Over the past two decades, the Premier League has seen its share of great players and historic moments. The goal scoring exploits of Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Thierry Henry. Brilliant saves from the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Davis Seaman and Petr Cech. Inspired leadership from team captains, including Steven Gerrard, Tony Adams and Ryan Giggs. Of course, the EPL’s history also includes moments which are memorable for reasons other than goalscoring, shot-stopping and leadership. The on-field antics, bizarre behavior and loss of composure by certain players has led to some interesting highlight reel footage and some big suspensions and fines.
In soccer, small suspensions are not uncommon. Accumulating too many yellows or being shown a red card usually means a suspension of between 1 to 3 matches. These suspensions are administered by the Football Association. In these instances, there is usually no monetary fine unless the team the player belongs to decides to take its own action. But what happens when players move beyond the ‘usual’ types of suspension? Off the pitch, a number of players have received lengthy bans and fines for ‘bringing the game into disrepute.’ In 1992, Vinnie Jones, known best for his role in Guy Ritchie films, was handed a 6 month suspension and $33,000 fine for encouraging bad tackles on the field in a video about the EPL’s ‘tough-men.’
Failed and missed drug tests can lead to lengthy bans, fines and even the termination of a player’s contract resulting in the forfeiture of millions of dollars in salary. Some of the more notable players who have received suspensions of varying length for drug use include Adrian Mutu and Chris Bosnich of Chelsea, Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United and Kolo Toure of Manchester City. The harshest in terms of ban and fines belongs to the Chelsea duo. All of these players were banned for several months, with the Chelsea duo facing the additional penalty of having their contracts terminated.
There is no doubt that bans handed out for violations off the field make for interesting stories. Bans related to on-field activities, however, can be much more entertaining for the fans because we all get to see what the player did to get punished. Over the course of its history, the EPL has seen its share of players lose control and undertake actions on the pitch ranging from just plain stupid to absolutely bizarre. Here are the top 10 suspensions handed out to EPL players:
10 Roy Keane, Manchester United: 5 matches
Starting off this list is a rather unique case of suspension. Roy Keane’s suspension relates to an on-field incident but occurred a year later because of an off-field event. In April 2001, the Manchester United midfielder made a studs up lunging challenge which left Manchester City defender Alf-Inge Håland in a crumpled heap. Shown a straight red card, the Irishman was given the standard three-match ban for violent conduct. In October 2002, tough-tackling Keane was suspended an additional 5 matches and fined approximately $250,000 by the FA for admitting in his autobiography he had actually intended to hurt Håland in the 2001 match, as revenge for an earlier encounter.
9 David Batty, Newcastle United: 6 matches
In May 1998, the England midfielder was shown a red card and sent off by referee David Elleray in a match against Blackburn Rovers. While most players get angry at the officials and leave it at that, Batty went one step further. Cooler heads did not prevail and before heading off the field, Batty confronted Elleray and pushed him. The incident resulted in a 6 match ban which meant Batty missed the first 6 games of the 1998/99 season. His Newcastle career declined from this point onward and Batty was transferred from Newcastle to Leeds United mid-way through the season for $7.3 million.
8 Joey Barton, Manchester City: 6 matches
It’s not often you see bans handed out for players assaulting teammates. Enter Joey Barton. The English midfielder’s short temper and combative approach to football is well documented. This extended to the training ground when in May 2007, Barton assaulted teammate Ousmane Dabo. Dabo was left unconscious on the field and reportedly had a detached retina as a result of the altercation. Manchester City suspended Barton for the remainder of the season. Punishment did not end there and he was arrested, handed a four month suspended sentence and given 200 hours of community service. The FA stepped in soon afterward and handed Barton a 6 match ban with potentially 6 more matches if he did not maintain good behavior.. His known fines for this episode totaled $46,600 and his Manchester City career was effectively ended.
7 Ben Thatcher, Manchester City: 8 matches
On the 23rd of August 2006, in a match between Manchester City and Portsmouth, Thatcher received a yellow card for a challenge on Portsmouth’s Pedro Mendes. Replays show that Wales defender charged into Mendes, leading with his elbow. The Portsmouth midfielder hit the advertising boards and was knocked unconscious. While Manchester City banned Thatcher for his actions and fined him for six weeks wages, the FA stepped in with an 8 match suspension and an additional 15 game suspended ban for the next two years, if he could not maintain good behavior. The event effectively ended Thatcher’s Manchester City career and he was transferred to Charlton Athletic in January 2007.
