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Soccer's Most Notorious Bad Boys

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

Soccer's Most Notorious Bad Boys

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    Clint Hughes/Associated Press

    Certain sports embrace misbehavior from athletes. Tennis adored the hirsute passion of Andre Agassi and the disbelieving shouts of John McEnroe, while NASCAR disputes on pit lane often resemble WWE pre-match hype sessions. Simply put, it's good TV.

    However, soccer (or "football" if you're reading this in a place that calls the NFL "American football") struggles with its bad boys, and some argue it mars the "beautiful game." Violence on the pitch and racist remarks hurled at opponents have scarred the sport, leading the governing bodies to hand down increasingly severe discipline. 

    But that doesn't stop bad boys from breaking bad, and there are a plethora to choose from.

    Not included on this list are Wayne Rooney (calmed down), Mario Balotelli (young and quirky) or Zinedine Zidane (one incredible lapse that caused him to headbutt Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final). Not even Rio Ferdinand made the list despite a sextape, a drunk driving conviction and copious speeding violationsbecause his transgressions come as par for the course.

    The players on this list go above and beyond when it comes to badness. From cocaine parties and karate kicks to quitting on your country and assaulting teammates, these are the eight most notorious bad boys in soccer history, with a premium on both violent acts and harming one's team.

Eric Cantona

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    Associated Press

    Eric Cantona always marched to the beat of his own drummer. The Frenchman stands as one of the sport's most highly respected bad boys, and he owned his misdeeds with all the assurance of French writer and criminal Jean Genet.

    Cantona's most notable misdeed by far came during a game when he took a flying leap at a Crystal Palace fan and tried to kick him in the face with his cleat, then attempted to punch the unfortunate supporter. Cantona was arrested for assault and nearly spent two weeks in jail before an appeal softened the sentence.

    His subsequent press conference numbers among the greatest public statements in sports history. Cantona sat down and delivered a single sentence to the media: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." He then said "thank you," got up and walked out. Deranged actor and publicity stuntman Shia LaBeouf once mimicked Cantona's legendary presser right down to the sip of his drink.

    Cantona would rank higher on this list, but he was not a "bad boy" per se, he merely karate-kicked a fan one time and generally played tough, excellent soccer for many years.

Roy Keane

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Roy Keane's aggressive, relentless style of play in the midfield earned him the captaincy of Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland for many years, in addition to the disdain of many opponents and fans.

    At the 2002 World Cup in Japan, Keane boiled over in what became known as the "Saipan Incident." With the team holding initial training sessions in Saipan, Keane expressed dissatisfaction with the facilities and the preparations made by the Football Association of Ireland.

    He bickered with and publicly disparaged manager Mick McCarthy before deciding he would leave the team and return to Ireland. He gave an interview, published by Tom Humphries of The Irish Times, which essentially smeared his team and the FAI.

    The strange public quarrel became immortalized in the comedic Irish musical I, Keano, first produced in 2005.

Nicolas Anelka

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    Nicolas Anelka has burned so many bridges he actually Shanghaied himself as a player-coach in the Chinese league for the 2012-13 season with Shanghai Shenhua. He has bounced around between a dozen teams in his 18-year career.

    Anelka got kicked off the French team for the 2010 World Cup after making comments against coach Raymond Domenech, and when he didn't show up for the subsequent disciplinary hearing, the French Football Federation handed down a ban that all but ended his stint playing for France.

    Anelka also found himself at the center of controversy for making the "quenelle" hand sign, popularized by French comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, a gesture claimed by some to be merely a reverse Nazi salute.

John Terry

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    John Terry is widely reviled by many throughout England and further afield, but his skills still endear him to many Chelsea supporters.

    The former England captain's list of improprieties gives him an impressive resume of bad behavior. He once had an affair with lingerie-model girlfriend of teammate Wayne Bridge. In 2011, he allegedly made a racist remark to Anton Ferdinand of QPR, which reportedly involved Terry calling him "black" with a pair of expletives sandwiched around it. The ensuing four-match ban led Terry to retire from international football. 

    Surely he longs for the days when his missed penalty in the 2008 Champions League final represented his most notorious failure.

