Footballers and the importance of tattoos

Now considered an art form in its own right, the popularity of the tattoo knows no bounds among today’s footballers. Though its origins are the subject of debate, it has become a valued fashion accessory, with more and more ornate examples of this eye-catching form of body art appearing with every passing season.

Taking a closer look an increasingly popular trend, explains the stories behind just some of tattoos worn by the game’s stars.

Religous dedication
“Tattooing is a way of telling a story,” says celebrated Argentinian tattoo artist, Leonardo Miralles. “They used ink and paper before but now more and more people prefer to use their skin instead.” Never short of custom from players in the Spanish league, Miralles’ services are so highly regarded by Fernando Torres that the Liverpool striker has even set up a studio for him in his flat in England.

One player with a heart-rending story to tell is Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti. Claiming to have seen the Virgin Mary as he waited to be rescued after suffering a serious car crash in 2005, the Cagliari custodian decided to have the Hail Mary prayer tattooed on his right arm and the legend “Andrea and Francy, with me forever” imprinted on his left, in tribute to two friends who died in the accident.

Identified by many as a tattooing trendsetter, David Beckham also has several religious motifs adorning his body. Aside from an image of Jesus on his lower right abdomen, the English fashion icon has also two angels etched onto his skin, one occupying virtually the whole of his right arm, and the other – the Guardian Angel – taking up a sizeable part of his back. Beckham later decided to have wings added to the latter design, perhaps inspired by the spectacular winged figures sported by France’s Djibril Cisse or Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland.

The face of Christ has also proved popular with Napoli’s Argentinian forward Ezequiel Lavezzi and Paraguay striker Salvador Cabanas, while the Crucifixion scene appears on the chests of Werder Bremen’s Brazilian centre-half Naldo and Serbian stopper Ivica Dragutinovic. Stoke City’s German defender Robert Huth, Republic of Ireland goalgetter Robbie Keane and Belgian keeper Logan Bailly have all opted instead for plain crosses, designs that pale in significance to the one adorning the entire left arm of Besiktas’ Spanish midfielder Guti, which is based on Michelangelo’s frescoes at the Sistine Chapel.

Hearts on sleeves
Religious scenes are not the most popular designs among players, however, as Patricio Hinojosa, who has worked his magic for several Chilean footballers, explains: “More than anything they ask me for portraits of their children or their wives, or the names of their family members.”

Among his clients is La Roja midfielder Arturo Vidal, the proud bearer of his mother’s face. Brazilian full-back Dani Alves has his wife’s visage on his right shoulder and the names of his children on his forearms. And while these are tattoos of choice for many other players, Hamburg’s Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero is perhaps the only one to have his spouse’s features etched on his stomach.

Fast running out of space, Sergio Ramos opted to have his brother’s and sister’s initials inked discreetly on the middle finger of his left hand. Meanwhile, the Samoan lifeline tattoo that Everton’s Australia international Tim Cahill wears on his right arm lists the names of his grandparents, immediate relatives and the clubs he has played for during his career. Telling the story behind the design on his website, Cahill explains that he has left some space for possible future additions.

Chilean midfielder Marco Estrada has his surname in italics on his left shoulder, while Parma’s Spanish midfielder Jose Fernando Marques had his grafted onto one of his forearms. Compatriot Fernando Torres and Argentina’s Sergio Aguero have done likewise, the only difference being that their surnames are written in the Tengwar script that JRR Tolkien invented for The Lord of the Rings and other works.

Sources of inspiration
Numbers and dates are also popular choices among the footballing fraternity. Legend has it that when former Monterrey player Jesus Arellano lost the numbers 2 and 8 from the shorts he was wearing in training one day, he decided to have “28” tattooed on his shoulder.

Returning to the well decorated bodies of Messrs Torres and Ramos, both feature dates of great sentimental importance to them, the Liverpool hitman recording for posterity the date he first kissed his wife, and the flying right-back opting for “9/11”, in memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre, and the date of the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

As well as bearing a permanent reminder of the date and the place where Italy won their fourth FIFA World Cup™ Trophy, Italian defender Marco Materazzi added to his extensive body art collection with a tattoo of the famous piece of silverware on his left thigh. And when Inter Milan won the UEFA Champions League last season, the veteran had that trophy depicted on his right tibia. “I’ve got lots of space left for more cups. All I have to do now is win them,” he joked.

With an England flag on his right shoulder, Wayne Rooney is just one of the players to express a love of their homeland in ink. Kevin-Prince Boateng went a step further by having an outline of his native Ghana inscribed on one of his biceps, and Iraq’s Yunes Mahmud went for a design combining a map of his country and the Iraqi national flag.

The fighting qualities of Francesco Totti and Victor Valdes are reflected by their Roman warrior tattoos, with Fabio Cannavaro choosing a samurai and Danish centre-half Daniel Agger drawing inspiration from closer to home with a Viking design. The Liverpool man is actually a qualified tattoo artist and promised to give the whole Reds squad matching tattoos if they won the Premier League in 2009. Sadly for him, it was a promise he did not have to keep.

Taking their cue from the Zodiac are Valdes, Jermaine Jones, Martin Palermo and Boris Zivkovic, all of whom have been emblazoned with scorpions, even if the Croat gave his tattoo a personal touch by adding a football. Although a Sagittarian and known in the game as El Conejo (The Rabbit), Benfica striker Javier Saviola decided to join them, his choice of a scorpion motif being motivated by his links with a well-known sports brand.

Chile international Gary Medel has a pitbull tattoo in tribute to his nickname, one he shares with Petit, although it is not known if the Portugal man has a similar image adorning his body. Aside from dogs, there are also plenty of big cats on parade, among them the panthers seen on Humberto Suazo, Cicinho and Freddie Ljungberg, David Odonkor’s leopard and Elson Falcao da Silva’s lion. Looking elsewhere in the animal world for inspiration, Chinese duo Chen Tao and Han Duan went for an eagle and a dolphin respectively.

One player who might be forgiven for wishing he had never gone under the tattooist’s needle is Dutch midfielder Andy van der Meyde. As a teenager coming up through the ranks at Ajax, Van der Meyde was so confident his future lay with the Amsterdam club that he had its name etched on his knee, a decision he may well have regretted earlier this year, when he signed for archrivals PSV Eindhoven.