Given how much passion and adulation it inspires in fans around the world, it’s really no surprise that the sport of soccer is far from being free from controversy. Indeed, there are plenty of soccer players who are, shall we say, known for having somewhat difficult and fiery personalities; quirks that end up becoming as big a part of their reputations as their athletic feats are.
Even in a world where such behavior is far from unusual, there are some soccer players who’ve truly made a name for themselves thanks to their controversial or divisive antics. This article covers the top 5 most controversial soccer players of all time.
Background: Fame and Celebrity in the World of Football
The soccer world is famed for the unique and intriguing personalities that make it up. As far as media coverage of the sport is concerned, you’d be forgiven for thinking that soccer players’ personal lives were just as important as their actual playing skills and athleticism.
On any given day, you’re just as likely to hear about Ronaldo’s latest alleged dirty move as you are, say, exciting matchups like Manchester City vs Madrid Real or the most talented up-and-coming players.
As a result of this culture of celebrity, soccer players can and do end up becoming some of the most famous and popular athletes in the world. They amass enormous, dedicated followings for themselves and are often able to acquire lucrative endorsements and contracts as a result. In the case of the sport’s biggest stars, their appeal can even transcend soccer, and they may end up attracting coverage from media outlets that have nothing to do with the sport itself.
This isn’t all that surprising, given that soccer is one of the most popular sports on the planet. The game’s global appeal, as well as the fact that its star players have emerged from a diverse array of countries and cultures, certainly has something to do with this, too.
With that being said, media coverage of soccer’s biggest superstars borders on being absurd at times. When it comes to athletes like David Beckham or Ronaldo, it almost feels like we hear about their every movement and waking moment from tabloids like the Daily Mail. And, while they’re about as famous as pop culture icons like Lady Gaga or Jennifer Lopez, it’s hard to deny that this sort of treatment glosses over the incredible athletic prowess and skills that these athletes display on the soccer pitch.
Our List of the 5 Most Controversial Soccer Players of All Time
Not all soccer players are known for being gentlemanly or great sportsmen. In fact, some of the most famous football athletes of all time have pretty much been the opposite; the following list details the antics of 5 of soccer’s most controversial players ever.
Few footballers have amassed as great or as loyal a following as the iconic David Beckham has. He has something of a reputation for bad behavior, too; Beckham has gotten into all sorts of conflict with both teammates and management at the many clubs he’s played for over the years.
With all that being said, it’s clear that Becks is a complex character and there’s far more to him than his controversies on and off the football pitch. The star is a renowned philanthropist, for one, and he’s also spoke openly about his battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the past.
A charismatic public figure and powerhouse on the soccer pitch, Diego Maradona is remembered as one of the best footballers of all time, and for good reason. He’s no angel, though; Maradona was once banned from competition due to his issues with cocaine addiction and once shot a journalist with an air rifle.
While Thierry Henry has generally been a force for good during his soccer career, his 2010 handball in the World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland has left an ugly black mark against his name.
As one of the highest-paid athletes in the world today, Ronaldo is also one of the most famous. The Portuguese footballer’s career has also been absolutely marred by controversy; Ronaldo has been accused of sexual assault, for one thing. He also has something of a reputation for diving for the ball, which hasn’t exactly helped his reputation among soccer fans (or fellow players, either).
While Ronaldo is certainly a great player in his own right, it’s clear that his career in soccer will be remembered with somewhat mixed feelings by many as a result of his rather patchy conduct (though it hasn’t stopped him from becoming totally beloved by football fans across the globe).
The French footballer Zinedine Zidane will probably go down as one of the most divisive players in the history of the sport. While his talent is absolutely undeniable, Zidane’s somewhat patchy reputation is certainly deserved; he’s probably best known for headbutting the Italian footballer Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup (and subsequently refusing to apologize).