Jose Mourinho was unhappy with Leicester's "disgrace to the Premier League" ball boys on Monday night – but that's just the latest flashpoint involving football’s little ‘helpers', explains Louis Massarella...
1. Occupational Hazard
Joe Hart, Yohan Cabaye and El Hadji Diouf have all had run-ins with ballboys, but the most famous of recent vintage involved Chelsea's Eden Hazard. Trying to retrieve the ball quickly as the Blues trailed in a 2013 League Cup semi-final against Swansea, the Belgian was faced with the self-titled ‘king of all ball boys’ (#timewasting), Charlie Morgan, who promptly laid down on said sphere.
The brilliant Belgian tried to pull the ball out from under the 17-year-old and, when that failed, took ‘boy and ball’ with his foot. Hazard was red carded and, despite a grumbling apology after the game, was suspended by the FA, as the likes of Joey Barton, Harry Redknapp and, er, Hulk Hogan waded into the argument – on the player’s side.
2. Desperate Dan shows his studs
Daniel Passarella was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “Italy’s greatest villain since Puccini concocted the evil character of Scarpia in [the opera] Tosca” after he – depending on which report you read – “struck”, “kicked” or “went in with his studs” on a Sampdoria ball boy while playing for Inter in March 1987.
Despite apologising publicly to the 16-year-old and his father, Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning captain was given a six-week ban and fined $3,500, which the club kindly donated to the boy’s college fund.
3. Guarany’s 12th man
To Brazil now, and the little-known Campeonato Sergipano in 2012. Trailing 1-0 as injury time approached, Guarany threw everybody forward for a corner, including their keeper, in search of an equaliser. But it came to nothing and Sergipe broke clear, seeming certain to double their lead as the ball headed into the bottom corner.
Waiting there, though – and we mean waiting there, it’s not like he even ran onto the pitch in the heat of the moment – was a Guarany ball boy, unmissable in fluorescent orange, who casually side-footed the ball to safety. He quickly scarpered amid the ensuing melee, but justice was done as Sergipe held on to their lead.
4. From assist queen to centrefold
Not all ball boys – or girls – have to bend the rules to help their team. Just ask Fernanda Maia. With her team, Botafogo, on the attack against fellow Rio big boys Vasco da Gama in 2012, the quick-thinking 22-year-old (don’t ask us why they have ball girls that old in Brazil) threw a ball straight into the arms of winger Elkeson so he didn’t even have to break stride, giving Vasco, who had just cleared into Row Z, no time to get back.
A quick throw-in and cross later, Botafogo had scored the winner. After taking the praise and the plaudits, Maia did what every self-respecting ball girl would do: milked the publicity, posing for Playboy Brasil.
5. Seeing is believing
“I should have trusted my own vision,” said Silvia Regina de Oliveira after she was at the centre of perhaps the most bizarre incident involving a ball boy ever. After watching a Santacruzense effort go well wide, Oliveira – the first female to referee in Brazil’s top flight – turned her back awaiting an Atletico Sorocaba goal-kick.
In the meantime, the ball boy behind the goal jokingly dribbled the ball into the net. ‘Oh, it must have gone in,’ thought the whistleblower as she turned back. After consulting her linesman, who had clearly nodded off as well, a goal was given, and the game finished 1-1. Both officials were suspended and sent to Specsavers.
6. In your face, Gaston
Staying in South America and a good, old-fashioned piece of unprovoked violence from mulleted maniac Gaston Sessa, who just for kicks it seems, decided to boot a size 5 straight into a ball boy’s face from point-blank range during an Argentine second division game in 2012.
Manfully, the dazed youth stayed on his feet for several seconds before crumpling into a heap. Despite being sent off, the cranky keeper was unrepentant at the final whistle, telling reporters: “When he’s got three million in the bank, then he can talk to me.” The ball boy in question, Franco Vazquez, was sold by Belgrano to Palermo later that year for €5 million and made his full Italy debut against England in March. Shall we pass on your number, Gaston?
7. A real slap in the face
Serey Die is clearly an emotional sort, as he proved by bursting into tears during the Ivory Coast national anthem at last summer’s World Cup. But not all of the midfielder’s outbursts are quite so endearing. Take, for example, the incident in 2012 when he took Sion’s defeat to Lausanne out on a nearby ball boy by slapping him straight across the face after a verbal tirade. “He said something that I cannot repeat,” said shocked Lausanne striker Steven Lang.
8. “Cheers Mister, but can you get me Zlatan’s instead?”
From the Spurs scamp who launched a ball straight into a Famagusta player’s unmentionables, to those who like to goad the opposition – Jens Lehmann and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the most famous victims – ball boys can be a heartless bunch.
And none more heartless than the Chievo kid who in 2012 made it perfectly clearly that, no, he didn’t want Sulley Muntari’s shirt. First, he tried to hand it straight back to the Milan midfielder, then attempted to palm it off to one of his fellow ball boys right in front of the generous Ghanaian. Charming.
9. Lombardi sees red
Red heads are considered unlucky in South America. So when the controversial manager of relegation-threatened San Lorenzo, Ricardo Caruso Lombardi, spotted copped-topped ball boy Franco Robledo on the sidelines in 2013, he ordered him to stand behind the goal for their next game in an attempt to put off the opposition’s strikers.
It seemed to work, too. San Lorenzo kept a clean sheet and el colorado mulfa (‘the unlucky ginger’) remained in situ until the season’s end, when safety was secured. He was rewarded with a VIP pass to the team’s survival celebrations.
10. To the left, to the left
If China’s 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in their opening game of January's Asian Cup was a shock, then the manner of it was even more eyebrow-raising. With the scores at 0-0, the Saudis were awarded a penalty. Unsure which way to dive, Chinese keeper Wang Dalei asked a local Australian ball boy, who motioned to the left. Wang did as he was told and saved Naif Hazazi’s spot-kick with his legs. Ripper!
11. Mirallas pushes his luck
Everton's Belgian winger didn't take too kindly to some ball boy japery when the Toffees were 3-2 down to Barnsley in August's League Cup tussle at Oakwell. Mirallas himself had helped the Merseysiders claw their way back from two goals down with Everton's first, before Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley restored the Championship side's advantage.
Three minutes later Mirallas was shoving a red-headed Barnsley helper in the chest after the youngster deceived him with a cheeky feint. The Belgian got his ball back, Romelu Lukaku sent the game to extra-time and Everton netted twice to go through 5-3.