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World Cup - Football: Five greatest cult heroes

Football is a game full of characters, with some players known more for their personality and bond with the fans than their ability.

Other stars are brilliantly gifted but shun the spotlight, with their brooding personalities often bordering on the enigmatic.

On the occasion of Thomas Muller's 33rd birthday, it seems fitting to pay tribute to those players who perhaps have not always gained the credit they deserve, but are beloved by fans.

Thomas Muller - Bayern Munich and Germany

A player with an almost unparalleled CV, but no position, Muller is characterised by some doubters for his smile but not always his skill.

However, great coaches like Louis van Gaal, Pep Guardiola and Joachim Low have come and gone with both Bayern and Germany but Muller always makes his way into the team, especially at the business end of the season.

The 33-year-old can play across the forward line and has even occasionally dropped into midfield.

He himself has admitted to his shortcomings but has always made the most of his talent, describing himself as a 'Raumdeuter'.

'What is a 'Raumdeuter', you ask? The rough translation is an 'interpreter of space' and feels like the perfect way to describe the 11-time Bundesliga winner, who also has a couple of Champions Leagues and a World Cup on his CV.

Another World Cup win with Germany in Qatar is 10/1, with him 66/1 to win the Golden Boot, as he did in 2010 at World Cup 2022.

Salvatore Schillaci - Juventus, Inter and Italy

Another man who won the World Cup's Golden Boot is Salvatore Schillaci, the unlikely hero who almost propelled Italy to victory on home soil at Italia '90.

In a squad also featuring the likes of Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, Schillaci was almost unheard of outside of Bel Paese but scored six times as they eventually finished third.

After starting the tournament on the bench, 'Toto' forced his way into the team to forge a fine attacking partnership with Baggio.

He controversially refused to take a penalty in the semi-final shootout defeat to Argentina, citing injury, but that only adds to the myth about a player who came from relatively nowhere to star on the world stage.

After a decent, if not prolific spell with Messina, a move to Juventus in 1989 brought him to the public's attention but he lasted just three years in Turin before stints with Inter and Japanese outfit Jubilo Iwata.

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Shaun Goater - Manchester City and Bermuda

Can you name a player who has spent time at both Manchester City and Manchester United, and also represented Bermuda?

Step forward, Shaun Goater. Admittedly he didn't make the grade at Old Trafford but decent spells at Rotherham and Bristol City led him back to Manchester and Maine Road in 1998.

Goater's skill or his physicality may have never defined him, but he couldn't half score goals.

The striker netted 103 times in 189 City appearances, including in the Manchester derby.

Not many footballers have their own day but Goater does, with 21st June known as Shaun Goater Day in Bermuda.

Now an MBE, 'The Goat' is arguably the personification of a footballing cult hero.

Diego Forlan - Manchester United, Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Uruguay

There's a theme of strikers not quite performing consistently on this list and Forlan first came to the British public's interest after signing for United in 2002.

The now 43-year-old scored just 10 Premier League goals, but will always be a hero at Old Trafford for scoring a brace in a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield.

Forlan eventually left for Villarreal in 2004 but did it with the best wishes of everyone involved with the Red Devils and it was in Spain where he found himself, starring for the Yellow Submarine before going on to Atletico Madrid.

The Uruguayan won the Europa League in 2009/10 with Los Colchoneros, scoring both of his side's goals in the final as they beat Fulham 2-1 in Hamburg. That summer, he also helped his country to the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa.

For a player who struggled to score in England, the enthusiasm he demonstrated throughout his struggles means he remains fondly remembered in England. At the same time, his class sees him equally revered elsewhere.

Slaven Bilic - West Ham, Everton and Croatia

Slaven Bilic was always a shoo-in for this list: a qualified lawyer, a heavy metal rocker and a skilful central defender, whose temperament often cost him.

Part of the great Yugoslav Golden Generation of players who came through around the break up of the country, he would play a key role in Croatia's run to the semi-finals of World Cup 1998.

His classy performances were at odds with the bruising showings he'd produced with both West Ham and Everton but as ever, he became the pantomime villain, feigning injury to get Laurent Blanc sent off, causing the Frenchman to miss the final.

Bilic has since become a good manager, leading Croatia to the last eight of Euro 2008, notably at the expense of Steve McClaren's England.

The 54-year-old also guided the Hammers to a European finish in their final season at the Boleyn Ground, with them 8/1 to finish in the top six this time around.

Bilic's personality was perhaps summed up best by Frank Lampard, who described him as "a cult hero, a nice fella and a top player".

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