To disgrace oneself is to do something dishonorable which brings shame upon the individual. Soccer players, particularly in the modern day, are constantly under the media spotlight like any other high profile celebrities. If they disgrace themselves on the pitch it will be shown hundreds of times in slow-motion from 15 different camera angles. If they disgrace themselves off the pitch the tabloids will be all over it in a matter of seconds.
Clearly then, there is no hiding for footballers in the current climate, and it's no surprise that many of those who make this list are players of a recent era. None of us are angels and in the heat of things on a football pitch, it is no surprise that players sometimes commit mindless acts. The most common ways in which a player has disgraced themselves on this list is through violence, racism, spitting or scandals.
Soccer players who have committed particularly heinous off-field crimes such as murder or rape are omitted, so as to prevent the list from becoming merely a list of players who have been jailed. Conversely, those who have committed more 'minor' but still damning off-field offences are included. Here are the top 20 soccer players who disgraced themselves:
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20 Eric Cantona
Rather generously named Manchester United's greatest ever player by Inside United magazine, Eric Cantona is without doubt a club legend. Sir Alex Ferguson often points to the Frenchman as being the spark which lit the Manchester United flame, inspiring them to become the dominant side in England for a number of years.
Cantona was never far from incident and controversy though, as he disgraced himself in the eyes of many when he kung-fu kicked and launched a series of punches towards a Crystal Palace fan following his sending off in January 1995.
19 Jamie Vardy
The Premier League top scorer who is on an incredible run of goal scoring form, Jamie Vardy's meteoric rise from non-league football to England international has been well-documented, but it hasn't always been such a fairytale story for Vardy who found himself rather red-faced in August of this year.
The Leicester forward was caught on camera repeatedly calling a man of East Asian origin as a "Jap". He was quoted as saying "Jap. Yo Jap. Walk on. Walk on. Oi, walk on. Yeah you, Jap. Walk on," during a high-stakes poker game. He was fined by the club for the racial abuse.
18 Frank Rijkaard
An intelligent footballer, excellent tackler and marvellous athlete, Frank Rijkaard is widely regarded as one of the best and most well-rounded defensive midfielders of all time. He played almost exclusively for Ajax and AC Milan; winning seven domestic titles and three Champions Leagues, as well as being nominated for the Ballon d'Or twice.
In a tremendous career, Rijkaard will always be tainted by his actions in a game against West Germany in the 1990 World Cup, in which he spat at Rudi Voller, twisted his ear, stamped on his foot and was then sent off, before spitting at Voller again. Rijkaard apologized and the German press nicknamed him 'Llama'.
17 Diego Maradona
Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, the way in which Diego Maradona transformed largely mediocre Napoli and Argentina teams into world-beaters is quite extraordinary. His vision, control and dribbling abilities are comfortably some of the best ever seen, and Maradona was tied with Pele as FIFA's Player of the Twentieth Century, despite actually winning the public vote.
Maradona had a cocaine addiction spanning more than two decades and was twice disgraced for drug related incidents, firstly in 1992 when it resulted in him leaving Napoli and secondly at the 1994 World Cup when he failed a drug test for doping and was sent home from the tournament disgraced.
16 Nile Ranger
Considered a hot prospect at Newcastle United when he first came through the ranks, Nile Ranger's career has always been plagued by off-field instances. Even from the age of 15 he found himself serving time in a young offenders institute, and since turning pro he has been charged with assault, criminal damage and more. Having disgraced himself, Ranger has done great harm to his career prospects, and currently finds himself in a precarious position yet to play a game this season with third tier Blackpool.
15 Adrian Mutu
One of the greatest Romanian footballers of all time, Adrian Mutu often had an entire nation willing him on, but that didn't stop him disgracing himself not once but twice. A very talented forward player, Mutu was considered one of the best strikers in Serie A. Following a fantastic season with Parma, Mutu made a big-money move to Chelsea, but after a year at the club he failed a drug test for cocaine, and the club sacked him and began taking legal action against the player. In 2010, Mutu failed another drug test, this time for doping, and he was handed a one-year ban.
14 Leicester City - 2015-16 Preseason
Pre-season tours can often be filled with incidents but Leicester City's 2015-16 preseason tour made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The club travelled to Asia for what was intended to be a promotional tour, but ended up as a humiliating and embarrassing one for the club, and left three players disgraced. The young men involved were Adam Smith, Tom Hopper and the manager's son James Pearson.
The three players filmed themselves having an orgy with Thai women, in which they racially abused and mocked the girls. To make matters worse, Leicester's owners are Thai themselves, with two of their headline sponsors being Amazing Thailand and Air Asia. All three players, including Nigel Pearson's son, were sacked for their involvement in the incident.
13 Ben Thatcher
Ben Thatcher was an English defender, although he played internationally for Wales, who played for Millwall, Wimbledon, Tottenham, Leicester, Man City, Charlton and Ipswich in an 18-year career which saw him also turn out seven times for Wales. Thatcher could have had a respectable career within the game were it not for his vicious elbow on Pedro Mendes in a game against Portsmouth in 2006.
Mendes required oxygen and suffered a seizure, while Greater Manchester Police were called to join the FA in their investigation of the incident, which eventually resulted in a hefty ban for the disgraced defender.
Real Madrid defender Pepe is known for his 'robust' challenges, to put it kindly, but his behaviour in a 2009 game against Getafe was simply inexcusable. The Portugal international pushed Getafe midfielder Javier Casquero to the ground, conceding a penalty, and after Casquero fell, Pepe twice kicked him viciously while the Spaniard laid on the ground. Having been sent off, Pepe then pushed Casquero's face into the ground before repeatedly stamping on him and eventually lashing out at another player, Juan Angel Albin. The replays showed the barbarity of the attack and Pepe received a 10 game ban, effectively ending his season.
