12 most controversial footballers in history

Throughout the history of football, fans have witnessed some set of players who crossed the threshold in terms of acceptable behavior and were constant magnets for controversies and tabloid gossip.

These players frequently garnered negative attention for their 0118630967 outlandish behavior, ranging from clashes with teammates and coaches to getting into fistfights with fans or battling with drug and alcohol addiction and they generally left fans on edge wondering what their next antic would be.

While this trait made them darlings of the tabloids and gossip pages, more often than not, these controversial actions told on their careers and they mostly did not get to fulfill their potential.

Here at Sportszion, we shall be having a rundown of the top 12 most controversial footballers in history.

#12. Rene Higuita (Colombia)

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Rene Higuita’s nickname of ‘El Loco’ should tell you all there was to know about his outlandish behavior and the retired Colombian goalkeeper garnered as much attention for his exploits on the field as he did for his deeds off it.

He garnered world attention at the 1990 World Cup where he debuted the ‘Scorpion Kick’ save that saw him deploy the rather unusual technique of making saves by letting the ball go over his head then bending his legs to keep the ball out of the net and this on-the-edge style of goalkeeping meant fans never knew what to expect from him.

Beyond his goalkeeping style, Higuita was also one of the earliest goalkeepers to act as a sweeper-keeper and he regularly raced from his area to snuff out attacks before they started.

This, however, cost him in the game against Cameroon, as he came off his line and attempted to dribble Roger Milla only to lose possession and leave an unguarded net for Milla to score.

He infamously had a close acquaintance with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and missed the 1994 World Cup after spending time in prison for his complicity in a kidnapping saga. Later on in his career, Higuita tested positive for Cocaine use and was subsequently banned from the game.

#11. Carlos Tevez (Argentina)

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Carlos Tevez is another South American who has not strayed far from controversies and the first big headline concerning him was when West Ham had to compensate Sheffield United with the sum of £20m when the latter was relegated in 2007 after West Ham had contravened transfer rules to sign the Argentine.

Further furor was raised when he decided to ditch Manchester United for bitter city rivals Manchester City and the ‘RIP Fergie’ banner he held aloft during City’s title celebrations in 2012 were widely condemned.

In the run-up to that dramatic title triumph, Carlos Tevez had gone on a self-imposed six-month exile in his native South America after failing to warm up during a Champions League clash against Bayern Munich.

Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua reportedly made him the highest-paid player in history when they signed him on a two-year contract in December 2016. The deal cost a whopping €650,000 per week and it was expected that he would help take the club to the next level.

Tevez was, however, not interested in putting in the work to make his time in China a success and it came as no surprise when his contract was terminated after just eight months, with him later describing his time in China as a ‘holiday’.

#10. El-Hadji Diouf (Senegal)

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El-Hadji Diouf was named Africa Player of the Year consecutively in 2001 and 2002, which serves as proof of his undoubted talent.

He flourished as an unfancied Senegal side made it to the quarterfinal of the 2002 World Cup and his performance at the Mundial convinced Liverpool to sign him from Lens in the summer of 2002.

His spell at Anfield did not, however, go according to plan and after initial struggles in front of goal, Diouf’s Liverpool career went down the drain when he spat at a Celtic fan in a UEFA Cup game, leading to disturbances on the field and police intervention.

This led Gerard Houllier to tell him: “The stigma of what you did will follow you around for the rest of your career. You’ll never live it down”

That proved to be the case and Diouf never fully recovered from the incident and fell out with his Liverpool teammates including Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

There was also an accusation of him spitting at an 11-year-old Middlesbrough fan and racially insulting an Everton ball boy, and Diouf spent the rest of his once-promising career as a journeyman, representing sides like Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United, Doncaster Rovers among others to very little success.

#9. Edmundo (Brazil)

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Edmundo was once described as the ‘most hated player in Brazil’ and that is enough indication of how antagonistic he was as a footballer.

