From big plays and sophisticated strategies to unforgettable moments on the field, nicknames add spice and flavour to an already interesting game.
But what are the most popular football player nicknames in the world?
We’ve scoured the Internet and compiled a list of the best of the best.
Let’s dive in.
15+ Most Popular Football Player Nicknames
Cristiano Ronaldo – CR7
The current Manchester United forward and captain of the Portugal national club has long been one of the most popular and scrutinised players in the world of football.
Although he goes by several different nicknames (some call him ‘Rocket Ronaldo’ and the ‘Sultan of Stepover’) his ‘main’ one is CR7– the first letters of his first and last name and his number, 7.
Lionel Messi – La Pulga
The Argentinian footballer who currently plays as a right-winger for Paris Saint-Germain (after his dramatic exit from Barcelona) got his nickname at a young age.
Namely, his brothers used to call him ‘La Pluguita’ –which means “little flea” in Spanish– due to his height (Messi was diagnosed with GHD when he was 11). Some reports suggest that he was called ‘La Plugita’ because he was hard to catch on the football field.
This eventually turned into La Pulga (or ‘the atomic flea’– it may sound bad in English, but in Spanish, ‘atomic’ is used to refer to someone exceptional).
Related: How many red cards does Messi have?
Adriano Leite Ribeiro – L’Imperatore
Adriano Leite Ribeiro is a Brazilian legend and former professional football player who spent most of his career as a striker for Inter Milan and Flamengo.
He is widely known as ‘L’Imperatore’ or ‘the Emperor,’ due to his skills, power, and dominance on the pitch.
Ribeiro earned that nickname during his time at Inter Adriano, in honour of his status at the club, and after the historical figure Hadrian, who was a Roman Emperor.
Givanildo Vieira de Sousa – Hulk
Givanildo Vieira de Sousa, the Brazilian forward player for Atlético Mineiro, is a strongly built player (especially for a footballer) who knows his way around the box.
His father started calling him Hulk because of his behaviour and his likeness to Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the Incredible Hulk, who played the character in the 1970s.
Eric Cantona – King
Cantona is a retired player, actor, director, and producer who is believed to have played a pivotal role in the revival of the Red Devils in the 1990s.
Cantona– or ‘King Eric’ as Manchester United fans used to call him– has been voted as one of the greatest players the team has ever employed and is well-known for his prowess, creativity, and technical skills in the game.
Edinson Cavani – El Matador
The Manchester United striker has long been known as ‘El Matador’ (‘The Bullfighter’) among football fans.
Cavani, who’s shown a knack for scoring late games, got his nickname during his time at the Italian club Napoli, where he played from 2010 through 2013.
The Uruguayan has said in an interview that he believes he earned that nickname because the team started winning a lot of games when he joined them and he constantly put his name on the scoresheet.
Diego Maradona – El Pibe de Oro
Maradona is undoubtedly one of the best free-kick takers and one of the most iconic football players in the world.
The former Argentine player, who was defined by his character just as much as he was by his creativity and skills in the game, earned many cool football nicknames during and after his long career on the pitch.
The most prominent one is ‘Eli Pibe de Oro’, which translates to ‘Golden Boy’.
He was also called ‘El Pelusa’ or ‘The Fuzz’ due to his big hair and ‘El Barillete Cosmico’ after Argentinian player Cesar Luis Menotti said Maradona was ‘living like a kite’ following an argument during the 1986 World Cup.
Related: 14 World Cup facts for 2022
Vágner Silva de Souza – Vagner Love
Vagner is a Brazilian football striker who plays for Sport Recife.
His second name, ‘Love’ stems from a tryst he had in the hours before a game.
Vagner has claimed that he has only done that ‘once’ in his life and regrets taking part, suggesting that he’s not entirely happy that the nickname stuck with him.
Then again, the Brazilian footballer has openly spoken about his exploits in the bedroom, especially during his time in Russia, where he played for the football team CSKA Moscow.
Sergio Aguero – Kun
The retired football player from Argentina, who played for Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, and Barcelona is widely known as ‘Kun Aguero’, as he proudly wore his nickname on the back of his shirt during games.
He started that tradition when he joined Atletico and was later allowed to have ‘Kun Aguero’ on both his Argentina and Manchester City kit.
