FIFA World Cup: Villains, Cheats, Sulkers And Winkers

The World Cup: it’s about glory and the pursuit of sporting immortality, right? Well, no. Not always.

Here’s an all-star XI of the World Cup’s biggest villains, cheats, sulkers and general bad eggs. Some of them you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley. Some of the others you’d definitely fancy your chances against…

Harald SchumacherGoalkeeper: Harald Schumacher, West Germany, 1982 and 1986

Shortly after this incident in the 1982 semi-final, when Schumacher almost decapitated the French striker Patrick Battiston, the German keeper was voted the most unpopular man in France – relegating Adolf Hitler into second place. Despite Schumacher knocking out three of the Frenchman’s teeth, damaging one of his vertebrae and sending Battiston into a post-match coma, the referee didn’t even give a free kick. West Germany went on to defeat France on penalties and reach the final. “If that’s all that’s wrong with him I’ll pay for his dental work myself,” the German said afterwards. To the delight of neutral fans everywhere, Italy went on to defeat West Germany 3-1 in the final. Four years later, the West Germans, with Schumacher again in goal, lost another World Cup Final.


Claudio GentileRight back: Claudio Gentile, Italy, 1978 and 1982

As a teenager, it was probably a toss up for Gentile as to whether he would become a cold-hearted hitman for the mob or a cold-hearted defender for the Italian national team. An ever-present in Italy’s 1978 and 1982 World Cup matches, he earned a winner’s medal in 1982 and a reputation as one of the most cynical defenders of his or any generation. In the second group phase of their ultimately victorious 1982 campaign, he ‘neutralised’ both Maradona and Zico. It’s rumoured that both men still check the back seat of their cars when they get in the front, and that the neighbourhood Alsatians pair up when they spot him on his morning stroll. With club side Juventus, Gentile won six Serie A titles and two major European honours.


Slaven BilicCentre back: Slaven Bilic, Croatia, 1998

Bilic earned 44 international caps as a player and went on to manage the national team; he has a law degree, plays guitar in a rock band and is something of a political philosopher. “I am a true socialist,” he told a Turkish magazine after being appointed Besiktas manager in 2013. “I know I can’t save the world on my own, but if there is a struggle against injustice I always prefer to be on the frontline.” Try telling that to Laurent Blanc. In the 1998 World Cup semi-final, the Frenchman brushed Bilic’s chest with his hand while jostling in the penalty area. Bilic went down clutching his face, Blanc was sent off – for the first time in his career – and then banned for the once-in-a-lifetime World Cup final in front of his home fans in Paris.


Frank RijkaardCentre back: Frank Rijkaard, Holland, 1990 and 1994

A four-time European Cup winner (three times as a player for Ajax and Milan, once as coach of Barcelona) and European champion with Holland in 1988, Rijkaard was one of the most technically gifted and versatile players of the 1980s and 90s. I have lined him up here at centre half, where his supreme ability to read the game would cause opposing strikers problems. In the 1990 World Cup he caused a different type of problem for West Germany striker Rudi Voller, shaming his country by spitting at the back of Voller’s head in full view of the watching millions. Both men were sent off and, to make matters worse for Voller, his luxuriously thick perm meant he got through 13 bottles of shampoo in the shower afterwards as he tried to wash it clean.


Patrice EvraLeft back: Patrice Evra, France, 2010

Evra has never been far from controversy in the latter stages of his career. Often that controversy hasn’t been of his own making (see below), but as captain of France’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign, and the ringleader in a mid-tournament mutiny and strike against the coach, Raymond Domenech, who had made him skipper, he makes this team as its resident left back. Evra and his fellow teammates took offence to the dismissal from the squad of that famous paragon of virtue, Nicolas Anelka, during the group stage in South Africa. French World Cup winner Lilian Thuram called for Evra to be banned from the national team for life for his role in the fiasco. He wasn’t. He got five games and is a member of France’s squad for the 2014 tournament.


Cristiano RonaldoRight wing: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal, 2006 and 2010

Nobody can dispute Ronaldo’s genius as a player and his supreme dedication to his career as a footballer that has made him one of this century’s global superstars. There is, however, much to laugh at here, too: the haircuts; the narcissism; the outfits; the Ronseal-esque perma-tan; and the comical on-pitch histrionics. In 2006, Ronaldo’s then Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during England’s quarter-final with Portugal. Rooney deserved to go, but Ronaldo’s reaction in imploring the referee to show a red card left a bad taste. With mission accomplished, his knowing wink to his teammates made things seem ten times worse. Fearful of the reaction back in England, Ronaldo confessed to wanting to leave United before burying the hatchet with Rooney.


Roy KeaneCentral midfield: Roy Keane, Ireland, 1994 and 2002 (well, almost)

In his autobiography, even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted to being frightened of Keane when the red mist descended on the combustible Irish midfielder. In the build up to the 2002 World Cup, Ireland manager Mick McCarthy was on the receiving end of one of Keane’s most infamous, if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase, ‘paddies’. Keane wound himself up into a frenzy at the perceived amateurism in the Irish camp, from the poverty of the team hotel and training facilities to McCarthy’s tactical naivety as a coach. A spiteful, expletive-laden character assassination of McCarthy in a pre-tournament team meeting ensued, before Keane jetted home to his mansion and a few weeks of dog walking in leafy Cheshire.