His career was one long rap sheet of misdemeanors and the former Brazilian international was never far from controversy at whatever club he found himself.

Multiple managers found him difficult to manage and Edmuudo never stayed long enough at a single club to create a lasting impression, with his spells always ended by altercations with either fans, coaches, or his teammates.

His most heinous offense, however, came in 1995 when he was responsible for the death of three persons while drunk-driving but despite the case going to court, he was never officially prosecuted.

#8. Paul Gascoigne (England)

Paul Gascoigne

A case can be made for Paul Gascoigne to be considered as the most talented player in history and the midfielder had his breakthrough at the 1990 World Cup in Italy when he acted as the driving force behind England’s run to the semifinal of the World Cup.

He, however, courted controversy during his career and was infamously dropped from Glen Hoddle’s Euro 1996 squad after being pictured late at night eating Kebabs which was forbidden to members of the squad.

In a fit of rage, he trashed his room which led to him never being called up for England again.

Gasgoinge battled with Alcoholism for most of his adult career and this manifested itself in his later career, with him arrested on several occasions for getting int bar fights, while he nearly declared bankruptcy after failing to file his tax returns for almost two years.

A restraining order was also placed on him for assaulting his ex-girlfriend and was admitted to the hospital after being thrown down the stairs for making racial slurs at an attendant.

Paul Gascoigne tried his hands at coaching upon his retirement but he is one of several talented players who flopped as coaches.

#7. Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

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Luis Suarez is a goalscorer of epic proportions and he has proven his mettle in front of goal across his spells with Ajax, Liverpool, and Barcelona as well as the Uruguayan national team.

The 32-year-old is the only player to have pipped the eternal duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the European Golden Shoe in the last decade while he has also helped his various clubs to numerous major trophies.

Two things that have been constant in Luis Suarez’s career have been plenty of goals and plenty of controversies and earlier in his career, the former Ajax man attracted negative headlines like a magnet.

He faced a lengthy ban in the Netherlands while with Ajax for biting an opponent and he repeated this in the Premier League against Chelsea, as well as the World Cup against Italy, while he has also been charged for racially abusing opponents.

He seems to have cleaned up his act since transferring to Barcelona and the world is enjoying this cleaner version of Luis Suarez.

#6. John Terry (England)

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John Terry is a bonafide Chelsea and England legend and during his career, he distinguished himself as one of the best defenders in history.

However, he almost tainted his legacy with his numerous off-field misdemeanors and had another player with a less profile than Terry committed half his atrocities, he would have faced far greater repercussions.

Terry threatened to cause disharmony in the Chelsea and England dressing room when he had an affair with the wife of teammate Wayne Bridge and given his untouchable status at the club, it led to Bridge departing Stamford Bridge, while he also ended his England career as long as Terry was involved with the national team.

There were also other controversies, such as him trying to sell tours of the club and racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

In the latter case, rather shambolically, a court deemed that there was not enough evidence to convict Terry and he was let off the hook rather cheaply.

Despite these, he remains a hugely loved figure in England and Chelsea and the notoriously venomous English media have been almost sympathetic to Terry’s cause.

#5. Eric Cantona (France)

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Eric Cantona signed for Manchester United from Leeds United in 1992 and he went on to play a key role in the revival of the club as a dominant force at the start of the Premier League era.

In five years at the club, Cantona achieved cult-hero status at Old Trafford and to this day, many consider him as one of the greatest players in the illustrious history of Manchester United.

However, the Frenchman also courted controversy throughout his career and was banned from all footballing activities for eight months after giving a Crystal Palace fan a kung fu kick after the fan insulted hi while walking into the tunnel.

He remains unremorseful about the incident to this day and had other controversial moments including throwing the ball at a referee while at Nimes, insulting his national team coach on live television and tearing off his jersey after being substituted.

#4. Joey Barton (England)

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While England might have had its fair share of highly controversial players, Joey Barton would rank high up there as the most controversial of the lot.

