The nicest players in football history - including Man Utd, Chelsea and Spurs stars
Plenty of footballers have been noted for their charitable work down the years - but these are the kindest and most warm-hearted of all. Featuring Manchester United, Manchester City and Spurs stars.
and live on Freeview channel 276
It might not be marked on your wall calendar, but this 3 December, the very day we are publishing this article, is a very big day for tactile people everywhere – it’s international Let’s Hug Day. In order to celebrate the event, and to assist in the spreading of communal good vibes, we’ve decided to compile a list of some of the kindest, most charitable and all-round loveliest footballers on the planet.
These are the players who have gone beyond the occasional awkward photograph next to an oversized cheque worth about 5% of their weekly earnings – these are the people who really mean it, and whose life is littered with moments of genuine kindness and compassion. We hope you enjoy the warm fuzzy glow you’ll have once you get to the end of the article.
Spurs forward Son’s persistent (and infectious) smile is no act, judging by the many stories of kindness and decency that have been attributed to him, which range from huge donations to the victims of both coronavirus and a forest fire in South Korea to the time he used his hands to make a little roof over the head of a Sheffield United mascot on a rainy night in 2019.
Apparently he also takes the time to really look after the backroom staff at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, even those well away from the football side of the club – he’s brought in high-class Korean chefs to make lunch for people working at the training ground and even sends thoughtful farewell cards to office staff when they leave the club. In other words, he somehow isn’t too good to be true – and no, that time he fouled one of the players at your club didn’t “show his true colours”, oddballs on Twitter. Some people are just relentlessly nice.
The former Nigeria international didn’t have the easiest time getting into football as a child – her parents used to punish and even beat her for playing, and apparently they didn’t change their attitudes until they saw her singing the national anthem while lining up for her country’s Under-20 side. Now retired, Yusuf-Aromire has dedicated her post-football life to helping young women in the sport.
As well as running the SheFootball Initiative, which not only helps women to get into the sport but also provides help and support to victims of abuse and violence, she is a professional women’s sport instructor and coaches not one but two different teams in her adopted home country of Finland. That’s a lot of hard work, and by the sound of it a lot of young women in a better place as a result.
The former Rangers and Everton forward made a respectable impression as a forward throughout his career, but for all his achievements on the field – including making over 50 appearances for the Scottish national team – the biggest impression he made has been as a person.
Naismith is a patron, promoter and active volunteer with a bewildering number of charities, who work ranges from support for homeless people to help for dyslexic children and assistance to injured service personnel. During his playing career, he annually visited homeless charities in Glasgow and Liverpool to help serve Christmas dinners. The only black mark on his record is the time he paid for free Everton tickets to be given to jobseekers on Merseyside – unemployment is already hard enough without having to sit through that.
If you’re playing a game of word association, the first things that come to mind with Grealish are usually things along the lines of “hairband” or “alcohol”, but it should, perhaps, simply be “kind”. Grealish has done a huge amount of work with sick and disabled children, including a bewildering number of visits and donations, and the depth of his work makes it abundantly clear that he isn’t doing it for show.
His work often comes with a very personal touch – he wrote a letter in braille to a young blind fan, for instance, and famously celebrated a World Cup goal for England with a dance suggested by a child with cerebral palsy whom Grealish had visited. Grealish’s own sister has cerebral palsy and his brother passed away when he was young – experiences which have made him a generous and very decent person, as well as giving him a great deal of empathy for children facing all manner of battles in their lives. We could all stand to be a little more Grealish sometimes.
If you want a character reference for the former Liverpool forward, just head to his hometown of Bambali in Senegal, which at this point stands as a monument to Mané’s decency and desire to help those around whom he grew up.
Thanks to hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of investment, Bambali has a new school, a new hospital, a new post office, 4G wifi and even a petrol station – and every person who lives there gets a £60 care package every month. Oh, and the children at the school get laptops and prizes for good performance. Mané was given FIFA’s first ever Socrates Award last year, given to a footballer for their inspiring work championing social or charitable causes. Well-earned, we’d say.
If you try Googling football and charity together, one name will keep coming up – former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Mata, whose work with the Common Goal initiative has seen him persuade professional athletes around the world to put 1% of their earnings towards charitable work. That work has been far-reaching and widespread, and the relentlessly cheerful Mata can claim a lot of the credit.
Common Goal has supported a vast range of projects, ranging from assistance to refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine, to an initiative to provide safe space for LGBTQ+ football players to supporting disadvantaged children in Mumbai – after Mata himself visited the Indian city to help first hand and drum up support. Plenty of footballers have found ways to help – few have been able to help as many as Mata.
The Blackburn Rovers winger lost his best friend, fellow Manchester City academy player Jeremy Wisten, to suicide three years ago, an experience which he has spoken about movingly on many occasions – and which has become the inspiration for his desire to help other people with mental health issues, both in football and outside of the sport.
As well as being an ambassador for the Go Again charity, which provides mental health support to players and coaching staff at various levels of sport, the infectiously upbeat player also took time during the coronavirus lockdown to have one-on-one video chats with Blackburn fans who were struggling. A deeply decent man who puts his time and effort as well as his money where his mouth is.
Plenty of players do their bit during their playing career – but few quit the professional game to focus on charity work. Paris-born Zola did just that in 2021 when he left Charlotte Independence in the United States at the age of 32 to prioritise his work with Banazola, a charity which helps hundreds of disadvantaged children in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As well as renovating a local school and hospital and providing healthcare, nutritional assistance and sporting opportunities, Zola (who played with the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Romain Saïss earlier in his career in France) is also an ambassador for the World Food Programme and spends most of his time back in France working to raise donations. He also seems, based on some videos and interviews, like an astonishingly nice bloke.
The footballer who shamed a government with his kindness – Rashford was the man who stepped up when Boris Johnson decided that children didn’t need to be fed through the coronavirus pandemic, donating huge sums of money and getting a massive campaign going to ensure that kids who had limited access to food when they needed it. And it wasn’t just words and cash – the United forward was out and about hand-delivering supplies during the early stages of lockdown too.
Not that his work began and ended in 2020 – he’s done a ton of work with homeless charities, children’s hospitals and even learned sign language so he could judge a poetry competition for deaf children. A class act who has remained well above the gutter journalism that snipes at him for daring to have nice cars and houses, as well. Thank you for everything, Marcus Rashford MBE.