Simeone and BeckhamCentral midfield: Diego Simeone, Argentina, 1994, 1998 and 2002

Let’s get this out of the way first: Beckham shouldn’t have done it. He shouldn’t have flicked his leg out at Simeone in England’s second round match against Argentina in Saint-Etienne at the 1998 World Cup. He was naive. But for a self-styled midfield hardman who seemed to sweat Latin American machismo, Simeone’s fall – akin to a felled tree – despite minimal contact was somewhat overlooked in the immediate media and effigy-hanging frenzy that condemned England’s poster boy for his stupidity. Simeone had everything you need in a Latin football villain: a foxhound’s instinct for chasing referees; cynicism in abundance; the sense that he’d trade his grandmother for a win; and a world class smirk.


RivaldoLeft wing: Rivaldo, Brazil, 1998 and 2002

Brazil has produced a list of supreme creative players as long as your arm and Rivaldo has a rightful place on it. A key man for Barcelona and the national team around the turn of this century, his career will be forever footnoted by one of the worst displays of playacting and cheating ever seen on a football pitch. In the dying seconds of a group stage match in 2002, Turkish midfielder Hakan Unsal kicked the ball to Rivaldo, who was waiting to take a corner. The ball hit him on the thigh, but the Brazilian went down clutching his face like he’d been on the receiving end of a bludgeoning right hand from Frank Bruno. Hakan Unsal received a second yellow card, a sending off and a ban. Rivaldo went on to receive a winner’s medal but also eternal ridicule that has overshadowed his achievements.


Luis SuarezForward: Luis Suarez, Uruguay, 2010

Unless you are Uruguayan or support Liverpool FC, Suarez is almost certainly the footballer from the current generation that you love to hate more than any other. His crimes at club level include biting two opponents on the pitch and a racism storm involving our friend Patrice Evra, all of which led to lengthy bans. Before all of that, though, Suarez outraged hundreds of millions of fans by producing a deliberate handball on the goal-line deep into extra time in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final, which denied Ghana a goal and, almost certainly, victory. Suarez was sent off but Asamoah Gyan missed the resultant penalty and Uruguay eventually knocked out the Africans on penalties.


Hand Of GodForward: Diego Maradona, Argentina, 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994

Last but not least, the daddy of them all. For some, including me, the Argentine is the greatest footballer ever to walk the earth. For others, justifiably, he’s the biggest villain and cheat in World Cup history. All of his four Finals appearances are tainted by controversy: his petulant red card against Brazil in 1982; the infamous ‘Hand Of God’ goal against England in 1986; imploring the people of Naples, his adopted home, to support Argentina instead of Italy in 1990, and his histrionics and tears throughout that tournament; and his positive drug test and ban in 1994. None of this has altered his place in the affections of his people back home, where a significant religious movement in his honour – ‘The Church Of Maradona’ – thrives. Those Argentines who haven’t signed up look on him merely as a demi-god.


So there you have it. Some of the most controversial figures in World Cup history together in one team. They look pretty formidable on paper though, don’t they?




My All-Time FIFA World Cup XI

In the build-cup to the 2014 FIFA World Cup the internet has gone crazy with people posting their all-time World Cup XIs. So I decided to have a go at my own. With such a rich history it was a difficult task but this is my final draft. The person I most feel sorry for is Lothar Matthaus as the single anchor man…

All-time World Cup XI


Here’s how they line up (4-1-3-2): Banks (Eng); Cafu (Bra), Moore (Eng), Beckenbauer (Ger), Maldini (Ita); Matthaus (Ger); Pele (Bra), Maradona (Arg), Cruyff (Ned); Muller (Ger), Ronaldo (Bra)

Subs bench: Zoff (Ita); Baresi (Ita); Breitner (Ger); Zidane (Fra), Garrincha (Bra), Puskas (Hun), Romario (Bra)

In case you can’t tell, the man in bottom left is Gusztav Sebes, who I’ve chosen as coach. He never won the World Cup but he managed the greatest team never to win it – the 1954 Hungarians. A visionary from behind the Iron Curtain, his team brought football into modern era and lost only one match in 50 – that fateful 1954 World Cup Final against West Germany, which is known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’. People mainly remember that defeat and forget Hungary’s 8-3 trouncing of the Germans earlier in the competition, their gold medal at the 1952 Olympics and the lessons they dished out to England in 1953/54 – a 6-3 win at Wembley, when Sebes’s Communist superstars became the first non-British team to win on English soil, and a 7-1 victory in the return match in Budapest.

