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UEFA Europa League top 5 cult heroes

Jamie Spencer
UEL Breakfast Show: Cult Heroes & Semi-Finals Preview | Presented By Kia
UEL Breakfast Show: Cult Heroes & Semi-Finals Preview | Presented By Kia / UEFA
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Cult heroes capture the imagination of fans like few players can, whether it be through their style of play or a particular connection with the supporters they represent.

They can be found at all levels of the game, but there’s something extra special about those players who cultivated their status in the revered UEFA Europa League.

The cult heroes of past and present are the subject of the latest UEFA Europa League Breakfast Show, presented by official tournament partner, Kia. This week's edition featured broadcaster James Allcott, who helped pick out the top five players who are, and forever will be, cult heroes of the competition.


5. Joaquin

Joaquin has played in the UEFA Cup/Europa League for Real Betis, Valencia & Fiorentina over the years
Joaquin has played in the UEFA Cup/Europa League for Real Betis, Valencia & Fiorentina over the years / Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images

Real Betis legend Joaquin turns 40 this summer but despite his advancing years he’s already stated that he has no plans to retire just yet - and wants to play on for at least another year.

The Spanish winger made his UEFA Europa League debut, or the UEFA Cup as it was known at the time, way back in 2002 during his first spell with boyhood club Betis. He has also played in the competition for Valencia and Fiorentina over the years, before returning to Europe with Betis in 2018/19.

4. Diego

Diego drove Werder Bremen to the 2009 UEFA Cup final but was forced to miss it through suspension
Diego drove Werder Bremen to the 2009 UEFA Cup final but was forced to miss it through suspension / Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Brazilian midfielder Diego was the driving force behind Werder Bremen reaching the UEFA Cup final in 2009, scoring six goals in eight games after the German side entered the competition at the knockout stages.

He played decisive roles in wins over AC Milan, Udinese and Hamburg, but was cruelly robbed of participating in the final through suspension. In his absence, Bremen lost out to Shakhtar Donetsk in extra-time - perhaps testament to how much Diego’s creativity was missed.

3. Inaki Williams

Inaki Williams has played in all of Athletic Bilbao's last 18 Europa League games
Inaki Williams has played in all of Athletic Bilbao's last 18 Europa League games / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Athletic Club star Inaki Williams hasn’t missed a La Liga game since April 2016, handing him a club record for consecutive domestic appearances. He has also played in all 18 UEFA Europa League games, excluding qualifiers, his club have played in that time.

It's remarkable consistency from a player who joined Athletic at the age of 18 and has already made close to 300 senior appearances for the famous Basque club. He is yet to advance beyond the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League, but is their go-to man who can always be relied on.

2. Santi Cazorla

Santi Cazorla made his Europa League comeback in 2018 after almost losing his foot
Santi Cazorla made his Europa League comeback in 2018 after almost losing his foot / Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Santi Cazorla was a key player as Villarreal reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals in 2010/11, losing at the penultimate hurdle to eventual winners Porto. He went on to join Arsenal, where a long-term Achilles injury almost cost him his foot, never mind his football career.

An infection of the affected tendon could have meant his foot having to be amputated, but he successfully recovered and re-joined Villarreal in 2018 - playing a crucial role as the club reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League in his first season back.

1. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona won the UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989
Diego Maradona won the UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989 / Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Napoli’s only major European trophy to date came in 1989 when the late, great Diego Maradona lifted the UEFA Cup following a two-legged victory over German side Stuttgart.

Napoli had never won a major trophy before Maradona sensationally joined from Barcelona in 1984 and have spent much of their history before and after El Diego yo-yoing between Serie A and Serie B. But he spearheaded a domestic double in 1987, followed by another league title in 1990, either side of the 1989 UEFA Cup triumph.

Maradona was famously an adopted son of Naples and even split local loyalties when Italy faced his Argentina in the city in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup. Napoli fans mourned his death in 2020 like that of a family member and the club’s stadium has been renamed in his honour.

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