He is perhaps more infamous for his exploits off the field than his deeds on it and Barton might have had a more illustrious career had he put a check on his excesses.

There were several occasions when he garnered press coverage for the wrong reasons, including for when he stubbed the butt of a cigarette in an academy player’s eyes.

Barton was handed a 12-match ban for unprovoked attacks against opposition players, while he was also sentenced to six months in prison for fighting at the Liverpool City center.

In baffling scenes, his suspended sentence was increased by four months after he was caught up in a training ground fight with a teammate.

#3. Paolo di Canio (Italy)

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With Di Canio, you always knew a controversial moment was around and this hardly helped his career, as in his prime, he was an exceptionally talented player but his brilliance on the field was overshadowed by his excesses off and most times on it.

Numerous clashes with his various coaches meant that he left his native Italy in less than stellar circumstances but it was at England while playing with Sheffield Wednesday that he produced his most defining legacy.

In a league match against Arsenal in 1998, Di Canio was sent off and rather shockingly, he shoved referee Paul Alcock to the ground, an action for which he was banned for 11 matches. 

He also showed his altruistic side when he stopped play and a certain goal for his side because an opponent was on the ground injured.

He returned to Italy to play for Lazio and continued from where he left off, forming a close bond with the club’s ultras and he garnered controversy for his regular fascists salutes.

Upon his retirement, Di Canio ventured into management but his managerial career has proved every bit as controversial as his playing days.

#2. Mario Balotelli (Italy)

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Mario Balotelli was named the Golden Boy in 2010 and it is safe to say that very big things were expected from him.

It has, however, not gone exactly to plan for the Italian international and his career has been a long reel of one controversy after another.

He infamously came to fistfights with coach Roberto Mancini while at Manchester City, while Jose Mourinho had described him as ‘unmanageable’.

One particular incident that Mourinho gave to describe Balotelli’s temperament was during a league match where had been yellow-carded in the first half but Inter did not have any fit strikers available for selection.

In the words of Mourinho, he said ‘I spent 14 minutes of the half-time team talk pleading with Balotelli not to do anything. If an opponent provokes you, walk away, you must not get a second yellow card. 

In the first minute of the second half, he received his second yellow and we got reduced to 10 men.’

In England, he caused a stir when he set his house on fire by lighting firecrackers, while he also drove down to an all-female prison, because he ‘just wanted to know what it felt like’ and there was also an infamous ‘Why Always Me’ shirt celebration where he suggested that he was victimized by the British media.

Sadly, all these off-field incidents meant that Balotelli never really fulfilled his potential and while he might have calmed down as he got older, he would forever be remembered more for his excesses than his display on the field.

#1. Diego Maradona (Argentina)

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Diego Maradona is widely regarded as the greatest player in history and his performance in guiding Argentina to the 1986 World Cup ranks as one of the best individual displays in the history of the Mundial.

In what was an illustrious playing career, Maradona represented some of the biggest clubs in the world including Barcelona, Sevilla, and Napoli but it was his feats with the latter club that granted him immortality and to this day, he is revered and granted almost godlike status in the city of Naples.

His transfer to Napoli was shocking, as the club were one of the more modest clubs in Italy and while Maradona might have helped to put the club on the map, reports linked him with the local Mafiosi in the city.

Eight years after setting the world ablaze in Mexico, Maradona was sent packing from the USA ’94 World Cup after he tested positive to use of the drug ephedrine.

He also had several suspensions due to drug use during his time with Napoli and there were reports of him giving ultimatums to coaches while he was a player but unlike most of the players on this list, Maradona delivered on the field, which is why most of his excesses were condoned.

His drug addiction has threatened his life on multiple occasions and upon retirement, he ventured into coaching with minimal success.

Ume Elvis

157 articles

Ardent football fan and one of the best footie writers you'll find anywhere on the net.


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