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Football’s Biggest Idiots: The Players Giving the Beautiful Game a Bad Name

Many people – even those who love football – feel that some players, at least at the top level, are overpaid prima donnas who have the propensity to act like children. We don’t want to bash footballers though (as so many in the media seem to want to) because we love football and the players are, it is fair to say, an indispensable cog in the football machine.

Players should not be judged because they choose to wear unusual clothes a la Dominic Calvert-Lewin, or because they are not especially articulate, or intelligent in a conventional sense. They are footballers and we do not ask scientists to do overhead kicks or business leaders to show us a rabona, so why expect sportspeople to excel beyond their field?

In this feature we are instead looking at the biggest fools in football. We are not going to focus too much on the illegal side of things, though there will certainly be some of that too, but we will instead take a look at some of the many times where players have done things where the only sensible reaction can be: “What an idiot!”.

The Good

Donations Cardboard Box

Before we turn our bad bunch, lets start by looking at the positive influences in football. There are, of course, some very intelligent, articulate footballers and, moreover, many who do brilliant things outside the game to help others. Juan Mata, for example, helped establish Common Goal, encouraging footballers and others to give 1% of their earnings to charity. Players such as Serge Gnabry and Paulo Dybala, plus Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp are members. Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Craig Bellamy and countless other players have also done huge things in either creating their own charitable foundations or supporting others.

Marcus Rashford of course has done so much in recent times to help ensure children do not go hungry and even made the government change their policies. However, whilst most footballers are very decent human beings, and many go beyond that to do truly altruistic acts and help those less fortunate, that is not our focus here. On the contrary in fact.

The Bad

There are, quite possibly, far too many footballers and incidents to choose from for this article so these are just some of our highlights. Or perhaps lowlights would be more accurate. There are several players who have done some very crazy, stupid, or sometimes just rather odd things and that’s where we’ll start.

Before we do though, we should add that whilst these footballers may have done some slightly unusual things in their time, it is not to say they are terrible people, or that they are actually idiots. Who hasn’t done the odd stupid thing in their time? Thankfully we don’t have the eyes of the world on us though so don’t even ask us about the donkey and the librarian on the stag do!

Joey Barton

Bulldog Clips on Paperwork

At times, former Man City, Newcastle and QPR (among other clubs) player Joey Barton comes across as a fascinating, intelligent and insightful human being. However, at other times the former Fleetwood and current (at the time of writing) Bristol Rovers manager seems like a decidedly different person.

Barton has a long list of incidents both on and off the pitch that have made many people wonder if perhaps something is not quite right. There are too many to really go into them all in much detail but here are just some of the reasons why the Everton fan might be considered by some to be football’s biggest idiot!

  • Cigar in the eye – in 2004 at the Man City Christmas party Barton took the unusual team-building step of stubbing out a cigar in a youth team player’s eye. He was fined six weeks’ wages and almost sacked.
  • Brawling and brawling some more – Barton pleaded guilty to assault after he attacked teammate Ousmane Dabo in Man City training in 2007, an attack which left his colleague with a detached retina. When at Newcastle he punched Morten Gamst Pedersen and was charged by the FA with violent conduct and in QPR’s clash with Man City in 2011 (the Agueroooo game) he got a red card for elbowing Carlos Tevez in the face, kicked Aguero and tried to head-butt Vincent Kompany. Check out the incident here. He got a 12-game ban for that but that was far from his worst violent outburst.
  • Jail – Barton has come close to jail on many occasions but in 2008 he served 77 days of a five-month sentence for common assault and affray. The attack was caught on CCTV in December 2007 and showed Barton knocking one man unconscious with 20 punches and breaking another’s teeth.
  • And another assault – in 2021 the Huyton-born manager was found not guilty of another charge of assault. He was alleged to have attacked then-Barnsley manager Daniel Stendel when he himself was boss at Fleetwood. Stendel was left bloodied and with a broken tooth but the jury decided they could not be sure it was Barton who had pushed Stendel causing the injuries.
  • Blue moon – Blue moon is Man City’s anthem but it was a moon of a different kind when Barton took down his shorts to moon Everton fans after they had been giving him verbal abuse in City’s draw at Goodison. The issue was investigated by police but no action was taken, though he was fined by his club.
  • Verbals – as with violent assaults, Barton has a lengthy list of verbal ones too: this includes calling Middlesbrough “w*****s with a sh***y little trophy”, having a pop at Brendan Rodgers’ appearance and saying the then-Celtic boss was having a mid-life crisis, being banned from training at Rangers for an outburst at staff and players, and saying that Thiago Silva looked like an “overweight ladyboy”. And there are many more we could have listed too.

As well as all of the above Barton was questioned for using sexist language on Question Time (he compared the main political parties to four ugly women), charged with assault in 2021 after allegedly kicking a woman and grabbing her by the throat (this case is ongoing) and received an 18-month ban from football for betting on games (which effectively ended his playing career).

