Mario Balotelli and the Craziest Footballers on the Planet
Believe it or not, there are some real lunatics in world football.
Whether you call them 'mercurial enigmas', or just plain 'crazy', you can certainly say that it is these wildcards that help make the game one of the most fascinating sports on the planet.
After all, with all due respect, who wants 22 clones of Gareth Southgate on the field?
Here are a collective of the craziest players in football right now, and the legends whose antics they parallel.
Welcome to the Mental Asylum.
Then: Diego Maradona
Argentinian Diego Maradona's on-going feud with Brazilian Pele has certainly been one of the most entertaining storylines in world football in the last few years.
The two legends bicker back and forth over the simple question of, who was better?
But Diego makes this list for his handballs, drug use, press conference rants, outspoken views, gun crime, assaults and dubious relationships with organized crime lords (via The Telegraph).
Is Maradona is the most controversial footballer to have ever lived?
Now: Luis Suarez
Diego Maradona may have committed the most famous World Cup handball in history, but fellow-South American Luis Suarez's offence in 2010 surely ranks a close second.
His goal-line flap to break African hearts was as desperate as it was deranged.
Also in Suarez's CV of craziness is his biting of an opponent's shoulder during a game, for which he was given a paltry seven-match ban (via BBC).
He's not called the "Cannibal of Ajax" for nothing.
Then: Vinnie Jones
Getty Images/Getty Images
Now, you wouldn't want to run into that face in a dark alley, would you?
Hollywood may have softened him, but in his heyday, Vinnie Jones was as mad as he was tough.
Part of Wimbledon's legendary "Crazy Gang," Jones once participated in a documentary in which he gave budding "hard men" advice on how best to intimidate the opposition.
For his troubles, Jones was handed a six month ban by the FA. Perhaps he should have just bitten someone on the shoulder?
Now: Joey Barton
Joey Barton on the other hand, is less of a "hard man," more of a complete loose cannon.
One of the most violent human beings to ever grace the game, Barton's rap sheet reads like he's a low-level enforcer for Vito Corleone.
He's stubbed a cigarette out in a teammate's eye at a Christmas party, he's broken an innocent pedestrian's leg as a result of poor driving, he's assaulted a taxi driver, and that's not to mention the countless red cards picked up for violence during matches (via The Guardian).
His new club Marseille are welcome to him. Any chance the move to France could be made permanent?
Then: Eric Cantona
For all his genius, there was plenty of "crazy" inside Eric Cantona.
His most legendary offence came in an away game at Crystal Palace when, upon receiving a red card, he proceeded to kung-fu kick a fan who had apparently insulted him.
His justification for the act in the post-match press conference was, "when the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." (via Goal.com)
Nobody still has any idea what he was talking about.
Now: El Hadji Diouf
Image via Daily Mail
Though it may seem criminal to compare Cantona with El Hadji Diouf, the latter's mental fan interaction sees him a worthy entrant to this list.
Whilst playing for Liverpool in a match at Scottish club Celtic, Diouf spat at the opposition fans who were mocking him (via BBC).
The Senegalese international has rather a fondness for spitting in fact—a simple Google search for "Diouf Spit" will bring up at least five instances of the unsavoury act.
Perhaps he needs to learn a better way of expressing himself?
Then: Rene Higuita
It is an accepted truth in football that all goalkeepers are crazy. Well, this one is anyway.
Rene Higuita is best known for his acrobatic scorpion-kick clearance in a match against England at, of all places, Wembley Stadium.
Nicknamed "El Loco" for his antics, Higuita was as eccentric as they come, often rushing forward during matches in attempts to get his name on the scoresheet.
The Colombian has also spent time behind bars, having been imprisoned in 1993 for profiting from his part played in a drugs-related kidnapping (via ESPN).
Now: Alberto 'Jimmy' Fontana
No, not the 60's crooner, this Jimmy Fontana is another crazy goalkeeper who puts most of peers to shame with his post-match celebrations.
With his team Novara having secured promotion to Serie A last summer, Fontana proceeded to jump head-first into a sign, plant kisses on members of the media and run around shorts-less whilst letting off a fire extinguisher.
This summer fared a lot worse for the veteran keeper—he was banned from the game for three-and-a-half years for his role in a match-fixing scandal.
One can only presume his reaction in court was a little more muted.
Then: Paulo Di Canio
When people discuss the worst divers in the history of the game, few mention referee Paul Alcock.
His comical flop in the face of a livid Paulo di Canio is surely deserving of a yellow card from his own pocket for simulation.
Paulo di Canio on the other-hand is, without question, a madman.
When he's not assaulting officials, the now-manager of Swindon Town is insulting his own players, recently describing goalkeeper Wes Foderingham as, "one of the worst players I have ever seen" (via Daily Mail).
A fine way to build confidence, sir.
Now: Antonio Cassano
Another fiery Italian, Antonio Cassano's reaction to receiving his marching orders whilst at Sampdoria was equally barmy.
Held back from throwing a punch or two in the direction of the referee, Cassano instead threw his shirt at the official in a fit of rage.
But it seems the forward's anger is nowhere near as potent as his lust—he once claimed to have slept with over 600 women in his youth (via The Independent).
It seems the word 'restraint' isn't in Cassano's dictionary.
Then: Paul Gascoigne
Getty Images/Getty Images
When pundits and fans alike discuss the career of Paul Gascoigne, their words often contain the question, "what if?"
One of the most enigmatic players of all time, 'Gazza' could be devastating on his day, powering his way past helpless defenders with a bulky kind-of grace.
But his self-indulgent lifestyle often led to fitness problems, as did his occasionally questionable attitude to the game.
But the greatest anecdote regarding Gascoigne has to be when a Norwegian reporter cornered him after a game to ask if the player had a message for his home country.
'Gazza' responded, "F**k off, Norway."
Now: Mario Balotelli
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Credit must be given where it's due. Like Paul Gascoigne, Mario Balotelli surely has one of the best sense of humours in football.
But that's not to say that the Italian striker isn't completely bonkers—he is.
Some of his greatest moments include trespassing in a women's prison, trying to let off fireworks in his own house, throwing darts at younger players from a window in Manchester City's training complex and crashing his car in the middle of the city (via The Mirror).
Long may his hilarious antics continue.
Honourable Mention: Elizabeth Lambert
Who says women's soccer isn't as tough as men's?
Whilst at New Mexico, Elizabeth Lambert pushed the limits of physicality in a Mountain West Conference semifinal.
Kicking, punching and tugging at opponents' hair in a game led to the defender being suspended indefinitely from the game for her inappropriate conduct (via ESPN).
But make no mistake, her place in the pantheon of crazy footballers is guaranteed for life.
Who do you think is the craziest player in the game? Who is the craziest of all time?