David Beckham and the 20 Biggest Scapegoats in Soccer History
The etymology of scapegoating goes back to people casting their sins on a goat and banishing it from town.
In contemporary culture, scapegoating is synonymous with reconciling your disappointment and finding a fall guy.
Football has a ton of examples where scapegoats have been made.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does contain some of the most major cases of scapegoating.
So without further ado, here are the 20 biggest scapegoats in the history of the world game...
20. David Beckham
This game should have been remembered for an 18-year-old Michael Owen scoring that goal against Argentina.
Instead, it has been remembered for the unreasonable scapegoating of David Beckham, whose red card all but ruled out England's chances for FIFA World Cup glory.
But the red card didn't rule out England.
Sol Campbell had a goal softly disallowed. In the penalty shoot out, it was Paul Ince and David Batty who failed to score from 12 yards out (Batty later rued the fact it was his first ever professional penalty).
Yes, what Beckham did by lashing out at Diego Simeone, who had bumped him from behind, was petulant, but Simeone later admitted he overreacted.
In light of this, why was Beckham blamed?
What I find remarkable is that referee Kim Milton Nielsen escaped what colleague Urs Meier had to endure.
Also, I love this picture of Juan Sebastián Verón pleading for Nielsen to send Beckham off.
Years later during their time at Old Trafford, both players would take part in pre-match ritual of sending each other long diagonal crosses.
19. Jesper Olsen
Two years ago, Rob Smyth and Lars Eriksen wrote a brilliant piece reminiscing about the forgotten story of Danish Dynamite, the free-flowing, attacking football of the Danish national side during the 1980s.
During the second round of the 1986 FIFA World Cup against Spain, Jesper Olsen, a great winger for Manchester United, played one of the worst backpasses in football history.
Emilio Butragueño said tak ("Thank you" in Danish) and scored, and Spain won 5-1 (Butragueño scored four that game).
The phrase rigtig ("the real") Jesper Olsen was inserted into the Danish lexicon, primarily used to mock someone.
Olsen retired in Australia instead of Denmark, which should give you some hint of the backlash he had to go through.
He's also suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
I thought it was nice gesture from Ajax teammate John van 't Schip to give Olsen an assistant manager position at Melbourne Heart.
18. Zheng Zhi
Translation: You killed the football fan’s heart. Death Sentence. 10 years ago when I saw China’s team lose, I wanted to die. 5 years ago when I saw China’s team lose, I lost hope. Now, even if the China team dies, I will pretend I did not see. I no longer have a dream.
I think the Photoshopped image of Zheng Zhi illustrates how much of a scapegoat he is for some Chinese football fans.
I remember watching China smash in goal after goal after goal in their pivotal 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Hong Kong.
Zhi failed to convert a penalty when Fan Chun Yip made a remarkable save. China won 7-0 and failed to qualify by a one-goal difference.
Zhi and Yip both were scapegoated: Yip because he was from Hong Kong and Zhi because he couldn't do what he was paid to do.
Several years later during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Zhi captained China in their disastrous campaign, and again Zhi became a target.
17. Fabio Grosso
During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, if you asked any Aussie (at least the ones without Italian heritage) who they hated the most, Fabio Grosso would have been up there.
To use a euphemism, it was unaustralian of Grosso to dive (even though there was contact, however minimal).
Grosso wasn't on the floor in pain; he was on the floor nearly in tears knowing he had just helped Italy basically seal qualification into the next round, after they fought tooth and nail with 10 men (Marco Materazzi had been sent off).
16. Peter Bonetti
Four years after their controversial defeat to England in the FIFA World Cup final, the Germans came back from 2-0 down to beat England in the 1970 World Cup quarterfinal,.
Truth be told, the English sweltered in the heat, whereas the Germans, led by the great Franz Beckenbauer, mounted a comeback that only the Germans could.
But only after a daisy-cutter shot from Der Kaiser found itself in the net, leaving Peter Bonetti red faced.
Thirty years later, in the wake of Robert Green's troubles, Bonetti wrote in the The Telegraph:
It’s 40 years since I let a similar shot from Franz Beckenbauer bobble into the net in the World Cup quarter-final against West Germany in Mexico, and I still haven’t been allowed to forget it.
