World Football: Ranking the 25 Worst 'Tackles' of All Time (With Video)
Fundamentally football is down to skill, talent and ability. Yet there is an far more abhorrent practice that underpins the essence of the game itself. Sadly thuggery, and it’s practitioners are as much a part of football as the maelstrom of tricks and goals that make the game so aesthetically fulfilling. Whilst normally contained within the guise of a tackle this practice, on occasion transcends boundaries between the football pitch and real life; occasions that shake the moral fibre of the game to its core.
Some of the following 25 events are the later and some simply the former. Some, could be validated as ’mistimed’, some quite conclusively cannot. Many have resulted in simply horrific injuries, some too hideous to even show. One thing they all have in common, however, is that they have no place in football. Like a blight on the horizon they have served to undermine the honourable, ’fair play’ that world football today, as ever, should be symbiotic with. It isn't and here’s why:
25 examples, ranked, to the best of my ability. There are more no doubt, a brief such as this makes exemptions almost an inevitability. One thing I hope you will agree on though is that all 25 have no place in football, now or forever. So without further ado..... the videos.
Footnote: Not for the squeamish, please believe me...
My computer wouldn't let me include the video in the media slot because of a slow uploading interface, all videos are therefore included at the bottom of the slide, sorry for the inconvenience.
25: Chris Kamara, For Stoke City V West Ham United, August 1989
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The pundit everyone loves to love, for one day back in August 1989 was the thug everyone loved to hate. The fiery Stoke stars high lunge, from behind, on United's Frank McAvennie broke the strikers leg. Kamara was sent off, but the lunge was to have far worse repercussions on the Scot, who didn't start a league game until the opening day of the following season, an entire calender year.
24: Kevin Gray, For Huddersfield Town V Bradford City, February 1997
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Gray, after a tackle that left Bradford striker Gordon Watson with a double leg fracture that requires 6 operations, is sued for negligence. Watson wins and £900,000 for the loss of earnings and medical care costs make this one expensive tackle.
23: Francesco Totti, For Roma V Inter Milan, May 2010
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Roma captain Totti in obvious exasperation at his lack of progress in halting Inter's boy wonder Mario Ballotelli's run at goal, simply does the next best thing. Totti swings a leg as if striking the ball but instead punts Ballotelli viciously and in the calf. Oh yes he meant it. Oh Francesco.
22: Axel Witsel, For Standard Liege V Anderlecht August 2009
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I hadn't heard of or seen this tackle before i did my research for this article. I'm still quite suprised that the awful challenge came from the slightly built Witsel, who to me is far more synonomous with his talent and skill with the ball than his hooligan's instinct. Then again everyone can be inclined to a relapse, this was Witsel's, and it's awful. Recipient Marcin Wasilewski recieved a badly broken leg and Witsel was instantly sent from the pitch for the studs high tackle.
21: Zinedine Zidane, For France V Italy, July 2006
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The career of the most brilliant footballer whose majesty i have ever had the pleasure of witnessing went out with a bang, or a butt.
The 2006 World Cup final; a final that Zidane had almost single handedly taken France to became known as Zidane's final, but not for the reasons you might of thought.
Off the ball whilst running back after a failed France attack Zidane exchanged words with Italy defender Marco Materazzi. To this day no-one knows exactly what was said, but I think it's safe to say Zidane wasn't best pleased; well unless he headbutts in his spare time.......
The headbutt itself was more akin to ending a fight than a football match, but that it did as Zidane was unceremonously sent off and France went on to lose the match and the World Cup trophy.
Such is the measure of the man, though, nobody blames him, Zidane is and was a legend, just one that seldomly lets his head do the talking.
20: Lee Bowyer, For Newcastle V Kieron Dyer (Also Newcastle), April 2005
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Team mates should be thus right? Mates? Apparently no-one told Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer in April 2005 during their sides 3-0 home loss to Aston Villa.
After Villa's third goal had been scored Dyer exchanged words with Bowyer, who took exception and rather than explain his grievances to his team mate, let his fists speak the words his mouth could not pronounce.
