Sports heroes and villains of 2018Getty

Three's heroes and villains of sport in 2018

The athletes who made the headlines for the right - and wrong - reasons in 2018

An image of Jagroop Shinbt
Jagroop Shinbt

And so another year comes to an end. Let's be honest, 2018 has been a rollercoaster of emotions for sports fans.

We've had one of the most enjoyable World Cup tournaments in recent history, long-awaited comebacks in the UFC, and record-breaking displays of badassery [yes this is now a word. Don't @ us] in the Winter Olympics.

It's hard to believe all this sporting drama has all taken place within just 12 months. And the key ingredient to making each of these events so memorable? The characters - sorry, athletes, who stepped-up and took on the roles of heroes and villains. 

Now these heroes don’t necessarily wear capes and as far as we're aware, these villains weren't trying to claim world domination just yet – but it has at times, helped to define them.

So who's made the naughty and nice lists? Read on to find out...

Hero - LeBron James

LeBron JamesGetty
LeBron James

LeBron has been one of the most influential sports stars in 2018, and that’s not all down to his performance on the court both for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the LA Lakers. 

He gained attention when he responded to a Fox News reporter who claimed that he should “shut up and dribble,” (rather than discuss politics) with the hashtag, #wewillnotshutupanddribble.

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LeBron also made the news when he helped coach his 13-year-old son’s basketball team to a national title in July.

But what was it that gave him hero status? Well just a week after helping his son's team, he opened the ‘I Promise’ school in his hometown of Akron, which offers help to children - 240 in fact - who are underprivileged and at risk of falling behind their peers.

Superhuman status: certified.

Villain – Neymar


There came a stage in the World Cup where seeing Neymar rolling on the floor was just a normal part of the game.

It was reported at one point that the playmaker had spent an estimated 14 minutes on the ground from his reoccurring 'falls' following contact with opposition players.

It wasn’t the act of diving per se, but more so the subsequent theatrical rolling around on the grass that resulted with eye-rolls aplenty.

“Neymar has the lowest pain threshold of any player in World Cups since Opta Stats,” Gary Lineker said.

Hero – Isco and Gerard Pique

Pique and IscoGetty
Pique and Isco

Heroes are usually seen as people that save lives, right?

Well, Spain’s Isco and Gerard Pique did exactly that ahead of their World Cup tie with Iran when they rescued a tiny bird that had somehow found its way onto the field.

Pique attempted to gently pick up the agitated bird before it flew away, however Isco then managed to successfully lift it to safety and release it on the sidelines, encouraging it to fly away.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recognised the admirable act from the two players and in return, both Isco and Pique received the organisation’s Hero to Animals award.

"No game is more important than someone's life,” PETA UK’s director Elisa Allen said. “And we hope their heroic actions will encourage everyone to come to the aid of animals in need.”

Villain – Sergio Ramos

Sergio RamosGetty
Sergio Ramos

Football’s biggest pantomime villain has proven himself to be a genuine hazard for opposition players, and Mohamed Salah found himself on the wrong end of his wrath in one of the biggest games of last season.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp accused Ramos of flooring Salah “like a wrestler” when the Madrid defender grappled him to the ground in the 2018 Champions League final.

The injury Salah sustained put his World Cup campaign with Egypt in doubt and to add fuel to the fire, Ramos later denied that he intended to hurt Salah, saying “my conscience is really clear about what I did that night.”

Well, his critics weren't convinced, and especially when he gave Salah another salty little tap on the shoulder at the Fifa Best Awards.

He also lashed out at his Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Reguilon during a training session a few months later, when he booted the ball at the 21-year-old, TWICE.

Hero – Chloe Kim

Chloe KimGetty
Chloe Kim

At just 17, this American snowboarding sensation became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding medal when she showcased her skills on the half-pipe at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Her big air backflips were spectacular to watch but it was Kim’s laid-back persona and relatable love of junk food that really won our hearts.

Kim said, “I was miserable this morning because I woke up at six,” on the day she won her gold medal, and that she was “hangry” in the moments before she stepped onto the snow.

Churros, ice cream, pizzas and cookies were all on the menu for Kim during the tournament and she was also listening to Lady Gaga and Migos during her runs on the half-pipe.