Sir Alf would have been within his rights to send me away with a flea in my ear but, to his credit, he simply told me: “Son, don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes - just don’t let it affect the rest of your career.”
My home fans at Chelsea were great to me the following season but I did get some fearful stick at away grounds. It’s not easy having to hear about how you cost your country the World Cup every other week.
15. Thierry Henry
It was interesting watching Raymond Domenech's train wreck of a French side narrowly qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and only because Thierry Henry cheated his way to book a flight to South Africa.
One minute he was one of the most beloved footballers on the planet; the next, he was a cheat, a villain and an enemy to football.
Certainly the Irish hated him. I recall an anti-Henry Facebook page reaching over 100,000 likes, but it was filled with some of the most vile and racist hate I've read in quite some time.
14. Edmondo Fabbri
During the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the North Koreans didn't just play to save face. They played to save their lives—literally.
The unknown North Koreans shock victory over Italy 1-0 was like the United States shocking England 1-0 in 1950.
The blame laid squarely at the feet of Italian manager Edmondo Fabbri, whose reputation was tarnished for the rest of his life.
Fabbri's severe underestimation of the North Koreans is part of footballing folklore, in the class of Brazilian manager Adhemar Pimenta resting Leônidas in the 1938 World Cup semifinals against Italy, who were the reigning world champions.
Fabbri had sent assistant Ferruccio Valcareggi to scout the North Koreans, and he came to the conclusion that the North Koreans were a "Una squadra di Ridolini (a team of clowns)."
It didn't help Fabbri's cause that Gigi Riva wasn't included in the game, and Giacomo Bulgarelli, who was carrying a knock, was injured in the game (you couldn't substitute players back then).
Ironically, Valcareggi replaced Fabbri.
The late, great Giacinto Facchetti defended Fabbri's legacy:
It is typically Italian and very stupid only to remember defeats. I always felt bad that Fabbri never got the credit he really deserved.
13. Urs Meier
As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
This was eerily, eerily similar to what happened eight years earlier when referee Kim Milton Nielsen disallowed Sol Campbell's goal when Alan Shearer fouled Carlos Roa.
This time it was Campbell scoring again, by referee Urs Meier ruling that John Terry had fouled Ricardo.
Over 16,000 hate mails were sent to Meier, and he was put under police protection.
To this day, I cannot understand how Nielsen escaped the fate as the English targeted David Beckham. Whereas fast forward six years, and fans decided to target Meier, who did the exact same thing that Nielsen did.
12. Anders Frisk
It wouldn't be the last time that Didier Drogba got himself sent off in a big game.
Then-Chelsea manager José Mourinho made some explosive claims alluding that Anders Frisk invited then-Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard into the referee's room.
So the assumption was that Frisk helped Barcelona to a win.
It later emerged that Rijkaard had attempted to invite himself into Frisk's room, but the Swede had rebuffed the Barcelona manager's request.
It didn't matter, because Chelsea fans sent so much hate mail to Frisk that he retired to avoid the flurry of death threats.
Telê Santana's magical Brazilians weaved their magic at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, but there was one oddball in the team—Serginho.
Serginho was big, powerful and physical but lacked the finesse of Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Éder and Cerezo.
Forget about the almost nonexistent defence that cost Brazil, especially against the Italians, but blame it all on Serginho.
History has shown that forwards like him, a la Stéphane Guivarc'h and Emile Heskey, become easy fodder for criticism.
As Rob Smyth pointed out:
It wasn't Serginho's fault that Brazil kept only one clean sheet in five games, against New Zealand. It wasn't his fault that Valdir Peres kept goal like Edward Scissorhands. It wasn't his fault that Toninho Cerezo misinterpreted the notion of an homage to the 1970s side and played a staggeringly negligent square-pass to gift Italy a goal.
10. René Higuita
One of the prime examples of the commentator's curse came just prior to René Higuita receiving the ball: the Colombian commentator had praised Higuita for being an exceptional sweeper (the video embedded has English commentating).
Higuita would effectively end any chance for Colombia to progress.
He was made a scapegoat by Colombian footballing fans, and three years later, the Colombian government made him a scapegoat in their war against drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Fortunately for Higuita, retribution against him wasn't the same as it was towards his teammate Andrés Escobar.
9. Tom Henning Øvrebø
As a referee, I sympathise with Tom Henning Øvrebø.
