As the English tabloid’s favourite character, Mario Balotelli, has returned to Milano, their Italian counterparts can rub their hands with the knowledge that raging headlines and ditto stories are bound to be in the horizon.
The legend is only exceeded by his stories, with everything from throwing darts at youth players, crashing cars, setting his own house on fire with fireworks before the Manchester derby, subsequently leading to the infamous Why Always Me t-shirt, driving around a women’s prison to “have a look around,” failing to put on a bib during training—the list is endless.
As Balotelli is settling in Serie A, Bleacher Report takes a look at some other controversial personalities already playing in Italy.
Introducing some sizzling stories and atrocious tackles, here are five of the most controversial Italian-based football players.
Pablo Daniel Osvaldo
Signed from Espanyol to Roma for a €15million deal in 2011, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo has suffered as much criticism as he has received praise whilst playing in the Italian capital.
A highly controversial decision where he opted to play for Italy rather than his native Argentina was greeted with a lukewarm feeling from many Azzurri fans, particularly due to the striker’s disciplinary records, nine red cards in the last six seasons and that he has openly admitted that he has a “horrible personality.”
“I make pointless fouls, but at that moment they seem right. It’s true; I have a horrible personality, but I kind of like being like this. I always miss something in life, especially my home in Argentina," he told La Repubblica in December last year—a statement not very likely to impress his critics.
Most recently, however, Osvaldo cemented his bad boy image when he punched teammate Erik Lamela in a dressing room bust-up following Roma’s 2-0 loss to Udinese. According to reports, Osvaldo was less than impressed that Lamela chose not to pass him the ball, which resulted in the post-match argument and the subsequent punches.
Osvaldo was fined €50,000 and handed a one-match ban by Roma for the incident.
Unlike some players on this list, Andrea Masiello is not as equally famous for footballing skills as for controversy.
The 26-year-old defender is undoubtedly most renowned for admitting to accepting €50.000 to score an own goal whilst playing for Bari against Lecce—to ensure that the latter club would avoid relegation and subsequently seeing Bari relegated in the process.
On May 15, 2011, a cross bizarrely found its way into the net, securing Lecce a 2-0 win over Bari, and the man responsible for the fatal touch causing the own goal, Masiello, later admitted to investigators that he was offered—and accepted—a significant amount to help Lecce in their battle against relegation.
In the wake of Italian football’s most shameful scandal, the Calciopoli, the Italian Football Federation, moved swiftly trying to avoid another one and consequently arrested the fullback. He was, however, presented as new Atalanta signing later the same year.
Despite being adored by many, the Roma captain has also managed to get some enemies during his long and successful career.
While his brilliance and leadership is brought forward by those who adore him, his critics are equally quick to point out the less likable side of Il Bimbo d'Oro (The Golden Boy).
The list of the Roma-born trequartista’s wrong doings is relatively long, albeit possibly culminating in the episodes where he famously spat at Denmark’s Christian Poulsen during the 2004 Euros and the horrific tackle on Leverkusen player Carsten Ramelow during a Champions League game in 2004.
The flamboyant playmaker has also refused to get substituted when playing under the management of Claudio Ranieri, celebrated a goal in the derby against Lazio by taking over a television camera and aiming it towards the celebrating fans and brutally kicked the newly returned Mario Balotelli when the former Manchester City striker was playing for Internazionale.
The myths surrounding the current on-loan Pescara player are as many as they are fascinating.
Sculli was, along with several players from Serie A and B, investigated and subsequently found guilty of match fixing in 2006 as the Calciopoli scandal disturbed an entire footballing world. The 31-year-old received an eight-month ban for his alleged dealings and involvement.
He was, however, forced to deny further allegations yet again when his name was mentioned in an investigation regarding the same topic in 2012.
Fascinatingly, his family relations are equally eye-catching, as his grandfather, Giuseppe Morabito, was arrested in 2004, having previously been in hiding for 12 years, believed to be one of the main men in Calabria’s 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera, he admitted to being aware of his grandfather’s business, and that he would always “keep his head held high.”
"Even now that he finds himself closed in a cell, accused of being an 'Ndrangheta boss, I still walk with my head held high because I still have nothing to be ashamed of," he told the newspaper.
During a match in 2012 when Sculli’s Genoa were trailing Siena with 4-0, the home team’s fans stormed the pitch, refusing to let the Genoa players leave and demanded their shirts as the fans felt the players were unworthy of wearing the red and blue club colours.
Sculli, however, as the only Genoa player, refused to depart with his shirt and in a familiar manner; he strolled up to some fans and, following a brief conversation and some gesticulations, he returned to the pitch smiling. The situation was solved and the fans returned to the terraces.
What Sculli told the fans remains, to this day, a mystery.
The column inches that have been written and could be written here about Antonio Cassano are as many as his antics. Born in Bari’s old town one day after Italy won the 1982 World Cup, he grew up in a rough area, having later in life admitted that if he did not become a football player, he would have been a criminal.
Most recently the previous Roma and Sampdoria attacker was heavily criticised during the 2012 Euros as he stated in an official press conference that he hoped there were no froci—a derogatory term for homosexuals—in the Italian squad.
Furthermore Cassano released his autobiography in 2008, Dico Tutto, a book so packed with quotes and stories, it makes Roy Keane’s seem dreadfully tedious. When playing for Real Madrid, Cassano struggled with his weight and his affection for fast food, pastries and women. In fact, he struggled to such an extent that the Spanish giants started fining him for every gram he was overweight.
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Having played for several of the largest clubs in Italy, as well as for Real Madrid in Spain, Cassano is also famous for controversies and arguments with coaches and other authorities.
Exemplified by telling former England manager Fabio Capello that he was “more fake than monopoly money” and Luigi del Neri that “he had no idea what he was talking about.” Cassano also once threw his shirt at the referee after being given a red card, an achievement that earned him a five-game suspension.
Too often has the Dane found himself in the media’s spotlight for the wrong reasons.
Examples include alleged fighting, car vandalising, several speeding tickets, fighting whilst on holiday in Denmark, a turbulent and public love life and, most recently, fined by UEFA for displaying underwear featuring advertisement during the 2012 Euros.
He is struggling to find his form in Juventus, where he is on a season-long loan deal.
He had a terribly promising future as a young footballer, but poor career moves and a turbulent off-the-pitch life saw his potential decrease drastically.
He is now on loan at Vicenza from Sporting after the latter club banned him from training and matches, following the Bulgarian’s behaviour during a cup match.
Sporting had earned a last-minute penalty, and as Sporting’s regular penalty taker Matias Fernandez prepared to execute it, Bojinov decided to push him away and take the shot himself.
He missed and was consequently given a persona non grata by the Portuguese club.
Nigel de Jong
As far as controversy goes, de Jong is mostly famous for his attempt-of-murder kick on Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup final.
The notorious kick happened only a few months after the former Manchester City player nearly ended Hatem Ben Arfa’s Newcastle career with a tackle that saw de Jong being the centre of a witch-hunt by the English press. Now playing for AC Milan, however, the Dutch hard-man has seemingly calmed down—for now, anyway.
Now on loan at Juventus, but known as Le Sulk while playing for Arsenal, the Frenchman who has played for ten clubs during his career, is as famous for his temper and ability to stir up controversies as he is for his talent.
Having been banned by the French Football Association for 18 games following the World Cup mutiny, Anelka joined an exclusive list, along with Roy Keane and Diego Maradona, all of whom have been sent home from a major international tournament.
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