In addition, he has admitted to being addicted to gambling and drinking, alleged to have caused criminal damage to a taxi, had a verbal spat with various members of TOWIE, called Gary Lineker an “odious little toad” after the Match of the Day host stood up for fellow presenter Alan Shearer who Barton had called a “bell” and said of the former Newcastle striker, “I honestly despise him”; and last, but absolutely not least (and not really last either, given we suspect there is more to come and there are more incidents we could list), Barton was sent home from a Man City tour of Thailand for becoming involved in a fracas with a 15 year old Everton fan.

Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli Playing for Manchester City
Image: Photo Works, Bigstock Photo

For the number of incidents and range of them, Barton will take some beating but one player who might give him a run for his money is Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker, another former Man City player, also has a lengthy and varied rap sheet but let’s start with the light-hearted. In fairness, most of Mario’s madness is comical rather than violent or tragic.

First there is the story of him having a bump in his car in 2011 and police finding £5,000 in cash on his person. On being asked why he had that money, the forward, new to England and aged just 21, said in fairly broken English “Because I am rich”. You can’t argue with that!

Then of course there is his comical battle with a bib. You can check that out below:

And then there is the allergy to grass, mentioned in that clip too! Or the time he declared himself to be a huge AC Milan fan whilst playing for Inter. Or the story of him wearing the wrong kit for a game, or perhaps the tale of him visiting the shops for his mother. With only milk on the list, he returned with a Scalextric set, a Vespa bike and a trampoline. As you do.

Then there was the time he entered a women’s prison. Why? He and his brother wanted a look around. Good old-fashioned curiosity! This was back in Italy, in Brescia, and whilst he meant, and caused, no real harm, police had to caution him that you can’t typically just walk into prison for a visit!

Then there is his red card at Inter Milan. A red card in and of itself is hardly noteworthy but his boss at the time Jose Mourinho recounted the story brilliantly. He said if he wrote a book about Balotelli he could fill 200 pages from their time at Inter but it would be a comedy, not a drama.

A Fiery Character

Mourinho recounted that it was a Champions League game when all Inter’s other strikers were injured. Balotelli got booked in the 42nd minute and the Portuguese boss spent almost his entire team talk telling his only striker to avoid all confrontation. “I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’ In the first minute of the second half, guess what happened? Red card for Mario!

Things get a little more serious now, as we turn to the time he almost burnt his own house down! Well, apparently it was a friend that set off fireworks inside his bathroom, reportedly causing £400,000 of damage to the rented £3m mansion! Whoops! The following day he played for Liverpool against Man United, scoring twice, and revealing a t-shirt underneath his top that said, simply, “Why always me?”. Why indeed, Mario?!

There have been reports of fights with players and managers, including with Roberto Mancini at Man City. Most recently, in August 2022, he almost came to blows with his manager in Turkey on the pitch, the two having to be restrained. And that was following a win!

And some (dis)honourable mentions

There are many players we could feature here but none can really match the two above for the number of incidents that have left us scratching our heads. However, the following all deserve honourable mentions at the very least.

  • Wayne Rooney – Rooney is an all-time great of English football and may prove to be a fine manager. He has largely controlled his demons and is more intelligent than he is usually given credit for. However, for various silly red cards, for slagging off his own fans (famously for England after they were booed following a 0-0 draw with Algeria), for repeated infidelity (allegedly), including reports of sex with rather old prostitutes, and for various alcohol-related misdemeanours, including drink-driving, Rooney makes our list
  • Duncan Ferguson – Ferguson is undoubtedly one of the hardest men that football has ever seen and if he asks, we absolutely are not calling him crazy or an idiot. However, no player has been sent off in the PL more times (eight), he received a three-month prison sentence for an on-field head butt, a £100 fine for butting a policeman and two further convictions for assault. On the plus side, he has acted as a one-man crime-prevention service, capturing, and hospitalising (in self-defence), intruders at his home on two separate occasions
  • Diego Maradona – if any player could have rivalled Barton and Balotelli it is the late, great, Diego Maradona, who perhaps blurred the boundary between genius and madness more than any footballer in history. The Hand of God and yet the wonderful solo goal in the same game perfectly encapsulate the Argentine icon. As for being one of football’s finest idiots, how does a cocaine habit, using other banned substances, spitting at the camera, shooting journalists, mixing with the Neapolitan mafia, having a huge unpaid tax bill and more grab you?
  • El-Hadji Diouf – not at the same level as some of our other names, Diouf was, like Maradona, a spitter. He was caught spitting at fans and players on at least three occasions, had a bust-up with a ball boy, countless violent on-pitch clashes and was just generally not a very nice person. So there
  • Luis Suarez – for a brief period Luis Suarez was one of the very best players in the world and his goalscoring record for Liverpool and Barca was superb. But we can’t forget the biting (on three occasions), the diving, the racism, the cheating, the moaning, the cruel deliberate handball that denied Ghana at the World Cup and, our favourite, the appeal for handball against a goalkeeper!