As a Chelsea supporter, the displeasure of Øvrebø's performance quickly split into unreasonable and irrational hate.
Looking back years later, Øvrebø just had a bad game, and anyone who thinks it was a conspiracy needs their head reexamined.
Why did he send off poor Éric Abidal for a nonexistent foul on Nicolas Anelka?
Just watch Øvrebø's officiating of Bayern Munich versus Fiorentina. It isn't a question of corruption so much as a question of competency.
8. Luis Suárez
I don't understand why the majority of pro-Africa supporters scapegoated Luis Suárez when he was caught in the act.
Why not scapegoat Asamoah Gyan, who missed the penalty?
7. Byron Moreno
The best thing that ever happened to Paolo Maldini was referee Byron Moreno, because it was his inept and seemingly biased refereeing that diverted Maldini's inability to track Ahn Jung-Hwan, who scored the golden goal.
Perugia disgracefully ripped up the South Korean's contract.
Imagine if Moreno lived in Europe. Luckily for him, he lived all the way in Ecuador.
In 2010, he was caught trying to smuggle heroin and is now serving a two-and-half-year prison sentence.
6. Diego Maradona
What was ironic about Diego Maradona praising the English for not being English (rough-house tactics) was that he then low-blowed England by getting away with perhaps the most controversial goal in football history.
We've all seen the footage and the video, so here's a picture you may not have seen.
The mutual respect Peter Shilton and Maradona had, regardless of the history between the two countries.
That certainly changed after the game.
The late Sir Bobby Robson never quite got over what Maradona did to him. Nor did English fans.
5. Roberto Baggio
Along with Paolo Maldini, Roberto Baggio was the main reason why Italy reached the 1994 FIFA World Cup final, even without Franco Baresi (whose first game of the tournament was the final, during which he missed a penalty).
Maybe the reason why Baggio was so vilified was because four years earlier, the Italians had come so close on home soil.
It also didn't help Baggio that he was Buddhist, which made him easier to hate by the Christian majority.
Aside from a solitary renaissance season with Bologna, after which he promptly left, Baggio was never quite the same after that penalty miss.
When Alcides Ghiggia recounts how he scored against Barbosa in ESPN's I Scored a Goal, you can see the joy in his aging face.
Whereas Barbosa lived the rest of his life with hurt and despair.
To give you some background information:
It's 1950, the first FIFA World Cup since World War II, and Brazil are not only the hosts but the heavy favourites.
Ghiggia's near-post shot, which catches Barbosa off guard, becomes the focal point as to why Brazil did not win.
A then 10-year-old Pelé comforted his sobbing father by telling him he'd win the World Cup. Eight years later, he did.
What's sad about Barbosa is this quote he gave to author Edward Galaeno a year before he died:
The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment, but I have been paying, for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for 50 years
3. Zvonimir Boban
You might wonder why Zvonimir Boban is so high.
Well, what he did during the height of the Croatia's fight for independence from Yugoslavia transcended football.
So what did he do?
Boban karate-kicked a Yugoslav police officer who was assaulting a Dinamo Zagreb supporter.
Boban became a simple scapegoat for anti-Croatian voices, and thankfully he managed to get out alive.
Months later, Yugoslavian Vlade Divac infamously ripped the Croatian flag away from a pro-Croatian fan.
The legitimacy of England's 1966 FIFA World Cup victory is still discounted by a plethora of South Americans.
Just interview Antonio Rattín and former Brazilian FIFA President João Havelange.
Let's review their points.
- Stanley Rous, an Englishman, was FIFA's president.
- No South American nation reached the semifinals, let alone the final.
- English referee George McCabe allowed Pelé to be assaulted by the Portuguese.
- The English FA bribed German referee Rudolf Kreitlein to send off Rattín against England.
- Geoff Hurst's controversial goal in the final: Did it bounce over the line or not?
- England have never won another World Cup.
There are always controversial moments in World Cups, and it's just sour grapes from South Americans who believe it was a conspiracy.
Either way, the failings of South American nations during the 1966 World Cup were blamed on England buying its way to World Cup glory.
1. Andrés Escobar
What if I told you that sometimes it is a matter of life and death.
Rest in peace, Andrés Escobar.
For more information, I highly recommend watching ESPN 30 for 30's The Two Escobars.