That nickname came from a Japanese cartoon that Aguero used to watch as a child, in which the main character was called ‘Kum-Kum’. Aguero was said to have looked like Kum Kum.
Related: Was Aguero the number 10 in football?
Jon Flanagan – Scouse Cafu
Flanagan, who started his career with one of the most successful clubs in Europe Liverpool, started gaining traction after battling a long spell of bad performances for nearly a year (at one point, he went 17 months without a single Premier League appearance).
The footballer got over his dip in confidence after Brazilian legend Cafu called him the ‘Red Cafu’ on Twitter, writing that he would be watching more Premier League football to check up on the then-Liverpool defender.
Harry Maguire – Slab-head
If you’re looking for funny football player nicknames, look no further than one of the best the English centre-backs.
Maguire was nicknamed ‘Slab-head’ by his former Leicester teammate, Jamie Vardy who joked about the size of the footballer’s head during a press conference.
The nickname made its rounds on Twitter and other social media platforms after he helped Gareth Southgate’s side reach a World Cup semi-final in 2018 – after more than a decade– and stuck with the player throughout his career.
Kylian Mbappé – Donatello
Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé is currently the fastest football player and is one of the best forward players in the world of football.
Mbappé gained his nickname not long after he signed for PSG from Monaco. He is now widely known as ‘Donatello’ – a nickname he earned for his likeness to the nerdy, laid-back and inventive member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
He was first called ‘Donatello’ by his PSG teammate Presnel Kimpembe, who said that the French football player ‘looks a bit like a turtle.’
Did you know: Kylian Mbappe is among the youngest World Cup scorers?
Erling Haaland – The Terminator
Erling Haaland may be only 22 years old (at the time of writing) but he has quickly made a name for himself, especially after becoming the first player ever to score eight times in his first four appearances for a Bundesliga club– and that’s before he ever completed a full 90 minutes for Dortmund.
Thanks to his physical prowess, speed, and his ruthless aggression in front of the goal, fans quickly dubbed him ‘The Terminator’ after Arnold Schwarcenegerz’s famous role in the franchise.
Harry Kane – The HurriKane
The captain of the English national club, who plays for one of the most successful English clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, is a controversial figure and is also one of the best strikers in the Premier League.
Kane is one of the best strikers, and is known for his ability to link play and his prolific goalscoring record, has been called HurriKane (a play on his name and the word ‘hurricane’), Golden Boy, and Hero Kane.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Melwood Grandmaster
One of the most promising football players in the world, Trent Alexander-Arnold, who plays for Liverpool and the England national team as a right-back, is known for his technical delivery of set-pieces and early crosses.
His style of play and creativity in the game earned him the nickname Melwood Grandmaster after the name of the training ground of the Reds located in West Derby, Liverpool, where he learned his football trade.
Marcus Rashford – The Prince of England
The young Manchester United forward got his nickname for a noble cause– his efforts to end food poverty, especially among children.
During the pandemic, Rashford led a campaign to end child food poverty in the UK and force the British government to secure free meals for underprivileged kids after they tried to suspend the lunch voucher program.
David Beckham – Golden Balls
The retired English football icon ended his career with 10 league titles across four different countries.
His nickname ‘Golden Balls’ was given to him by his wife, Victoria Beckham, during an interview in which she praised her husband for turning his reputation around after getting sent off in the 1998 World Cup for kicking an Argentinian player.
Beckham is also referred to as Becks, DB7, and Dave.
Wayne Rooney – Wazza
The current manager of the EFL Championship club, Derby County, is easily one of the most popular retired players in the world, best known for his time with Manchester United.
Rooney’s fans started calling him ‘Wazza’ for his pace, strategy, and striking technique that gave him an edge over his opponents– after the English player Paul “Gazza” Gascoignehis.
Other nicknames that he got during his time on the field include ‘The White Pele’, ‘Roo’, ‘The Wonder Boy’, and ‘Ronaldo’.
Also Read: Who are the most hated people in football?
Football player nicknames have always been part of the football world– players either have one because they’re really good, really bad, or because something funny happened to them (unless you’re Brazilian since they tend to play with them by default).
Which one’s your favourite?