Being a professional athlete comes with a certain amount of personal responsibility. A professional soccer player should represent himself in a manner befitting his club and country. However, many of the world’s top footballers are despicable people and straight up jerks. They have money and professional status of which millions around the world are envious, but have the moral turpitude of a drug cartel leader.
Some players are able to keep their discretions refined to the pitch, where their actions are in full view of the public and subject to the discipline of the referee and football association. When stories come to light of their actions off the pitch, media outlets are quick to report on their findings, which in recent years have been ludicrously scandalous. With indiscretions ranging from extortion to racism, these individuals must now begin on the long road to redemption.
Even though the struggle of being a professional footballer under the magnifying glass of the 21st century international media must be enormously stressful, it does not excuse these individuals from their childish and criminal behaviors. Whether they are fostering an environment of hate and divisiveness within their squads or depriving a nearly insolvent nation of tax revenue, these players could use some serious introspection. Here they are in all their ignominy.
20 John Terry
Chelsea’s John Terry has been facing detractors for years and they have a laundry list of reasons to hate him. Aside from his success on the pitch for the widely contentious Chelsea, Terry has been involved in several incidents that called his character into question. Back in 2001, he was part of a group of Chelsea players that harassed American travelers mourning the attacks of 9/11. More recently he engaged in a bit of racial abuse against Anton Ferdinand that saw the central defender leave the England squad. There’s also the scandal with his ex-girlfriend, who was the wife of teammate Wayne Bridge.
19 Nicolas Anelka
The quenelle is a gesture invented by French “comedien” Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, intended as a reverse Nazi salute. The overtly anti-semitic gesture was used to celebrate Nicolas Anelka’s goal for West Brom against West Ham in 2014. Absurdly, after using the celeration, and knowing the meaning of it, Anelka would go on to defend his actions as not racist. Subsequently, he was dismissed from his duties at West Brom, which explains why he now plays his professional football for Mumbai City.
18 Ryan Giggs
While John Terry’s alleged marital indiscretions have received major media attention, somehow Ryan Giggs’ enormously controversial affair has seemingly been swept aside. Giggs engaged in a lengthy eight-year affair with his brother’s wife and she allegedly had an abortion just prior to marrying his brother. Ryan has since apologized to his brother Rhodri, who has gone on to remarry. Giggs’ infidelity also extended to reality TV star Imogen Thomas, as if one extramarital affair wasn’t enough.
17 Igor Denisov
The atmosphere at Zenit St. Petersburg is not exactly welcoming for new players, especially if those players are not white, native born Russians. When the club splashed the cash to sign world-class players like Hulk and Axel Witsel, many figures surrounding the club protested the signings. The team’s Igor Denisov joined them, protesting their significant wages and demanding a pay increase. For his efforts, Denisov was demoted to the reserve squad. His recent tenure with Dynamo Moscow has seen his controversial streak continue with another managerial clash.
16 Roman Weidenfeller
In 2007, while playing as the starting goalkeeper for Borussia Dortmund, Roman Weidenfeller was involved in a painful collision with Schalke striker Gerald Asamoah. In response to the incident, Weidenfeller allegedly called Asamoah a “black pig.” The racist response provoked an investigation by the Bundesliga, which found that Weidenfeller was guilty and suspended him for three matches and fined him €10,000.
15 Mamadou Sakho
Mamadou Sakho is either very naive or very racist. Either way, he was photographed at a gathering where he posed in the anti-Semitic quenelle gesture. The image circulated Twitter and eventually provoked an investigation by the English Football Association. Sakho vehemently claimed that he was tricked into the gesture and did not know the meaning behind it. Rather than charge him like they had with Anelka, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and Yannick Sagbo, Sakho received a stern warning.
14 Sergio Busquets
Sergio Busquets certainly paints himself as a controversial figure on the football pitch, never afraid to put in a challenge that may cause injury to an opponent. However, he has also come under fire for racism against Real Madrid’s Marcelo. During their clash during the 2011 El Clasico, Busquets allegedly called Marcelo a monkey several times. Busquets was cleared of the charges by UEFA and allowed to play in the Champions League final, but the video evidence can credibly confirm his racist actions.
13 Johnny Herrera
Driving under the influence is an inherently selfish and irresponsible act. Chilean and Universidad de Chile goalkeeper, Johnny Herrera was allegedly under the influence and speeding, when he crashed and killed a 22-year-old woman in 2009. Despite prosecution seeking a conviction and three-year sentence, Herrera was allowed to walk free and eventually was cleared to play for Chile at the 2014 World Cup.
12 Miiko Albornoz
In 2013, Miiko Albornoz was charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 14-year-old girl while he was playing for Finnish soccer club Malmo. Albornoz was given a suspended sentence and allowed to continue his career with the club. While sitting in the stands during a rivalry match, he was subjected to death threats from opposing stands and had to be escorted by police when leaving the stadium. Albornoz has since transferred to Hannover in Germany, where he continues his football career.
