You would be hard-pressed to find another sport that’s had a revolution in analysis the likes of which soccer has experienced in the last few years. Where a decade ago post-match analysis began and ended with guts, determination and hustle, the modern pundit relies on an array of technical minutiae to justify their conclusions.
Tactics, heat maps, possession rates, successful dribbles, aerial duels won, distribution percentages, expected goal differentials, goal impact, man-marking, zonal marking, expected goals created, inverted wingers, inverted full backs, false nines, false coaches, training methods, choice of breakfast, team selection, nominal GDPs, and even jersey tightness are just some of the tools in use to break down a team’s performance.
But while these factors make the sport more tangible, the authority with which they’re spoken can be problematic, especially when so many significant variables are left on the table because they don’t fit within contemporary research. In fact, the utility of any modern match-analysis becomes laughable when you realize the most significant factor to any team’s success hasn’t been taken into consideration.
I am, of course, talking about mascots.
Lovable, usually fuzzy, typically charming with a penchant for shenanigans, mascots have proven time and time again to be decisive factors for their team’s performance. From the way Gauchito drove Argentina to the 1978 World Cup, to Fred the Red’s late antics that propelled Manchester United past Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, the impact of in-form mascots cannot be understated.
With that in mind, let’s consider the top five mascots in world soccer:
5: Ruralito, Zamora CF (Spain)
According to a Wikipedia entry on association football mascots (a site you should make your homepage), Ruralito is “an anthropomorphized wheat plant” based on the logo of Zamora’s sponsor, Caja Rural. While that’s interesting in and of itself, what’s more astounding is that multiple people, from Caja Rural marketing officers to employees with Zamora’s front office, all had to sign off on Ruralito as a positive representative of the team.
Ruralito makes our power rankings because there’s something impressive about simultaneously terrifying children and promoting healthy eating habits, while also sharing a stunning resemblance to former U.S. Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
4: Pepe Zorillo, Real Valladolid (Spain)
Mascots come in a variety of shapes, sizes, species and historic time periods, but typically remain relatively straight-forward. For example, a team mascot’s could be an anthromorporhic eagle or a Roman soldier, but nine times out of 10, there will be very little crossover between the options.
Pepe Zorillo, Real Valladolid’s medieval-era masked fox fighting knight offers real value, ticking the check boxes of a variety of mascot themes. While he may be a bit out of shape, Pepe Zorillo’s penchant for Katy Perry-inspired dance numbers earns him a spot on our list.
3: The Unnamed One, FC Saschen Leipzig (Formerly of Germany)
“Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.”
H.P. Lovecraft on ‘The Unnamed Mascot,’ who has purged any record of his existence from the internet, save for a solitary photo taken before a match in 2007. This makes sense when you realize that ‘The Unnamed Mascot’ existed before the creation of the Earth, and will continue to do so after plagues and a sea of flames swallow our civilization.
Legally, I am required to inform you that FC Saschen Leipzig fell into insolvency in 2011, freeing ‘The Unnamed Mascot’ to continue his dreadful campaign of terror across the world.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh, The Unnamed Mascot, R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
2: Xolo Mayor, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
While the majority of mascots are of the ‘cuddly’ variety, designed as cute distractions for younger fans, Club Tijuana’s Xolo Mayor is anything but, with a muscular build closer to ‘club bouncer/ mafia enforcer’ than ‘friend to children.’
An intimidating presence, Xolo Mayor often has to be held back from attacking opposition players, a fact that has influenced children who have become indoctrinated by his preference for violence.
Similarly, Xolo Mayor’s quick temper has caused many of the team’s first XI to defer to him whenever possible.
In fact, Xolo Mayor sent me an email in which he claimed he “better make the list” if I ever wanted “to see my family again.”
1: Gunnersaurus, Arsenal (England)
No mascot more fully embodies its club and fans than Arsenal’s Gunnersaurus. A tyrannosaurus from the late Cretaceous period, Gunnersaurus is the perfect representation of an Arsenal fan.
From celebrating his team’s triumphs…
To struggling with some of his best friends moving on, like Cesc…
From promoting Arsenal’s focus on youth development…
To hurling vitriol at opposition players…
From pointing fingers at Arsene Wenger when things don’t quite go to plan…
To moving on and celebrating the present…
Gunnersaurus is Arsenal.
There you have it, our list of the best mascots in world soccer. If you disagree, please leave your comments below but know in advance that you’re mistaken.