She’s a great example for everyone out there, who can't resist the occasional demolishing of a tub of ice cream, that you can, like her, still win an Olympic medal.

Villain – Conor McGregor

Conor McGregorGetty
Conor McGregor

"They want me to audition for the villain for James Bond,” McGregor said  in 2015. And earlier this year, Tom Hardy said that he used McGregor’s “uber-violence” as a reference in his portrayal of the comic book villain Venom.

Are you noticing the pattern here?

McGregor spent a night in a New York police station in April after he gatecrashed UFC 223 with his entourage and threw a metal dolly at a bus, smashing the window and injuring several UFC fighters in the process.

Avoiding a jail sentence by pleading guilty in a deal with prosecutors, just three months after the incident, McGregor returned to the UFC in what was billed as the biggest fight in the organisation’s history, but he failed to go the distance and tapped out four-rounds into the fight, losing to rival Khabib Nurmagomedov. Chaos then ensued with numerous brawls breaking out

It didn't keep him down for too long though - after all, he netted $3million from the fight with Nurmagomedov.

Hero – Kylian Mbappe

Kylian MbappeGetty
Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe, 19, lit up the World Cup this summer with his super-fast speed and sublime skills and was a key reason France won the tournament.

He became the youngest player since Pele to score in a World Cup final and to add to that remarkable fact, he also donated his estimated £380,000 salary from the tournament to charity.

It’s no surprise then that Time featured him on the cover of an issue in October, making him only the fourth footballer in the magazine’s 95-year history to do so.

"My mother has always told me that to become a great football player, you must be before all a great man," he told Time.

I think we can speak for most people when we say, you’re already pretty great Kylian.

Villain – Jose Mourinho

Jose MourinhoGetty
Jose Mourinho

Over the years, the Manchester United manager has proven to be one of the biggest troll-artists in the game, and this year was no different.

His feud with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte spilled over into 2018 when he started off the year by calling Conte a clown, later making a jibe about match-fixing. The relevance? Conte's four-month suspension while at Juventus in 2012 for failing to report match-fixing at his previous club Siena. It's worth pointing out that four years later, in 2016 Conte was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Conte wasn’t the only person on Mourinho’s hit-list this year though.

After a last minute win over Juventus in November, he celebrated by lifting his hand to his ear and taunted the Italian fans leaving former United midfielder Paul Scholes unimpressed: “I don't think there's any need for it but that's the way he is," he told BT Sport.

And who can forget his alleged feud with Paul Pogba that went public when a video from training showed a heated exchange between the player and manager?

Not to mention how he celebrated Marouane Fellaini's winner against Young Boys when he kicked a crate into the dugouts and lifted another one full of drinks, before smashing it into the ground.

Whatever you need to do to distract from another season of stagnation though, right?

Hero – This Witham FC fan

James Beardwell is the ultimate definition of a super-fan.

He supports Witham Town, who play in a regional league in the London area, and although the attendance at games is usually low, it doesn’t stop him from travelling to every match and cheering on the team.

Beardwell made headlines this year when he was caught on camera as the only fan in the crowd singing at the top of his voice, despite Witham losing the game 4-1 to their rivals, Grays Athletic.

He’s become such a somewhat of a cult figure at the club and the players now know who he is when he brings his unique burst of energy and numerous flags to the games.

“I always sing as loud as I can to try and create the whole atmosphere of 100 to 1000 people," he told Essex Live.


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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Lucy Fer

    26 Dec 2018 1:37
    Conor McGregor is a colossal end of an even more colossal bell, but people love him, and they'd probably continue to do so even if there was a ton of irrefutable evidence he'd killed someone.
  • Comment number 2. Posted by fajitas-r-fab

    20 Dec 2018 14:50
    I agree MattWWFC. Then when they looked at all the calls the umpire had made over his career and it showed he was actually more likely to punish the male athletes, she went quiet and refused to apologise.
  • Comment number 1. Posted by MattWWFC

    20 Dec 2018 13:57
    I can't believe Serena Williams is not on this list after her temper tantrum after the U.S. Open final. She showed complete disrespect to her opponent and completely stole the limelight from what should have been the biggest moment of Naomi Osaka's career. Then to play the sexism/racism card to top it all off.