Nothing riles football fans like a snake.
A player who defects in unscrupulous circumstances becomes a mortal enemy of the scoured fan base.
Just a mention of Sol Campbell, Luis Figo or Craig Gardner is enough to induce hissing from most of you.
But what about the players who are unfairly grouped in with the true traitors? Such as…
1 Mats Hummels
In 2016 Borussia Dortmund’s captain joined rivals Bayern Munich.
The switch mirrored those of Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski and served to re-establish the Bavarian giants’ stranglehold over German football.
The centre-back was branded a snake, but undeservedly so.
Hummels joined Bayern’s academy at the age of six and stayed with the club for a further 13 years.
After featuring over 40 times for Bayern’s reserves, his patience expired in 2008 and he agreed to join Dortmund, having played just twice for Bayern’s first team.
Too often we neglect the emotional bonds created during a player’s formative years.
Far from a betrayal, his transfer in 2016 was a homecoming.
2 Cesc Fabregas
The Spaniard endured a hostile reception when he returned to the Emirates in Chelsea blue.
But those who booed failed to understand the basic mechanics of a transfer — the club has to want the player.
Arsene Wenger has since admitted Fabregas wanted to return to Arsenal but a deal was not possible because the Frenchman was ‘not in need of offensive players’.
A player of his quality, wanting to live in London, only had two realistic options after Arsenal’s rejection, Chelsea or Spurs…
3 Alan Smith
On the surface, this one is an act of treachery that would make Judas Iscariot wince.
Born and bred in Leeds, ‘Smithy’ endeared himself to the fans with an undying devotion to the shirt.
His blend of youthful exuberance and badge-kissing passion made him a hero to the Elland Road faithful.
But when Leeds were relegated in 2004, Smith crossed the Pennines and broke Yorkshire hearts.
However, all was not as it seemed…
Leeds’ financial situation meant they were forced to sell their prize assets and top earners.
No other club were prepared to match Man United’s £7million offer (or pay up front) and the club actively encouraged Smith to agree to the deal so they would receive the highest possible fee.
Smith’s former team-mate Stephen McPhail told the42: “There were tears in his eyes in the dressing room afterwards.
“He really didn’t want to go but he knew, for the club, that he had to.”
Leeds legend Billy Bremner’s quote ‘side over self every time’ remains central to the club’s identity and in many ways, Smith’s defection epitomises this belief wholeheartedly.
Knowing full well the hate he would receive, he sacrificed his own reputation among his fellow Leeds fans to ensure the club’s survival.
If that isn’t ‘side before self’ then what is?
A 2018 poll by Leeds Live found 68% of Leeds fans have forgiven Smith for joining their fierce rivals.
Search ‘football’s biggest traitors’ and Google will provide you with numerous lists from various media outlets.
And Ronaldo features in nearly all of them.
The Brazilian No9 played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as both Milan clubs — on paper he’s one of the biggest snakes in football history.
In reality, there little animosity to him from fans of any club.
These things are inherently emotional and Ronaldo did not take any European club into his heart in any special way.
Much like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he was the greatest gun for hire of his generation.
Without overt displays of faux loyalty, the feeling of betrayal is minimised.
One of the most globally popular players of the last 50 years, he was simply too good to hate.
5 Thibaut Courtois
Chelsea fans have delighted in Courtois’ misery at Real Madrid this season.
The Belgian keeper invited derision with his immature behaviour before exiting Stamford Bridge but should we be more sympathetic?
Courtois’ infant children did not move to London from Madrid when he ended his three-year loan spell at Atletico.
Prior to his petulant antics, he made it clear he wanted to return to the Spanish capital to spend more time with his kids.
Fair enough, right?
Fans must also accept that for many players football is, first and foremost, a job — it is natural to desire progression.
Chelsea are a big club, but Real Madrid are bigger.
6 Carlos Tevez
In 2008/09, Man United fans regularly chanted ‘Fergie, Fergie, sign him up’ in the wake of a Carlos Tevez goal.
Then when the club didn’t sign him up, they turned on Tevez.
Mainly because he agreed to join the ‘noisy neighbours’ and his face was plastered on a massive billboard in the city.
“As far as I know, I have been thrown out of the club and I have to study the best offers available,” Tevez said at the time.
Like Courtois, we should consider the circumstances of his personal life.
The Argentine did not want to disrupt his children’s education so he decided to remain in Manchester, leaving him just one option…
7 Wayne Rooney
In hindsight, revealing a ‘once a blue, always a blue’ t-shirt was probably a tad naive.
But here’s the thing, Rooney was simply too good to stay with Everton his whole career.
That’s not even a dig at the Toffees, it’s just how football works.
Matt Le Tissier stayed loyal to Southampton but the vast majority of players capable of playing at a better club end up doing exactly that.
In the same way mid-tier clubs poach talent from those below them, Man United cherry-pick potential stars from the likes of Everton.
It is natural for fans to be frustrated when a homegrown prospect departs but the player is nearly always justified — unless they do it like Sol Campbell.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.