11 Antonio Cassano
In the buildup to the 2012 European Cup, Antonio Cassano was fielding questions from the press when journalist asked about gay players in the Italian squad. Rather than promote an environment of acceptance, Cassano chose to say that he hoped there were no gay players in the squad and that “...if there are queers here, that’s their business.” His quotes sparked protests and Cassano was eventually fined €15,000 by UEFA for his insensitive comments.
10 Djibril Cisse
In October 2015, former Liverpool, QPR, and Sunderland striker Djibril Cisse was detained by police as part of an investigation surrounding the alleged sex tape extortion of former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Cisse was one of four individuals detained after allegedly attempting to accept money from Valbuena in exchange for his discretion regarding an alleged sex tape. Cisse also had a very public falling out with his ex-wife on social media after their relationship dissolved and she appeared on reality television along with their children.
9 Franck Ribery
In 2010, a scandal rocked the French media, when it was alleged that two footballers had been involved in an underage nightclub prostitution ring. It later emerged that Franck Ribery had been the most prominent player involved. He would go on to claim that he did not know the victim was underage. Eventually, it was discovered that his teammate, Karim Benzema, was also involved. Ribery was cleared of the legal charges by a French court, but the damage to his reputation was done.
8 Luis Suarez
The behavior displayed by Luis Suarez over the course of his career would be unacceptable in most pre-schools, let alone in the international media spotlight. Three times in his career, Suarez has been found guilty of biting other footballers, including his notorious incident with Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup. Additionally, he was involved in a 2011 incident with Patrice Evra, where he repeated racial slurs. He was eventually found guilty by the FA, fined, and banned for eight matches. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Evra incident, Suarez maintains his innocence.
7 Ched Evans
In 2012, Sheffield United striker Ched Evans was convicted of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman that was too drunk to provide consent. After serving half of his five-year sentence, Evans was released from prison and has since attempted to resume his career as a footballer. Several clubs including Hartlepool, Hibernians, Oldham, and Grimsby Town have attempted to give Evans another chance, but found the protests of fans to be too persuasive to risk. Despite the evidence and conviction against him, Evans maintains his innocence openly on his personal website.
6 Marlon King
Marlon King should probably not be allowed in or around a motor vehicle, because he has repeatedly proven that he is incapable of following the laws regarding safe operation. King has no fewer than 15 offences ranging from theft, criminal damage, fraudulent use of a license, and crashing his car while eating ice cream. In 2014, he was jailed for 18 months for another dangerous driving charge and banned from driving for three years.
5 Joey Barton
Throughout his career in football, Joey Barton has struggled to maintain his composure. On three separate incidents he has attacked teammates and opposing players. The first at Manchester City saw Barton assault Ousmane Dabo, the second saw him assault Morten Gamst-Pederson, and the final for kicking Sergio Aguero and attempting to headbutt Vincent Kompany. Barton was also convicted of assault for a city center incident in Liverpool and served 77 days in jail. There appears to be a pattern to these incidents.
4 Cristiano Ronaldo
Widely regarded as one of the most controversial figures in the world of football, Cristiano Ronaldo has been dividing fans for years. Some regard him as a self-aware superstar, who gives back to his home community of Funchal, Madiera by opening a museum dedicated to his own accomplishments. He routinely flaunts his star studded dating resume and has movies made in his own honor. While humility may be a struggle for Ronaldo, he is a jerk with a certain amount of self awareness, which almost makes his egomaniacal nature worse.
3 Mario Balotelli
Hundreds of stories have circulated the internet about Mario Balotelli. Whether he is allegedly giving homeless people wads of cash or posing at midfield with pitch invaders to take a selfie, the headlines are never far behind Balotelli. He has fought with opponents and teammates during matches and training sessions, thrown lawn darts at youth players, and set off fireworks in his own house. Whether he is smoking in a nightclub bathroom or breaking team curfew to go to a strip club, Mario Balotelli is an attention seeking, headline grabbing figure.
2 Karim Benzema
In addition to his involvement in Ribery’s underage prostitute scandal, Karim Benzema was also detained by police surrounding the sex-tape extortion of his teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema allegedly acted as an intermediary between criminals in possession of the alleged sex-tape and Valbuena and is reported to have negotiated on behalf of his teammate. Benzema’s lawyers deny this version of events, but the French striker faces a minimum sentence of five years for “complicity in an attempted extortion” if he is found guilty.
1 Lionel Messi
It takes a particularly poor business sense and lack of judgement for an individual to think that he may hide millions of Euros in earnings from a government going through its greatest financial crisis of the 21st century. Messi and his father Jorge are involved in an ongoing dispute with the Spanish government in which Messi failed to pay about €4 million in taxes. Messi tried to make the case go away in 2013 by paying €5 million as a good-faith payment, but he still faces up to 22 months in prison for his alleged indiscretion.