Dyer and Bowyer later apologised for their action, however, interestingly they pointedly refused to apologise to each other and were not team mates for much longer.
19: Benjamin Massing, For Cameroon V Argentina, June 1990
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Cameroon have three bites of the Claudion Caniggia shaped cherry, as the Argentine speeds down the right wing in a 1990 match between the two sides. The first two tackles are skillfully avoided by a combination of speed skill and bad tackling. The third contrary to his name, Massing doesn't miss, although he probably, in hindsight, would of wished that he had as he is unceremoniously sent off for his troubles.
18: Martin Taylor, For Birmingham V Arsenal, Febuary 2008
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Probably the best example of the horrendous tackle from recent years, as well as being the tackle that quite probably prematurely ended Eduardo's Arsenal career.
In the third minute of newly promoted Birmingham's home match against Arsenal, Taylor went in high and late on Arsenal striker Eduardo. Eduardo received a compound fracture to his left fibula and an open dislocation of his left ankle. Broadcaster Sky, who were showing the game at the time, took the decision to not show the replay of the incident, deeming it to be too shocking for their audience.
I'm not as compassionate so here it is; enjoy.
17: Ben Thatcher, For Manchester City V Portsmouth, August 2006
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Ben Thatcher's career was blighted by incidents such as this, to the extent that, ultimately, he was probably known more for being a thug than a footballer.
His 2006 elbow into the face of Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes, was the incident from which Thatcher garnered most infamy. Whilst running the ball out for a throw in to Man City, Thatcher visibly raises his elbow, striking Mendes in the face. Mendes is knocked out cold, falling into the advertising hoardings and Thatcher becomes an instantaneous social pariah.
Mendes required oxygen at the pitchside and suffered a seizure whilst being transferred to hospital, but was released from hospital the next day albeit under medical supervision. Thatcher, for his sins, was given a 6 match ban, 2 of them suspended and a fine amounting to 6 week's wages.
16: Lee Bowyer, For Leeds United V Málaga, December 2002
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And.....it's Bowyer again and this time it's even worse. During Leeds' ill fated European adventure in 2002, Bowyer's stamp on the head of Malaga defender Gerado stole most of the headlines. Bowyer was subsequently banned from European competition for six games following the premeditated attack, but following his subsequent transfer to Newcastle United, an administration mix-up in the club meant that this ban was extended to 12 games.
It was the precursor of things to come as Leeds' financial implosion was just around the corner as the club's life of excess came back to bite them, slipping unchecked down the football pyramid and away from the European life they had once called their own.
15: Paul Gascoigne, for Tottenham Hotspur v Nottingham Forest, May 1991
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Ironic is how I would best describe this tackle. Gazza, a player with the footballing world at his feet, lunged in horrifically on Forest player Gary Charles, far too high and with his studs up.
Yet, and here's the irony, it was Gazza that came off worse, rupturing his cruciate ligaments, an injury many say curtailed his previously burgeoning ability with the spherical ball. You'd think Gazza had a penchant for masterminding his own downfall......
14: João Morais, For Portugal V Brazil, July 1966
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In a World Cup tie between Portugal and Brazil Portugal, fearing the threat of the Brazilian's talisman, set about Pele. After Morais chops down the Brazilian twice in quick succesion, without any tangible action taken the Brazilian limps out of the tournament, bruised by the encounter and vowing he will never play in the World Cup again. Luckily for Brazil he did, returning four years later to become the figurehead of the 1970 team, regarded by many as the greatest football team that the world has ever seen.
13: Paul Bosvelt, For Feyenoord V Manchester United, November 1997
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In a Champions League tie between Bosvelt's Feyenoord and Manchester United in 1997, Bosvelt's lunge, knee-high on United's Dennis Irwin was the talking point. The Irishman, initially feared for his career, but the injury was more superficial than first feared and two months later Irwin was able to play again. As if to add insult to injury Bosvelt later moved to England, to Manchester, to play for United's city rivals. It's almost as if you would think he didn't like Manchester United........