Diego Maradona

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    Carlo Fumagalli/Associated Press

    Diego Maradona has a litany of misdeeds to his credit, the least of which includes the most legendary handball in the sport's history, his "Hand of God" punch-goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, which gifted Argentina a 2-1 victory over England. He also managed the Argentine side at the 2010 World Cup and proved he's one of the few people on the planet who can hold down the talents of Lionel Messi after playing him out of position.

    Wright Thompson from ESPN The Magazine detailed some of Maradona's most unsavory acts: 

    He drop-kicked an opponent in a game. Photographs emerged of him partying with the Napoli-based Camorra, perhaps the nastiest of the nasty Italian Mafias, just before his Napoli side may or may not have thrown Italy's Serie A championship. He tested positive for coke. An Italian prosecutor charged him with supplying cocaine to hookers. The hookers told unbelievable tales of Caligula-like orgies, fueled with cocaine and liquor...He ran through four stoplights in Seville, Spain, in his Porsche. Cops chased him for a mile before he stopped.

    A year later, he was sent home from the 1994 World Cup for performance-enhancing drugs. He allegedly smuggled more than 3 kilos of cocaine to Rome for the Italian mob. He suffered a heart attack after an alleged overdose. He went to rehab. Photographers caught him having coked-out sex parties in rehab. After the birth of an illegitimate son, Maradona refused a relationship with the boy, even after a court ordered him to pay. "A judge has obliged me to pay support," he said at the time, "but that does not obligate me to feel love for him." He suffered another reported coke-induced heart attack and lived.

    As Rick James famously stated on Chappelle's Show: "Cocaine's a helluva drug." And yet, Argentina still loves Maradona for being all too human, though mainly for winning at the World Cup.

Joey Barton

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    Jan Kruger/Getty Images

    In 2007, Joey Barton punched teammate Ousmane Dabo during a training session. He also stomach-punched opponent Morten Gamst Pedersen in 2010. And in the final game of the 2011-12 season, he earned another citation for violence when he assaulted three opponents in the same game, lashing out even after he had received a red card for the initial dirty deed.

    His violent temperament cannot be confined to the field either. In 2008, he was sentenced to six months in prison for an assault in downtown Liverpool and served 77 days behind bars.

Luis Suarez

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    As the old saw goes, "Once bitten, twice shy." It doesn't cover an additional biting incident, so biographers will have to create a third element to that phrase for Luis Suarez

    As foreshadowed by the Toronto Sun's Cathal Kelly, something ill-fated was nearly certain to occur in Brazil for the mercurial Uruguayan striker: "He will do something insane at this summer’s World Cup—mark it down...Eventually, he’ll punch a baby."

    And yea, verily, it came to pass that Suarez bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, the third time he had bitten an opponent, which earned him a four-month ban from the sport.

    At the 2010 World Cup, Suarez intentionally committed a handball on his own goal line to prevent a goal and received a red card for the act, banning him from the next match as well. Incredibly, Ghana missed the penalty, so Suarez's dirty tactic "worked." 

    This is the same guy more renowned for his prowess at diving and biting than for the 31 goals he scored for Liverpool in the 2013-14 campaign.

    He also called Patrice Evra "negrito" in 2011, a diminutive and insulting label, and was given an eight-match ban.

Vinnie Jones

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    Michael Cooper/Getty Images

    Vinnie Jones was so ruthless on the field, casting directors merely put him in movies as a London gangster who slams people's heads in car doors. As a result, more people around the world probably recognize Jones as "Bullet-Tooth Tony" instead of the longtime irritant for Wimbledon, where he significantly factored into the team being known as "The Crazy Gang."

    Jones once appeared as the host on a video production called "Soccer's Hard Men" wherein he introduced clips of brutal, aggressive play and offered tips to young players who also sought to be "hard men" on the field. He received a fine and a suspended half-year sentence as a result, but he didn't seem to care. He also failed to attend a subsequent disciplinary hearing for his on-field transgressions, producing another suspension.

    For being immortalized on the silver screen as a "hard man" both on the field and off, Jones stands as the most notorious bad boy in soccer history.

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