6 Luis Suárez, Liverpool: 8 matches
Currently one of the best strikers in the world, Luis Suárez’s career with Liverpool has seen its share of ups and downs. While no one can deny the lethality of the Uruguayan, his temperament and sportsmanship have come into question on more than one occasion. In a match against Manchester United in October 2011, he was accused of racially abusing defender Patrice Evra. Following an FA investigation, Suárez was found guilty, fined $65,000 and banned for 8 games. The drama of this story continued when the teams met again in February 2012. This time Suárez refused to shake Evra’s hand before the match started. He was later made to apologize for the incident.
5 David Prutton, Southampton: 10 matches
The English midfielder’s troubles began when he received a red card for a poor challenge on Arsenal’s Robert Pires in February, 2005. Rather than leave the field following the dismissal, Prutton chose to challenge the assistant referee over the decision. In the argument which ensued, referee Alan Wiley stepped in and was pushed by a furious Prutton who refused to leave the pitch. The Southampton midfielder was found guilty of failing to leave the pitch and threatening the officials. He was banned for 10 matches and fined $10,000.
4 Luis Suárez, Liverpool: 10 matches
Fans of The Walking Dead series or those who believe in a possible zombie-apocalypse had their jaws hit the floor on April 21st 2013 during a 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea. Overshadowing the game itself, what happened inside the Chelsea penalty area between Branislav Ivanović and Luis Suárez made news across the sporting world. Clearly frustrated by events on the pitch, Suárez suffered from a moment of madness and gripped onto the Chelsea defender’s arm before sinking his teeth in. Match officials missed the incident at the time but an investigation ensued afterwards. Liverpool’s front man was handed a hefty 10 match ban and was fined by Liverpool for an undisclosed amount believed to be at least $300,000.
3 Paolo Di Canio, Sheffield Wednesday: 11 matches
The September 1998 match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday was definitely a heated affair. Things got worse when a general scuffle developed between the two sides. After a confrontation with Arsenal defender Martin Keown, Paolo Di Canio was shown a red card by referee Paul Alcock. Rather than leave the pitch, the Italian responded by pushing Alcock and knocking him to the ground. Di Canio was suspended for 11 matches and fined $16,000 by the FA. He did not play for Sheffield Wednesday again and was signed by West Ham United in January 1999.
2 Joey Barton, Queen’s Park Rangers: 12 matches
Infamous for assaulting his own teammates, Joey Barton went a step further on the final day of the 2012 season. Just over half-way through the match, he was sent off for elbowing City’s Carlos Tevez. Not stopping there, the English midfielder proceeded to kick Sergio Agüero and attempt to head-butt Vincent Kompany. The list of targets would have included Mario Balotelli had it not been for players and officials holding Barton back. Aided by Barton’s sending off, City grabbed two late goals, winning the game, the EPL title and relegating QPR for the next season. The FA handed Barton a 12 match ban and fined him $125,000. QPR dished out their own punishment, stripping him of the captaincy and fining him reportedly around $800,000.
1 Eric Cantona, Manchester United: 9 months
If you have ever watched a sporting event in 3D it can feel like the players are coming right at you. For one Crystal Palace fan, this literally happened on January 25th, 1995. Having been sent off for a foul on the pitch, Cantona took a detour and headed right into the stands – foot first. Now commonly known as the ‘Kung-fu’ kick, Cantona’s actions caught everyone by surprise. The targeted fan had allegedly been taunting and directing profanity towards the French forward. The United midfielder responded with a kick to the chest followed up with a series of punches.
For his actions, Cantona was initially arrested and later faced 120 hours of community service. He was fined a total of $48,000 and his bans added up to 9 months. In a press conference in response to the situation, the forward uttered his now famous cryptic statement: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.” After this event, it would be wise for the seagulls to stay well away from any boat Eric Cantona was on.