Playing football at the highest level is a balancing act that only the best of the best can truly master. Trying to stay at the pinnacle is not an easy task to accomplish, but when it’s done right, it is a truly masterful feat to behold.
Watching your favourite footballers create a wonderful goal from nothing, lift a golden trophy for your team or conjure a universal moment of magic that takes your breath away, makes you appreciate the finer things in the beautiful game so much more than you might normally do.
However, it can also swing the other way as soccer players who behave badly bring the game into serious disrepute – indeed, it’s very often the minority, a select few, who manage to muddy the clean waters of the sport with some truly awful antics and acts of atrocious horror.
Here, we will look at some football icons who somehow managed to drift away from the path of righteousness, calm and brilliance that is supposed to make up the simplicity of the game to wind up veering into lanes of serious anger, misdirected energy and very unwise, dangerous decisions that often put themselves and others in harm's way.
Real Madrid's Pepe is one of the most despised figures in the global game - and he's not just the target of Barcelona fans, either. No, the Los Blancos defender has managed to make enemies outside the El Clasico derby with some reprehensibly violent behaviour against some other top clubs - none less so than Getafe.
The Brazilian defender was once handed a seriously hefty 10-match ban after going on an outrageous rampage against a couple of the Azulones players. Back in 2009, he conceded an 87th-minute penalty after pushing an opponent to the ground, kicking him as he did so before also striking another in the face. The club attempted to appeal the ban, but their protests were turned down. It was the sort of behaviour you'd expect from a petulant child. Moreover, his sickening tendency to playact and confuse cheating with cynicism just makes him a difficult player to like.
14 Vinnie Jones
The hard-hitting mean man of British football rose to fame as part of Wimbledon's memorable "Crazy Gang" who won the FA Cup in 1988 after a meteoric rise from non-league football. A lot of pundits liked his no-nonsense style, his ability to deliver a crunching tackle when it was needed and the way he gave his all, and more, to the cause. However, there have been times he allowed his mad streak to get the better of him away from the confines of the pitch.
Most shockingly, back in 2003, he was sentenced to only 80 hours of community service after going on a drunken rampage on board a plane, terrorizing and threatening to murder the entire crew. According to witnesses at the time, he yelled: 'Go and pour the f***ing coffee like you are paid to. I can get you murdered, I can get the whole crew murdered for £3,000.' Despicable behaviour indeed.
13 Eric Cantona
An idol among the hefty Old Trafford annals, Eric Cantona was also quite revered during his stay with Leeds United at Elland Road. A Manchester United legend, Cantona had it all - arguably the first great foreign import to the Premier League, he had the charisma, the character and, most importantly of all, the audacious skill to back it all up.
Alas, the French star, who came to be known as Le Roi by his admirers, had an unstable element to his character and he allowed it to overwhelm him at Selhurst Park in January 1995 when he produced a heinous kung-fu attack on a defenceless spectator, Matthew Simmons, in the stands apparently for a torrent of abuse directed his way. After appealing a two-week prison sentence, Cantona was instead ordered to do 120 hours community service and was fined £30,000 by the club. It remains one of the most shocking events in British football.
12 Tony Adams
Tony Adams is one of the most revered figures in the history of Arsenal football club. After all, the retired defender won a huge amount during his time with the north London club. In all, he claimed four English top-flight titles, three FA Cups and six other titles including the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. An outstanding talent, his defensive contributions and leadership skills have meant he is often listed as a beacon of inspiration to so many and fans still regularly list him as one of their all-time favourite pros.
However, he is just a human being after all and he experienced an unfortunate slip-up back in December 1990 after he was jailed for four months after being caught drink-driving four times over the legal limit. It was a regrettable error, but one he has recovered well from ever since – he even received an MBE years later.
11 John Terry
Last season saw John Terry leave the pitch at Stamford Bridge in tears after he was left uncertain about his future at the club, but after ultimately getting his one-year contract extension, the experienced central defender remains a key figure at the club under Antonio Conte. However, it’s fair to say that while he has been a revered figure with the Pensioners he hasn’t been too widely liked elsewhere. One might even say he has been actively and passionately loathed.