12: Norbert Siegmann, For Werder Bremen V Armedia Beilefeld, August 1981
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This is quite honestly the worst injury i have ever seen from football. I have been brought up in a situation that leg breaks are no infrequent, but this is different. The scale of the gash is simply horrific. The result of a heinously over-committed, cynical tackle in which the studs were raised, if not with the primary intention of maiming, with the distinct possibility.
The most surprising thing about the tackle is that the recipient, Ewald Lienen, doesn't lay on the floor, subservient to the agony that such an injury must surely invoke. Instead his first thought is to chastise Werder manager Otto Rehhagl, who, Lienen deemed, had incited Siegmann to commit the tackle. This to me is the definition of man, not letting a 25cm slit in your right thigh getting in the way of a good argument.
Shockingly it took Lienen only 17 days before he was back in training!
11: Georges Santos, For Sheffield United V West Bromwich Albion, March 2002
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In a game not too dissimilar from the "Battle of Santiago" (see 4), "The Battle of Brammal Lane also descended into farce after three United players were sent off and another injured, causing the match to be abandoned. Also like the "Battle of Santiago" one tackle stands out and that was Santos' as he leaps into West Brom's Andy Johnson's (possibly in revenge for a previous incident in which Johnson's elbow broke Santos' jaw?) ankle for one of the most obvious red cards you are ever likely to see.
10: Barcelona V Atletico Bilbao, May 1984
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Amidst bubbling tension, this game in 1984 quite literally kicked off as the game exploding into a mass brawl that implicated nearly every player on the field, including Diego Maradona, well especially Diego Maradona. No-one was especially wounded in the melee so we can laugh about it, because from an exterior perspective it really is quite funny. I wont say any more for this is YouTube gold.......
9: Andoni Goicoechea, For Athletic Bilbao V Barcelona, September 1983
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If i told you Goicoechea's nickname was the 'Butcher of Bilbao' that would probably be enough to warrant his place on this lift in all likelyhood. The butcher achieved notoriety after a horrendous tackle from behind on Barcelona's Diego Maradona, that injured the later's ankle ligaments and leaving him seriously injured. The tackle is almost certainly the crux to explain the subsequent shocking display of on-field fighting when the two teams met again later in the same season. Not excusing it though of course, just explaining.
8: Brian Mclair and Denis Irwin, For Manchester United V Coventry, April 1996
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Irwin from one side, McClair from the other, Busst's leg the filling in the middle of the sandwich. There was only going to be one loser and sadly Busst's leg was that man.
The fibia and the tibia of Busst's right leg received extensive compound fractures and the match had to be delayed for 10 minutes whilst blood was cleaned off the grass.
The injury is often cited as the worst in the history of football and at one point it was debated whether or not Busst would have to lose his right leg, such was the extent of the treatment. Indeed after 27 operations on his leg Busst never played football again.
A testament to the extent of the injury, as if all that wasn't enough, the "Great Dane", Peter Schmiechel was reportedly so shocked by the injury he was sick on the pitch and later needed counselling. Oh indeed.
7: Nigel De Jong, For Holland V Spain, July 2010
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What became the iconic image of what was a very dirty final, De Jong's foot raised over a metre off the ground, striking Xabi Alonso square in the chest.
The "tackle", if you can call it that, is so horrendous its actually quite funny (seeing as Alonso sustained no lasting damage). I think you'll agree, this is most certainly not an everyday football challenge and has gone some way to provoking the "fouling" stigma that has followed De Jong in the league this season.
6: Roy Keane, For Manchester United V Manchester City, April 2001
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This could and perhaps should be further up the list, but to be honest i feel sixth is the perfect position. This was worse than many of the other tackles on the list in that it was three and a half years in the making. Keane knew what he was going to do and that fateful day in 2001 was presented with the opportunity to exact his "revenge", and took it with blood curdling consequences.
The feud began in 1997 after a tackle between Keane and Haaland at Elland Road left Keane with an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament. Whilst Keane lay prone on the ground, Haaland, taking him to be feigning injury to avoid punishment told the United captain to get to his feet. In the event Keane was booked as he was stretchered from the field of play. Keane was out for the remainder of the 97-8 season and didn't get back to action again for almost a year. Keane never forgave Haaland.