Of course, we can't forget when Pepe disgraced himself at the 2014 World Cup, delivering a headbutt to Thomas Muller while he was on the ground.
11 1964 Betting Scandal
Betting scandals in football or any sport for that matter, always shakes the sport to its core, because the very idea of the element of competition and legitimacy of the game being in question is hugely damaging. The 1964 betting scandal is the most serious in the history of English football, and resulted in 10 players being jailed. Jimmy Gauld was considered the central figure in the scandal, and he was sentenced to four years in prison, while three Sheffield Wednesday players received four months behind bars.
10 Luis Aragones
A legend of Spanish football, Luis Aragones was highly successful as both a player and manager. As a player Aragones won three La Liga titles and two Copa del Reys and reached a European Cup final with Atletico Madrid. As a manager, Aragones won eight trophies with Atletico and Barcelona, before coaching Spain to success at the 2008 European Championships implementing the playing style Vicente Del Bosque continued. Aragones disgraced himself in 2004 when he twice referred to Thierry Henry as a "black s***".
9 John Terry
One of the best central defenders of his generation, John Terry's fine defensive capabilities, reading of the game and positioning haven't stopped him becoming a widely disliked figure within English football. The former England captain is a legend and Chelsea but most hated in all other quarters for a number of reasons. Firstly, Terry reportedly mocked an American at Heathrow in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Secondly, Terry had a four-month affair with the former girlfriend of his teammate Wayne Bridge, and thirdly, Terry was charged in 2012 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
8 Jonathan Woodgate/Lee Bowyer
A double entry, former England internationals Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer both disgraced themselves early in their careers, when Woddgate was 20 and Bowyer 23 in the year 2000. While both playing for Leeds, the pair were involved in an incident with an Asian student outside a nightclub in Leeds, which resulted in the youngster being left seriously injured. Woodgate was convicted of affray and sentenced to 100 hours community service, while Bowyer agreed to a $300,000 out of court settlement.
7 Fritz Korbach
A former Dutch player and manager, Fritz Korbach had a 34 year managerial career which saw him take charge of clubs such as FC Twente and SC Heerenveen. After a fairly poor and unremarkable playing career, Korbach was regarded as a very capable coach within the Netherlands, that was until 1991 when disgraced himself in an interview, describing Bryan Roy as a "putrid little negro" and Romario as "that coffee bean of PSV". Managing Heerenveen at the time, Korbach lost his job less than a year after the incident and never managed a top team again.
6 Roy Keane
A titan in the history of Manchester United and the Premier League, Roy Keane was born a winner. He made a name for himself at Nottingham Forest before becoming a pivotal figure and eventual captain at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson. The Irishman won 20 trophies over his career, including seven Premier League titles and the Champions League. However, he was always regarded as a tough, mean and at times downright dirty player, and in 2001 he committed an act almost mutually condemned as too far.
Keane put in a nasty knee-high challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland, which Haaland himself suggested that it ended his career and maintains to this day he doesn't regret carrying out the vicious act. Many have criticized Keane and called him a poor role model for his stance on the matter.
5 Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez is without doubt one of the best players in the world, but for all his talent, the Uruguayan seemingly cannot stop himself from getting in the headlines for the wrong reasons all too often. With Ajax, Liverpool and now Barcelona, Suarez has become one of the most feared forwards on the planet.
He is mostly feared for his tenacity, technique and finishing in front of goals, but there is also the fear that he might cheat, bite or racially abuse you. Suarez has disgraced himself a number of times, most notably three separate biting incidents and racially abusing Patrice Evra.
4 Emre Belozoglu
Another player who disgraced themselves through racial abuse, Emre Belozoglu is considered one of the stars of Turkish football, and even made the FIFA 100, Pele's list of the 125 best living players. Aged 35, Belozoglu has won 94 caps for Turkey, finishing third in the 2002 World Cup and has won trophies with five different clubs in four different countries.
After accusations of racial abuse while playing in England, Belozoglu found himself in trouble once more back in Turkey, after he called Didier Zokora a "f***ing n****".
3 Joey Barton
Joey Barton has disgraced himself more than once, including twice being charged with violence. Barton's most serious offence is despicable, when he was convicted of inflicting actual bodily harm upon Man City teammate Ousmane Dabo which effectively ended his time at the club. Barton has one other charge of assault as well as having disgraced himself multiple times on the pitch, including punching Morten Gamst-Pederson and lashing out at three players on the final day of the 2011-12 season.
2 El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf is another player who has disgraced himself multiple times. In fact, few players have done so with such regularity as the former Senegal star. Diouf had an exceptional 2002 World Cup, resulting in a move to Liverpool. His time in England though, and Britain, was marred by incident. Diouf spat on more occasions than one has time to mention, racially abused a ball-boy, taunted a player who had broken his leg and got in trouble with the law for crimes from nightclub brawls to driving offences.
1 Ron Atkinson
The reason Ron Atkinson tops this list is because he was such a beloved figure of English football prior to disgracing himself. The likes of Suarez, Barton and Diouf were already eminently dislikable before committing more obviously contemptible acts, but not Atkinson. Better known as 'Big Ron', Atkinson only ever played for one club, Oxford United, representing the club more than 500 times. He had rather more success as a manager, doing particularly well at West Brom, and winning trophies with Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa.
Big Ron had retired from the world of management when he disgraced himself in 2004. Having turned to punditry, Atkinson was commenting on a game when he believed he was not on transmission. While this was the case in the UK, the audio was still broadcast in the Middle East, where listeners heard the former manager said of Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly "he is what is known in some schools as a f***ing lazy, thick n****". His media work has been severely limited since the incident.
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