8 crazy incidents when footballers lost their cool

20 years on from Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu kick, we remember the most extreme examples of when footballers completely lost the plot.

Peter Iantorno January 26, 2015

This week marks 20 years since Eric Cantona had perhaps the greatest attack of red mist ever to take place in professional sport. If you don't know what we're talking about (where have you been for the past 20 years?!), we are, of course, referring to Cantona's famous kung fu-style kick on a fan during Manchester United's 1995 match against Crystal Palace (video above).

In the heat of the moment, it's not uncommon for players to lose their cool and end up lashing out or doing something crazy just like Cantona did. Although we doubt that anyone will ever top the Frenchman for sheer lunacy, there have certainly been a few examples over the years that have run him close.

Here are eight incidents when professional football players completely lost the plot, and their professionalism:

Philippe Mexes, 2015

We didn't have to trawl back long through history to find our first example of a footballer losing his cool. In fact, this incident happened just a few days ago, on Saturday January 17.

During a typically physical encounter between AC Milan and Lazio, Milan's French defender Philippe Mexes took issue with a nasty tackle by Lazio's Stefano Mauri, and reacted by first attempting to headbutt Mauri then, after received a red card, chasing after him and putting him in a choke hold. He's since apologised, but with 16 red cards in an ill-disciplined career to date, he can't have many chances to behave left.

Emmanuel Adebayor, 2009

After moving from Arsenal to Manchester City, Emmanuel Adebayor was the subject of abuse from the Arsenal fans when the two teams met in 2009. While most players resort to violence when they lose control, Adebayor's indiscretion was slightly different, yet no less spectacular. 

Although he hadn't showed it, the constant taunting was getting to Adebayor, so when he scored to secure the victory for his new team, the Togolese striker couldn't help himself but to run the length of the pitch and celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. The incident almost provoked a riot, yet Adebayor always stood by his actions, saying "I wanted to show people it is not a good idea to abuse me."

Zinedine Zidane, 2006

He was one of the greatest players of all time, but Zinedine Zidane sure had a short temper. And he chose the worst time imaginable to lose it: The 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy. 

With the match finely poised at 1-1, Zidane and Italian defender Marco Materazzi exchanged a few cross words following a particularly close piece of marking from Materazzi. Zidane alleges that the Italian made a remark about his sister, which was enough for the Frenchman to launch a vicious headbutt into Materazzi's chest. It was his last ever act in professional football, as he was sent off and France went on to lose the game on penalties.

 Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer, 2005

All the incidents up to now have generally centered around players having disagreements with other opposing players and fans, however this next one showed that when the red mist descends, even teammates are fair game. 

The incident occurred towards the end of a match between Newcastle and Aston Villa, which Newcastle were losing 3-0. With tensions running high, when Dyer elected not to pass to Bowyer, the midfielder stormed up to his teammate to confront him. A scuffle ensued, ending in a few exchanged punches, a ripped shirt for Bowyer and a red card for both players.

Roy Keane, 2001

This is one of many incidents of violence we could have highlighted throughout the career of Roy Keane, but for sheer damage done, it doesn't get much worse than this career-ending tackle he laid on Manchester City's Alf-Inge Haaland. 

Reflecting on the tackle, a steely Keane admits that he doesn't even regret the reckless challenge, as he'd been planning it for four years since the two players met in 1997 and Haaland had accused him of diving. Maybe it wasn't a moment of rage after all...

Paolo Di Canio, 1998

When it comes to short-tempered players, they don't come much more hot-headed than Paolo Di Canio. The fiery Italian was playing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1998 when the Yorkshire side beat then-champions of the Premier League Arsenal with a last-minute winner. However, the match isn't remembered for the unlikely result, but for the astonishing action of Di Canio. 

After getting into a tangle with Arsenal's imperious midfielder Patrick Viera, Di Canio kicked out at the Frenchman and was sent off by referee Paul Alcock. Furious at the decision, the Italian shoved Alcock, sending him stumbling to the ground. He then carried on his rampage, picking fights with other various members of the Arsenal side. He was banned for 11 games, and never played for Wednesday again. 

Frank Rijkaard, 1990

In the football world - as in any other walk of life - spitting is universally regarded as the ultimate form of disrespect. That's why the massive globule of phlegm Frank Rijkaard sent in the direction of Ruudi Voller during the Netherlands' World Cup 1990 defeat to Germany was almost enough to cause an international incident. 

Matches between the two sides are never friendly, and a succession of late and dangerous challenges between the two teams meant the game stayed true to form. However, when Rijkaard took exception to a challenge from Voller and the pair got into a scrap, he aimed not one but two gobfuls of spit at the German. The Dutchman had completely lost his cool, but somehow Voller managed to keep his temper, as the pair trudged off the field together, both having been sent off. 

Tommy Gemmell, 1969 

Football players losing their cool is not a modern phenomenon, and as if to prove that point, we'd like to take you back all the way to 1969, and a World Cup qualifier between Scotland and West Germany. With Scotland 3-2 down, Tommy Gemmell, known for his thunderous shot, is bearing down on goal, ready to pull the trigger, when he's intentionally clipped by Germany's Helmut Haller. Angry at having his change taken from him, Gemmell promptly gets up, chases after Haller and plants a ferocious right boot right up the German's backside.

Gemmell was sent off for his indiscretion, and the event would go on to have an effect on his entire career, as Jock Stein, his manager at Celtic, was so appalled he dropped Gemmell for the following match - a Scottish League Cup final - and the relationship between the pair broke down to point where Gemmell was forced to move south of the border to Nottingham Forest in 1971.