So it was that three and a half years later that Keane got his chance, studs raised, leg crunching into Haaland's right knee. Haaland retired two years later after failing to fully recover from an injury to the same knee. After Keane's revelation in his biography that he had set out to 'hurt' Haaland after the Norwegians taunts in 1997, he was handed a £150,000 fine and an additional five game ban (from the 3 game automatic ban and £5,000 fine). Such thuggery really has no place in football.
5: Eric Cantona, For Manchester United V Crystal Palace, January 1995
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Despite his talent with a football for some Cantona's faux pas that fateful January day supersedes his ability as a player.
After being sent off after a kick out at Palace defender Richard Shaw, Cantona was moving his way into the tunnel still firmly under the influence of the red midst. A calm Cantona, maybe wouldn't of reacted, we will never know, but after a barracking from a Palace fan Cantona went Bruce Lee, aiming a flying kick into the crowd at the man, Palace fan Matthew Simmons.
Cantona's ban that would otherwise have only been 3 games was subsequently increased to a whopping eight months, with the added ignominy of a £10,000 fine. In addition Cantona was stripped of the French team captaincy and United lost the Premiership title race to eventual champions Blackburn Rovers.
4: Mario David, For Italy V Chile, June 1962
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David's "tackle" was simply the worst incident of a horrendously dirty World Cup game between Chile and Italy in 1962, that was subsequently dubbed "The battle of Santiago". More akin to a brawl than a football match, the match was epitomised in David's actions.
After repeatedly kicking Chilean Leonel Sanchez, the Chilean punches David in response. David responds by kicking his opponent in his neck and is in a shocking twist..........sent off.
3: Duncan Ferguson, For Rangers V Raith Rovers, April 1994
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Before moving to England and becoming an Everton icon Ferguson was involved in a very unsavoury incident whilst a young player at second club Rangers.
In an otherwise unspectacular season in which the young Ferguson, signed for a then British transfer record of 4 million, a game at minnows Raith Rovers stood out for all the wrong reasons.
After chasing the ball down into the corner of the Ibrox pitch, Ferguson exchanged words with Rovers defender John McStay. Incensed, Ferguson savagely swung his head at McStay, but because of the fact that the incident was away from the balance of play the officials notice was elsewhere and the barbaric action went unbeknown.
The incident didn't go unpunished, however, as an arbitrary council noted the incident, Ferguson was charged with assault and since it was his fourth such conviction served a jail term. Ferguson remains the only ever British player to serve time as a direct result of an on-field incident.
2: Harald Schumacher, For West Germany V France, July 1982
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The tackle many find synonymous with the essence of the horrific challenge is only my number two.
After a delightful through ball from the genius that was Michel Platini, French defender Michel Battison was through and running at goal.
Battison was almost at the ball, Schumacher had no chance yet he came anyway, knees raised striking Battison in the face and neck, causing the defender to lose his front teeth and damaging his vertebrae.
While his team mate was out cold, Platini later confessed to a momentary belief that his friend had died "because he had no pulse and looked very pale". Shockingly a penalty was no given for the foul and after Battison had been stretchered off play simply resumed.
After Germany went on to win the game a magazine poll in France ranked Schumacher as the most hated German, beating Adolf Hitler into second place.
1: Neil Simpson, For Aberdeen V Rangers, October 1988
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The tackle that incited the rivalry between Aberdeen and Rangers that still boils to this day. The tackle is quite literally horrific. High, studs-up, premeditated, leaving Rangers player Ian Durrant unable to play for the next three years. Yet the tackle transcended boundaries between pitch and stand. It survived generations and is still an area of severe unrest between the fans of the rival teams 23 years on.
Durrant eventually sued Simpson for damages in relation to the incident. Simpson, in the face of much hostility settled with Durrant out of court and the man few had known about resumed his unspectacular career. The world was different though and the name of Neil Simpson will not be forgotten in Glasgow and beyond for a moment of madness that he has lived to regret.
And If All That Wasn't Enough For Your Massachistic Mind...........
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Please feel free to add your thoughts of any of your own that I have failed to include and if their gruesome enough I will add them in (if i can stand it)....