From Costa to Tyson and Rodman: Sport's greatest instigators

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Who would you least like to play against?

A sporting instigator is probably best described as the kind of guy you hate playing against, but would absolutely love to have on your team.

They’re usually not the most skillful players out there but they have the uncanny ability to influence the outcome of a match through other means.

Last weekend when Chelsea took on Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, the mercurial Diego Costa was involved in several skirmishes with Arsenal’s players which culminated in an ugly verbal and physical altercation with Gabriel Paulista. The confrontation ended with Paulista being sent off for stamping on Costa’s feet.  

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In the days following the game, Costa was handed a three-match suspension by the FA for his part in the incident, while Paulista had his own suspension overturned.

Chelsea won 2-0 and Costa was vilified by the Arsenal faithful but showered with praise by the Chelsea camp.   

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho declared him the man of the match and even compared the Spaniard’s passion to the dedication that is on show at the Rugby World Cup.

Was Costa the best player on the pitch? Not by a long shot, but the consequences of his actions had the greatest impact on the game and certainly swayed the match in the Blues’ favour.  

Love them or hate them (or both), these hot-headed players are here to stay.

Here, Sport360 takes a look at the top 10 sportsmen who not only love getting under their opposition’s skin, but are extremely good at doing so.

PEPE
If there’s one footballer that has the ability to get on your nerves, it has to be Pepe.

The short-tempered Real Madrid defender is never short of a snide comment to the opposition and his physical – some would say violent – style of play hasn’t won him too many fans over the years.

LUIS SUAREZ
Someone forgot to tell Luis Suarez that getting under the skin of the opposition was a metaphor. The Uruguayan striker has bitten three players to date and is a constant pain to all opponents.  

In defense of his cannibalistic antics, Suarez infamously wrote the following in his book: “I know biting appalls a lot of people, but it’s relatively harmless.”

DIEGO COSTA
Since he arrived at Stamford Bridge from Atletico Madrid last year, Costa has arguably been the most divisive player in the Premier League.

Compared to last year when he had scored eight goals in six matches, he’s had a slow start this season but that hasn’t changed the fact that Costa is still playing a pivotal role in Chelsea’s title defense thanks to his provocative presence.

JOSE MOURINHO
Off the field, managers too can indulge in the war of words and there’s perhaps no one who has perfected the art better than Mourinho.

Whether it’s a statement to derail his team’s opponent, motivate his club, or manipulate the media, the charismatic Portuguese has it all.

SEAN AVERY
Possibly the most hated player by opposition teams in NHL history, Avery was a true instigator both on and off the ice rink.

He wouldn’t be afraid to speak his mind, even if he knew it would get him in trouble as seen in several controversies and being fined numerous times by the league.

MIKE TYSON
Intimidation was perhaps Mike Tyson’s greatest weapon before and after he entered the boxing ring.

Tyson would prepare for his fights psychologically almost as much as he would physically, claiming to have already beaten his rivals before a punch was even thrown. Like Suarez, he too wasn’t afraid to sink his teeth into his opponent.

CARL FROCH
Former British boxer Froch will be remembered for being one of the toughest boxers of his time both mentally and physically.

The lead-up to his fights would be marked by him relentlessly needling his opponent or else talking about himself, something he was never shy to do.  

DENNIS RODMAN

With his eccentric hairstyles and heart-on-sleeve style of play, Dennis Rodman was one of the most controversial in NBA history. He was a member of the Bad Boy Pistons in the late 1980s and will be remembered for being one of the strongest rebounders the game has seen.

The title of his autobiography, Bad as I Wanne Be, is a perfect tribute to his role on the basketball court as a chief troublemaker.

MERV HUGHES
Australia’s Merv Hughes was a fast-bowler with a particular fondness for sledging.

After beating Graham Gooch’s edge a few times during an Ashes test, Hughes famously told the England batsman: "Would you like me to bowl a piano and see if you can play that?"

STEVE WAUGH
Another Aussie who reveled in the art of sledging, Waugh appropriately referred to the on-field war of words as 'mental disintegration'.

Waugh and his Australian team became masters of targeting mental fragility as they became one of the most powerful cricket teams in history.  

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