His poor decision-making saw him cheat on his wife with former best friend Wayne Bridge's ex, which culminated in the pair becoming sworn enemies, not shaking hands when the Blues met Manchester City in the aftermath of a publicized feud. There was also claims that Terry had mocked Americans at Heathrow Airport after the 9/11 tragedy back in 2001. He was only fined two weeks’ wages as a result which to be fair is quite a tame reprimand for such an offensive act.
10 Diego Costa
He has often attracted the attention of opposition fans, with plenty of them targeting him with severely negative chants and boos, however it must be said that Diego Costa has courted much of the attention with his own displays of aggression and misbehaviour. He might very well be a star striker who knows how to rattle the back of the net, but the Spain international has sometimes spent too much of his energy causing trouble on the pitch and not enough time troubling defenders with the bamboozling skill he clearly possesses.
He was hit with a three-match ban in early 2015 after the Football Association deemed that he had stamped on the ankle of Liverpool’s Emre Can, while he also was given a single-match ban and handed down a £20,000 fine for improper conduct towards a referee in mid 2016. He needs to learn how to walk the tightrope if he wants to survive in England long-term.
9 Luis Suarez
Where to start with the enigmatic Luis Suarez? We’ve all heard of biting challenges and tackles that have a bit of needle in them, but the Barcelona marksman has brought a bit too much incision to his play from time to time – he’s been involved in biting incidents on three occasions; against Otman Bakkal, Branislav Ivanovic and again against Giorgio Chiellini in the World Cup on international duty with Uruguay.
Okay so it’s not the worst thing a human has ever done, but he should probably keep the cannibalistic instincts to himself or at least enroll in a society that panders to that strange impulse. After all, he’s a role model to millions of kids and young adults the world over, so it’s really not a great message to be sending out there.
8 Andy Carroll
There is a particularly large fan club (perhaps it’s more a strange cult than anything else) which is of the opinion that Andy Carroll should have been brought on the England plane to France for the 2016 Euros. They seem to be of the opinion that his target-man abilities would have given the Three Lions an added edge in front of goal – but perhaps they are forgetting his previous misdemeanors. Besides, there is only so much one man can ever do to turn the tide in his boat's favour.
After all, Carroll once plead guilty to glassing someone in a nightclub, a heinous act, and it has been alleged that he assaulted his ex-girlfriend in the past - however true it is. Whatever of allegations, Carroll clearly doesn’t know how to keep control of his temper and considering how badly England performed last summer, he might have seen his frustration get the better of him once more if he had been brought along.
7 Joey Barton
One of the most controversial figures in modern-day football, Joey Barton seems to have really cleaned up his act by attending University to study philosophy, bravely heading abroad to play in Ligue 1 and becoming a sincere and insightful pundit on programmes like Match of the Day. He cuts a sophisticated figure a lot of the time nowadays, however it would be wrong to forget that he has shown his means streak quite a few times in the past.
In all, the Rangers midfielder has been found guilty of assault and affray, and has spent a grand total of 77 days in prison for violent misconduct. He even committed assault occasioning bodily harm on ex-team-mate Ousmane Dabo while involved in a training bust-up. A sparky character who is never afraid of wading into conflict, on and off the pitch, he hasn't always been the most cool-headed of characters that's for sure.
6 Diego Maradona
Everyone knows just how magisterial Diego Maradona was at the peak of his powers. Alongside Pele and Johan Cruyff, the ex-Napoli star is widely regarded as one of the most incredible of talents to ever play the beautiful game. He won the World Cup for Argentina, he helped Il Partenopei win the Serie A crown twice and he sprinkled his genius onto nearly every pitch he played on at his peak.
