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Top 10 biggest bans in football history

Published at :March 3, 2024 at 12:18 AM
Modified at :March 3, 2024 at 12:19 AM
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Dhruv Sharma


A footballer being banned consistently captures significant media attention

In the dynamic world of football, the pitch isn’t the only arena where battles unfold. Off-field controversies, especially player bans, have always left a mark on the sport’s history. Global athletes, in their relentless pursuit of success, have often sought incremental advantages, occasionally resorting to illicit methods to reach their desired outcomes. This quest for an extra edge has not only blurred ethical boundaries but has also raised questions about the integrity of sports on a global scale.

Prominent personalities such as Rio Ferdinand, Eric Cantona, and Diego Maradona encountered legal challenges throughout their playing careers. While certain incidents might be deemed as unintentional missteps, others present more complex and arguable circumstances. These legal entanglements have added layers of complexity to the narratives of these celebrated figures.

Here is a list of the top 10 longest bans that footballers have received during their careers:

10. Rio Ferdinand – 8 months

In January 2004, Rio Ferdinand faced an eight-month suspension from playing after he failed to undergo a mandatory drug test. This absence, a consequence of missing the test, resulted in his exclusion from England’s Euro 2004 squad. An impartial tribunal declared him guilty of misconduct, as he neglected to provide a sample to UK Sport doping officials at Manchester United’s training ground in September 2003, despite being selected for the procedure.

9. Mark Bosnich – 9 months

After 2002, a significant blow hit the former Chelsea goalkeeper as he received a substantial nine-month suspension. The verdict was a result of being found guilty on two charges: one for improper conduct and the other for testing positive for a banned substance. The prohibited substance in question was cocaine, and the Football Association (FA) was responsible for imposing the ban. While no financial penalty was levied, the player was instructed to cover the costs of the disciplinary commission, totalling approximately £10,000.

8. Eric Cantona – 9 months

While a ban on cocaine use might appear relatively commonplace, Eric Cantona’s suspension was anything but ordinary. In a memorable Premier League incident, the Manchester United striker reacted strongly to racial slurs from a Crystal Palace spectator in 1995. Cantona, propelled by anger, kicked Matthew Simmons in the chest. Following his refusal to apologize, FIFA and the FA imposed a remarkable nine-month ban on him. Initially facing a two-week prison sentence, this was later commuted to 120 hours of community service, marking a significant chapter in Premier League history.

7. Sandro Tonali – 10 months

Although the FA opted not to enforce the ban, Newcastle experienced a setback in their £55 million marquee summer signing just weeks into his Toon career. Sandro Tonali faced a 10-month suspension from a different governing body, having violated Italy’s gambling regulations. As part of the penalty, he was mandated to undergo an eight-month rehabilitation program. Acknowledging his client’s gambling addiction, Tonali’s agent revealed the severity of the ban, ensuring that he would not only miss his inaugural season in England but also be sidelined for the entirety of Euro 2024.

6. Diego Maradona – 15 months

An iconic figure on this list, Diego Armando Maradona remains eternally celebrated as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Maradona faced two separate 15-month bans during his illustrious career. The initial suspension in 1991 stemmed from his battle with cocaine addiction, while the subsequent ban in 1994 transpired when he was sent home from the World Cup due to the discovery of ephedrine-related substances in his blood by anti-doping commissioners.

5. Joey Barton – 18 months

Joey Barton, a figure notorious for his frequent appearances in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, has garnered more attention for his off-field misconduct than his on-field achievements. With a history that includes a prison stint for assault and reports of violent incidents involving both teammates and strangers, Barton’s career is marked by controversy. However, it wasn’t acts of violence that led to his substantial 18-month ban in 2017; instead, it was his involvement in betting. The FA alleged that between March 26, 2006, and May 13, 2016, Barton placed a staggering 1,260 bets on various aspects of football matches, violating FA Rule E8 which pertains to betting on football-related activities.

4. David Bystron – 2 years

In 2012, David Bystron, a defender for Viktoria Plzen, faced a substantial two-year ban from all football-related activities. Following Plzen’s Champions League victory against BATE Borisov, Bystron tested positive for a prohibited substance. At 29 years old, he opted not to contest the charge. Although the specific substance was not disclosed, Czech media outlets indicated that it was methamphetamine.

3. Paul Pogba – 4 years

Despite contending with fitness challenges that impacted his performance, Pogba maintained his dominance at the highest echelons of the sport. Nevertheless, his professional journey faced a substantial setback when he incurred a four-year football ban for failing an anti-doping test, attributed to the detection of externally sourced testosterone. Yet, a glimmer of hope exists as Pogba appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, opening the door for a potential reduction in the duration of his imposed penalty.

2. Enoch West – 30 years

In an ancient chapter of football history, Enoch West, a former striker for Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, became embroiled in a betting scandal back in 1915. The implicated individuals faced lifetime bans, but an unusual redemption clause emerged: they could have their sanctions lifted if they enlisted to fight in the First World War. All participants, except West, accepted this proposition. Consequently, West bore the weight of a 30-year ban, a penalty that endured until its revocation when he reached the age of 59.

1. Olafur Gottskalksson – Lifetime ban

In January 2005, Torquay United’s goalkeeper Olafur Gottskalksson evaded routine doping tests at Plainmoor due to his cocaine addiction. He disappeared, prompting the club to declare him missing, but he had travelled to Amsterdam to escape. Later acknowledging his actions, Gottskalksson expressed regret for the turmoil caused in his homeland. In June 2005, an independent disciplinary commission, appointed by the FA, imposed an indefinite football ban on Gottskalksson for refusing the drug test. Now 55, he hasn’t played football since.

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