Sebes’s attacking genius paved the way for Holland’s Total Football in the 70s, Brazil’s mercurial 1982 side and the Johan Cruyff-influenced Barcelona teams of the last 25 years. He deserves a shot at managing this team – though they’d need to travel to another planet to find opponents capable of giving them a game…

ARCHIVE: Les Bleus In Turmoil As Domenech Faces Final Curtain

Raymond Domenech

Troubled preparation: Domenech’s selection policy, personality and results have been questioned in France’s build-up to the World Cup

If Moliere was alive today, there can be little doubt that he would have found plenty of inspiration in the chaos of his countrymen’s preparations for the 2010 World Cup, which is now looming large on the horizon. The great French playwright’s rare talent for comedy and satire would have made prolific use of what’s on offer: sex scandals, in-fighting among the players, on-pitch humiliation and a maddening coach whose combination of ineffectiveness and perceived insouciance has caused outrage – even in a country where the general public usually embrace the enigmatic. The bookmakers may beg to differ, but it could all add up to a probably-not-so-shocking conclusion: the 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up could be the big fall guys of this World Cup.

The majority back home certainly think so. A TV poll in France last month revealed that a massive 73% of the population expect Raymond Domenech’s men to fall at the first hurdle and fail to make it out of Group A. Just 7% of those interviewed think that France will make it through to the final, and only 22% think that the right man is in charge of the team. The worrying thing for French fans, the players and Domenech himself is that things have actually got worse since the poll was conducted – much worse.

Firstly, Domenech finalised his 23-man squad, which contained a host of controversial omissions and inclusions: as many left-backs as centre-halves; a mixture of aging, unproven and profligate strikers; and no place for Benzema, Ben Arfa or Nasri, three of France’s most celebrated young players. Just for added spice, two players who did make the cut were wingers Sidney Govou and Franck Ribery – both of whom will play in South Africa wondering if their alleged involvement with underage prostitutes earlier in the year will lead to criminal charges after the finals.

Next came the warm-up games, where things went from bad to worse. Back in March, France had been thoroughly humbled and exposed by Spain in Paris, losing 2-0, so a series of hand-picked, pre-tournament confidence boosters against Costa Rica, Tunisia and China were supposed to lift morale. But a shaky 2-1 win, a poor 1-1 draw and a humiliating 1-0 defeat can only have had the opposite effect.

William Gallas

Media blackout: Gallas has hit the headlines once again

It certainly appears that way. Factions within the camp are beginning to appear. Arsenal, Chelsea and Marseille fans know William Gallas’ propensity to cause dressing room unrest only too well, and yesterday afternoon it was revealed that he will not be speaking to the media again in South Africa – reportedly to ‘voice’ his displeasure at the coach’s decision to install Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra as captain instead of himself. If you discount the mismatches in qualifying against the Faroe Isles, France have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine games. When you combine this with Gallas’ potentially divisive behaviour and the fact that Domenech will ask him to partner a natural left-back (Eric Abidal) in the centre of France’s defence, it’s easy to see where France’s weakness might be. Group A rivals Mexico and Uruguay have some clever forwards in the shape of Hernandez, Vela, Forlan and Suarez, and they will fancy their chances of capitalising on this.

Domenech, who will become France’s all-time longest-serving manager during the finals, has spent the last few months issuing reassurances for both on and off-field matters, and he seems utterly unaffected by the mounting pressure on him. Perhaps this is because he his contract is not being renewed and he knows that his job is no longer on the line. Perhaps it is because the experience of 2006, when he brushed aside similar levels of criticism to take France to the World Cup final, has given him an impenetrable confidence in his ability to overcome the odds. The French media would have you believe that it’s because he cares only about his main hobbies – playing the drums and astrology – and because he links his own fate and that of the national team to the alignment of the stars. Famously, he was once said to have omitted Robert Pires from a squad because he is a Scorpio…he neither confirmed nor denied this.

Raymond Domenech

Caricature: the French press have shown no mercy towards Domenech

It is probably a combination of all three. For a man who claims to be so in tune with the predictive mysteries of the zodiac, one can only wonder whether he saw all of this coming. France’s decline has been rapid under his stewardship and it all points back to the moment Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the final of the last World Cup. Domenech’s hopes of winning the greatest prize of all against the odds faded at that moment and it was here that the wheels began to come off. A disastrous Euro 2008 followed, when France were knocked out in the first round. In the immediate aftermath of this elimination Domenech proposed to his long-term partner live on television. Predictability has never been a trait of his. France then had to suffer the embarrassment of qualifying for South Africa only thanks to Thierry Henry’s handball in the playoff against Ireland.

There is some optimism for the future. The presence in the squad of the likes of Clichy, Lloris and Gourcuff proves that France is still capable of producing young players of the highest quality and offers hope for the weeks ahead. But on the whole it would be a surprise if this particular vintage lives up to the quality of some of its illustrious predecessors. In 1998 France progressed to the final of the World Cup and won it, only to crash out in the group stage four years later. In 2006 they made it all the way to the final again, but if history repeats itself and they are dumped out early this time it will be much less of a shock.

© Mark Robinson 2010