However, the Argentine legend had his blemishes - if he was a heroic figure who looked at home on the pitch, producing lung-busting dribbles and flicks of mind-bending proportion, he seemed uncomfortable with everyday life. There were rumours he was connected with the underground Italian mob and to the detriment of his health he infamously became addicted to cocaine and alcohol throughout the 1980s and 90s. What's more, he ignored pleas from his son Diego Jr. to take a DNA test for 30 years and, while he eventually accepted him, it took him long enough to do so.
5 Marlon King
A violent assault on a woman in a London nightclub saw Marlon King receive an 18-month prison sentence and subsequently managed to get him sacked from Wigan Athletic after his contract was terminated. Despite claiming mistaken identity at the time, the striker was ultimately found to be misleading the court. It would be so easy to dress this up as just another fame-maddened star losing his way, but to do that would only make him seem less culpable and send out a wrong message that bigwigs with big checks can get off scot free when they should be demonized.
It wasn’t the first time King had acted violently with women either, as it soon emerged that he had been involved in common assault on two women in Soho back in 2003. As a result of the 18-month conviction, he also had to register as a sex offender for seven years and saw his reputation in tatters.
4 Paul Gascoigne
Alcoholism is a terrible illness that ruins countless lives around the world on a yearly basis, of that there is no doubt. But when you see someone of Paul Gascoigne’s stature fall by the wayside and into some deep dark caverns of despair, it makes one wonder how someone could throw their talents and hard-earned privileges away so selfishly.
Dubbed “Gazza” by the press, he has never seemed able to crawl out from under the shadow cast by his alcohol-fueled misgivings. Of course, that he has always been in the glare has certainly not helped his attempts at healing himself. He has fallen foul of his own pitfalls so often and he was even recently found guilty of racially aggravated abuse - a despicable act that is hard to defend even when considering the sickness he has. Once a wonderful footballer who created some magical moments, he’s never managed to shake off his inner demons.
3 George Best
There’s no doubt that George Best was one of the most naturally talented footballers the world has ever seen, but that he struggled with alcoholism and inner demons is equally true. He could have spent even longer at the pinnacle of the beautiful game but he essentially threw it away to travel the world as a tourist who turned out for some obscure teams, playing for celebrity more than competition.
Essentially, Best’s binge-drinking led to cracks appearing in not only his personal life but his entire family’s. A BBC drama titled Best – His Mother’s Son looks at just how drastic an impact Best’s fame and stardom had on his mother to take to the drink to cope, causing her to become dependent on alcohol too. His self-directed angst had a really detrimental effect on those around him and although people will always have sympathy for El Beatle, it’s hard to ignore how selfish he was as well.
2 Ryan Giggs
Manchester United fans will always fondly remember Ryan Giggs for his wing wizardry that helped the Red Devils build their way to 13 Premier League titles. He was unrivaled with his ball control on the wing and with his pace he was a nightmare to defend against. He has made the most appearances in the history of the Premier League and remains a beacon of inspiration to so many youngsters around the country. However, for his detractors, Giggsy will always have the shadow of extra-marital affairs hanging over his honour-strewn legacy.
The former Wales international was a pin-up for many in the 1990s, but the fact that Giggs had an eight-year affair with his brother’s wife certainly made his mistakes all the more shocking at the time the revelations emerged. Indeed, it brought a brand new meaning to the notion of scoring an own-goal because he wound up tarnishing his image quite drastically.
1 Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson once had it all. Big-money wages, the adoration of the crowd from one weekend to the next and one of the best jobs in the world, but now he sits in prison and is a far cry from his once, dream-like life. Convicted of indecently abusing an underage girl aged 15 years of age at the time, he is currently undergoing a six-year jail term.
Many people will suggest that the sentence the 12-time England cap received is not lengthy enough for such a terrible crime and they are probably right. However, the biggest injustice of all is perhaps that he is still almost guaranteed to come out the other side of it all a wealthy man due to the lavish property he still owns. It shocked the world of football when the story first emerged and it's still a stinging reality to take - but it certainly raises awareness.