Pele, Paolo Rossi, Sir Geoff Hurst… The World Cup can make heroes of players overnight, but it can equally have the opposite effect. You might get away with a leg-breaking challenge, racist gesture or gobbing at someone in a league game, but in the World Cup? Think again.
On the biggest stage in world sport, every kick, every tackle, every embarrassing dive and bit of rolling around on the ground is watched the world over. So today we turn our attention to seven World Cup players who didn’t come out of the tournament smelling of roses.
Here are our 7 World Cup villains
Neymar has, of course, been in the headlines once more at this summer's finals in Russia, not just because he’s brilliant at football, but also because he is absolutely pathetic as soon as he receives the slightest hint of contact. Well, he’s not the first world class Brazilian forward to have developed a reputation for play-acting. Back at the 2002 World Cup, Barcelona forward Rivaldo put in an Oscar-winning performance throwing himself to the ground and clutching his face after the ball had quite clearly hit him on the thigh. Thank God for VAR.
6. Nigel De Jong
Nigel de Jong #34 of Los Angeles Galaxy puts on a practice jersey during warm up prior to their MLS match against D.C. United at StubHub Center on March 6, 2016 in Carson, California.
To be honest, it’s probably a bit harsh singling Nigel De Jong out here, since the entire Dutch team employed similar tactics to try and disrupt Spain’s fluid passing style in the 2010 World Cup final, but it is De Jong’s infamous chest height stud attack on Xabi Alonso which lives long in the memory, and which I wanted to use in the thumbnail, so he take sixth. De Jong has always been known as a strong, robust and tough tackling holding midfielder, hence his nicknames ‘The Destroyer’ and ‘The Lawnmower’, but he took that to new heights in the World Cup final, and only Howard Webb knows how he stayed on the pitch that day. The Manchester City man epitomised the Netherlands approach to the game, but thankfully football was the winner, as Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0.
5. Harald Schumacher
The Germans have traditionally had the edge on their Dutch rivals at the World Cup, and that is true of their villainy as well it would seem. In fifth place is 76 capped West German international Harald Schumacher. An excellent goalkeeper who spent his best years with Koln, Schumacher is synonymous to most football fans with a single moment, and it wasn’t a good one. In a 1982 World Cup semi-final match between France and West Germany, French full-back Patrick Battiston found himself in the forward position, bearing down on goal thanks to a Michel Platini through ball. He poked the ball wide, and was subsequently cleaned out in savage fashion by Schumacher in the German goal. Battiston was out cold, missing teeth, as well as having three cracked ribs and a damaged vertebrae. No foul or punishment was given against Schumacher, which only added to the controversy.
4. Marco Materazzi
(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout image provided by Red Bull, Former Italian national football player, Marco Materazzi, talks during a press conference at Zojoji Temple before taking up...
We’ve gone with Marco Materazzi in fourth place, although it could just as easily have been Zinedine Zidane in here too. Zizou famously had a bit of a temper, receiving 16 career red cards, including one at the 1998 World Cup and another in his last ever game, the 2006 World Cup final. Zidane was taunted by Materazzi and took the bait, plunging his head into the Italian's chest. We’ve included Materazzi since he was renowned for his thuggery and general irritance on a football pitch. As daft as Zidane was, he was still eminently more likeable than Materazzi.
3. Luis Suarez
The 2018 World Cup is the only World Cup Luis Suarez has been to and not been suspended from. Both within and away from the World Cup, Suarez has always cut a controversial and, at times, disgraceful character. At his first World Cup, in 2010, the Ajax forward was dismissed for preventing a certain goal for Ghana with his hand. Suarez later coined the save as ‘the real hand of God’. Four years later in Brazil, Suarez made the headlines for all the wrong reasons again. The tenacious Uruguayan decided it’d be a good idea to take a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, the third time he had bitten an opposing player on a football pitch in his career. The incident saw Suarez handed the longest ban in World Cup history of nine games.
2. Diego Maradona
Argentinian former football player Diego Armando Maradona (R) poses with President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov (L) during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between...
Luis Suarez may have a sizeable charge sheet, but it is dwarfed in comparison Diego Maradona’s. Simultaneously one of the greatest and most disgraced players in the history of the FIFA World Cup, all sides of El Diego were on show at the 1986 finals in Mexico. He inspired a rather mediocre Argentinian side to glory, combining his rare genius on the ball with his objectionable tendency to cheat. Little Diego batted the ball into the England goal with his hand in ‘86, before scoring one of the most iconic goals in World Cup history. The second, arguably even more shameful controversy, came at the 1994 World Cup in America. El Diego surprised a lot of people by looking in shape for the finals, but the reasons why would soon become a clear. Maradona failed a ‘random’ drugs test, and he was subsequently sent home, never to play for Argentina again.
1. Alexandre Villaplane
Making the other six in this seven look like child's play, Alexandre Villaplane is truly the most despicable of all World Cup villains. Born in what was then known as French Algeria, Villaplane played for the likes of RC Paris, Antibes and Nice. He captained the French national team at the very first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, where the team failed to progress from their group. A shady character even during the mid-30’s, Villaplane’s career ended prematurely when he lost interest with the sport and became involved in fixing horse races. A career criminal once WWII broke out, Villaplane came to the attention of the Gestapo, and soon became a bonafide Nazi collaborator. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking [Meme].
It was said that on one day alone in June 1944, Villaplane had ordered the massacre of over 50 people. In December 1944, he was finally brought to justice, arrested and executed by firing squad.