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: Yesterday’s Man Right For England’s Future

As one chapter closes, another opens. Just hours after being cleared of tax evasion charges at Southwark Crown Court in London – a case that dispelled accusations of financial skulduggery that have shadowed him for five years – Harry Redknapp stands alone as the clear favourite with bookmakers and the wider public to be appointed the next manager of England within the next few days following the resignation of Fabio Capello after his row with the FA over John Terry’s suspension as England captain.

Harry Redknapp

Rollercoaster: Can Redknapp go from court to manager of England in the space of a few days?

Even for a man well used to the rollercoaster nature of life as a football manager, the events of today will have had the 64-year-old Tottenham boss pinching himself. From potential disgrace in a court of law to being within touching distance of a job often referred to as the second most important in the country in the space of a single afternoon trumps anything that even he has experienced in almost 50 years in the game as a player and manager.

The relegation battles, the crossing of bitter divides and the last-minute transfer deals that have nourished his reputation as a wheeler dealer are etched across Redknapp’s face and are explicit in his character, which invokes nostalgia for a bygone age. At a time when football clubs are being increasingly dominated by nutritionists, psychologists and statistical analysts, here is a man cut from a vintage English cloth. A throwback to an age where men in camel coats and fedoras puffed on cigars in dugouts across the country in between devising deals to swap players for lawnmowers or vice versa.

The major factor in Redknapp’s success has been the force of his endearing and shrewd personality, a by-product of which is his ability as a manager of men and as a master motivator. If a poll was conducted to find which Premier League manager most fans would like to go for a few pints and a trip to the races with, you can be certain that Redknapp’s would be at the top. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that the majority of those on the terraces and in the pubs close by appear happy to turn a blind eye to the accusations of financial irregularity that have seen him answer charges. He is a loveable rogue in the mould of a Trotter, despite taking up residence in Sandbanks – an area with the fourth highest average real estate value in the world – instead of Nelson Mandela House.

Yet all of this should not detract from Redknapp’s credentials for the biggest job in English football. The nurturing of several future England internationals during his spell in charge of West Ham, which also included a fifth placed finish in the Premier League in 1999, first served notice of his managerial talents. FA Cup success with Portsmouth in 2008 followed, but it has been his work with Tottenham Hotspur in recent seasons that has seen him earn broader praise at both home and abroad.

Taking over a grand old club in crisis and at the foot of the Premier League at the end of 2008, by the end of the following campaign – his first full season in charge of the squad – he had guided Spurs into the domestic top four and qualification for the Champions League. This term, his team has outshone Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool by producing the only sustained challenge over the first half of the season to the hegemony of the Manchester clubs in the current Premier League title race.

Tottenham Hotspur

Redknapp’s Spurs arguably play the Premier League’s most exciting brand of football

Redknapp has built his Tottenham on the principles of versatile attacking football, in possession of the flexibility of both patience and directness. He has nurtured and developed the abilities of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and has added the contrasting qualities of Scott Parker and Rafael Van Der Vaart to a midfield that at its best can be mentioned in the same sentence as Barcelona’s without provoking derision. And his effective handling of the hugely talented but notoriously combustible Emmanuel Adebayor, a task seemingly beyond the capabilities of even Jose Mourinho, illustrates Redknapp’s genius as a motivator in a nutshell. England’s squad is full of talented players laden with domestic and European medals on one hand, and exciting youngsters on the other. The older generation have not only become accustomed to disappointment and underachievement, but also to playing with fear. Redknapp’s appointment would give those players the best possible opportunity to to relieve that malaise, while his record of successfully fast-tracking the careers of young footballers has been well documented.

Given the baggage that he has carried around for so long, proven or unproven, whether the naturally cautious Football Association have the courage to appoint him remains to be seen but the outcome of his trial earlier today removes a significant obstacle. The institution’s reluctance to bow to public pressure in the 1970s and employ the controversial but brilliant Brian Clough sets a worrying precedent for Redknapp’s backers. So does its failure to back Terry Venables, himself plagued by rumours of financial wrongdoing, following England’s unfortunate exit at the semi-finals of Euro 96.

The similarities between Venables and Redknapp are pointed. Both are men that have spent their careers trading on their ability to extract the maximum from the players at their disposal, and both are men that you are more likely to encounter at an East End greyhound track than at a UEFA coaching convention. In Venables’ case, that very English mixture made him the England manager that has come closest to glory at a major tournament over the last 16 years. After years of failed experimentation with foreign coaches and fashionable methods, it is time to give yesterday’s man another shot.

© Mark Robinson 2012