Ink is a funny old thing: Shakespeare used it to ensure the boredom of high school students for hundreds of years, octopuses use it to defend themselves, and the Daily Mail uses it to spread hatred, xenophobia and scurrilous transfer rumors to the middle classes of Britain every single day. Yet, when footballers use it to stain their skin and express what they feel their words cannot (like Marco Materazzi's very literal depiction of his World Cup joy, above) it can be a weird, wonderful and surprisingly revealing thing. With this in mind, here's DT's top ten tattooed ballers to look out for during the tournament...
10. Sergio Ramos
Incredibly, Real Madrid's second vainest player has managed to look away from a mirror on ten separate occasions to get ink done. Clearly unaware of the concept of a diary, many of the Spaniard's etchings are dates, including the birth dates of his parents and two brothers, plus the dates of the terrorist attacks in Madrid and New York. Pajero also has his lucky number seven tattooed on his left arm, which serves as a handy reminder for the number of times he needs to straighten his hair each day.
The Portuguese footballer of Brazilian descent actually has a Japanese mother, and pays tribute to this lineage with a large tattoo of a Geisha that extends over his right shoulder and right arm. Rumors that his left thigh depicts former boyfriend Big Phil Scolari are unfounded, but hilarious to spread.
8. Tim Cahill
While the majority of Australians sport a regrettable misspelt Foo Fighters tattoo that they picked up while "discovering themselves" in Bangkok, the Everton midfielder's intricate sleeve design has actual meaning: it pays homage to his Samoan heritage and family history.
7. Cesc Fabregas
When he was first stolen away from Barcelona back in 2003, the Spaniard was barely old enough to step inside a tattoo parlour. Last year, however, he finally branded his right elbow with a design that Kickette describes as looking like a "stick-on". Cesc had better move to Barcelona before Theo Walcott encourages him to sport a rub-on Transformers logo on his chest.
6. Marek Hamsik
The Slovakian midfielder complements his electric shock hairdo with five gnarly tatts, including the date of Slovakia's qualification (10/14/2009), his birthday, the word 'Passion' in Japanese, his lucky number seven, and what he describes as "symbols of properties such as energy and talent that I need to develop my football skills." Right. The 22-year-old is planning only two more tattoos (to bring the tally up to his lucky number), which he says will be the names of his future children. He better hope he never has a third child, or it will feel as neglected as the third Gallagher brother.
5. Jermain Defoe
For a man who can't physically go much longer than two hours without making love to a lady who has featured in Nuts magazine, Defoe has spent an impressive about of time in the tattoo parlour. Among his many designs are tributes to his mother, sister, brother and late grandmother, showing a rather likeable and sensitive side.
4. Daniel Agger
Danish defender Agger's skin displays a painstaking collection of incongruous symbols, tribal designs and haunting inscriptions. In addition to an impressively detailed sleeve design on his left arm, he has the name of his brother and sister on his chest, and a charming Nordic Viking on his right arm. He also has a selection of morbid quotes: one reads "Memento mori" ("Remember you will die") and another "Mors certa hora incerta" (Death is certain, but the hour is uncertain"). Way to remind us of our mortality and the general pointlessness of existence, Dani. Interestingly, Agger is also a qualified tattoo artist.
3. Kevin Prince Boateng
With the absence of the likes of David Beckham and Marco Materazzi, KPV is ibattling Agger for the coveted 'Most skin covered by ink at a World Cup' award. The German midfielder - who defected to Ghana prior to this tournament - has thirteen tattoos at last count, covering both his arms, his chest and his neck. The aesthetic highlights are two jokers, one laughing, and one crying. "It means laugh now, cry later," the Ballack-wrecking Portsmouth star explains.
2. Wayne Rooney
The England striker's ever increasing collection of body art is a map of pub car park patriotism, banal verbal jokes and a tribute to his favourite Welsh rockers. On his left arm sits a St George's flag and the phrase ‘English and Proud', and on his right forearm are the words ‘Just Enough Education to Perform', the title of the (thoroughly disappointing) third album by his favorite band The Stereophonics. Yet the pièce de résistance can be found on his back: below a recently revealed design dedicated to his son Kai sits the word ‘Then'. It matches a tattoo on a friend's back which reads ‘OK'. So when they stand next to each other with their shirts off, the folks behind them will be tickled beyond belief by the popular phrase ‘OK Then'. The mind truly boggles.
1. Diego Maradona
As the Argentinean legend's canvas has grown (ie he's got fatter), so to has his amount of tattoos. His two daughters Gianinna and Dalma get skin real estate on his right and left forearms respectively, and he has some weird dragon thing on his upper left arm. Diego also wears his political ideologies on his skin: on his left leg is a portrait of Fidel Castro ("Meeting him was like touching the sky with my hands. What he has done for me is indescribable. Along with God, he is the reason I am alive.") and Marxist leader Che Guevara lives on his upper right arm ("I carry him on my arm and in my heart. I learned his story, I learned to love him. I think I know the truth about him"). His next tatt project is to get "I'M NOT ENVIOUS OF LEO MESSI'S CURRENT SUCCESS. I DON'T HATE HIM, HONESTLY" emblazoned across his butt cheeks.
Images: AP; Getty