and his career, he switched off. ‘The records are there,’ he said, ‘you can look them up’.”

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Dani Alves

Dani Alves, the most decorated footballer in history, has returned to Barcelona at the age of 38 and will be the squad’s lowest earner. You simply wouldn’t do that unless you love the game.

However, the legendary full-back has no intention of remaining involved in the sport once he hangs up his boots.

"I hate what surrounds football," he told O'Globo, per Goal. "I live in this world, but do not belong to it.

"When I leave football, I will put a backpack on and travel the world. It will be inevitable to watch football, but I won't live in it."

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Gareth Bale

It’s a long-running joke that Gareth Bale would much rather be on a golf course than a football pitch, but there’s probably an element of truth to it.

“I don’t really watch much football,” Bale told ESPN in January 2018 when asked about Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. “I’d rather watch the golf to be honest.”

Carlos Tevez

One pro who can fully emphasise with Bale and others on this list is Carlos Tevez.

Speaking in October 2018, the Argentine forward admitted he can’t stand watching games on TV.

"If Barcelona and Real Madrid are playing each other, but there is a golf tournament on another channel, I'll choose to watch the golf instead," he explained during an interview with Clarin, per Marca. “I don't watch any football on television.

"I don't like football, I've never been a fan of football, I simply like to play and to have the ball at my feet."

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Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Few professionals would openly admit that they’re in football purely for the money, but former Tottenham and Cameroon star Benoit Assou-Ekotto is one of them.

"But if I come to England, where I knew nobody and I didn't speak English … why did I come here? For a job,” the retired left-back told The Guardian in 2010. “A career is only 10, 15 years. It's only a job. Yes, it's a good, good job and I don't say that I hate football but it's not my passion.

"I arrive in the morning at the training ground at 10.30 and I start to be professional. I finish at one o'clock and I don't play football afterwards. When I am at work, I do my job 100%. But after, I am like a tourist in London. I have my Oyster card and I take the tube. I eat.”

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David Bentley

Assou-Ekotto’s former Spurs teammate David Bentley called time on his career in 2014, aged just 29, after his childhood love for the game was eroded away over the course of his professional career.

The former England international, who went on to open up a restaurant in Marbella after hanging up his boots, admitted in 2014: ‘I’ve fallen out of love with the game.’

“To be honest, I was even having a few doubts about football when I was at Blackburn,” Bentley told The Mirror months after his retirement.

“It was weird. Kim was like: ‘You’ve got to buck your ideas up’. A lot of people were saying that and I remember walking my dog, thinking: ‘This ain’t for me’.

“I remember being a bit disappointed in myself. I was thinking: ‘You should love it, what’s the matter with you? You’re only saying this because you’re a little bit unhappy at the minute’.

“But in the end I just got tired of all the bull**** that goes with it, people wanting you to sell yourself as something you’re not.”

Bobby Zamora

Another former Tottenham player who wasn’t - and presumably isn’t - in love with football is Bobby Zamora.

Capped twice by England at his peak, the retired centre-forward told The Daily Mail in 2012: “I’m not a massive football fan, really. I don’t watch games on an evening or anything like that.

“Quite a lot more players than (those that admit it) are the same.

”I’m not sure what I want to do after I finish playing but if it means watching football then I don’t want to get involved.”

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David Batty

Where on earth is David Batty, the former Leeds United and England midfielder, these days? Most of his former teammates don’t even know.

Rio Ferdinand, for example, recently tweeted: “Just sitting here thinking ahead of the England game….David Batty….what’s he up to now, anyone seen him? Great guy, top player…just disappeared though!”

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FourFourTwo revealed in 2018 that Batty, who retired in 2004, lives a quiet life in North Yorkshire, shuns the limelight and never gives interviews.

No longer involved in football, Batty told The Guardian in 2007: "The national game is boring and I've not been to watch any match since I finished playing.

"I can never understand anybody paying to watch it, never mind going all the way across the world to see it.

“You want to be entertained."

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Espen Baardsen

Espen Baardsen, a USA-born Norway international, played in England with Tottenham, Watford and Everton in the late-1990s and early-2000s.

The former goalkeeper decided to retire aged just 25 after losing interest in the sport.

“I got bored of football,” he told The Guardian in May 2008. “Once you’ve played in the Premier League and been to the World Cup, you’ve seen it and done it.

“It was dictating what I could do and when. I felt unsatisfied intellectually, I wanted to travel the world.”

Stephen Ireland

Remember Stephen Ireland? The former Republic of Ireland enjoyed a couple of excellent seasons with Manchester City and also went on to play for Aston Villa, Newcastle United (loan) and Stoke City.

The retired midfielder, who once admitted lying that his grandmother had died in order to excuse himself from international duty, posted on a social media website in 2007: ”Football Is S**T Why Did I get Stuck Doin It."

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Marc-Andre ter Stegen

One of the world’s best goalkeepers, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen confessed in March 2020 that his football knowledge is awful.

“People laugh when I tell them I have no idea about football,” the Germany international was quoted telling El Pais by The Daily Mail.

“I don't see a lot of football, except when there are good games or when I'm particularly interested in one because I have a relationship or a friend. Sometimes they ask me for a player's name and I have no idea.

“In La Liga, for example, it happens to me with names. I don't know what they are called. But later, when they show me the video, I realise that I know exactly who it is.

“I remember better how they move on the field, how they kick or stand out. It is a bit strange, it happens to me when we analyse opponents.”

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