Euro 2020 Special

Players Sent Home Early from World Cups in Disgrace

Whilst playing in the World Cup is arguably the pinnacle of their career for many players, there have been some who did not even make it through to the end of their team’s run in the tournament, having already been sent home in disgrace.

Here are some prominent members of this unwanted club.


Willie Johnston (Scotland 1978)

Scottish winger Willie Johnston’s World Cup campaign in Argentina in 1978 ended in ignominy, after he failed a drugs test. He was caught by accident. After Scotland had lost their opening match of the tournament to Peru, Scottish team-mate Archie Gemmill was selected for testing, but because he was so dehydrated, Johnston took his place. The sample he provided was found to contain traces of the banned substance Fencamfamin, a stimulant.

Although Johnstone’s explanation that it was a constituent part of an over the counter medicine, and that he was innocent of any deliberate doping, the Scottish FA ordered him home immediately.


Roy Keane (Ireland 2002)

Famously, Ireland and Manchester United captain Roy Keane did not even make it as far as the 2002 World Cup in Japan.

The fiery Keane, one of the greatest Premier League defenders, was never one short of an opinion.

Prior to the tournament, he had already made his feelings known about the inadequacies of the team’s travel arrangements, dietary facilities and training preparations, and had gone public in his criticisms of manager Mick McCarthy.

But when they arrived on the island of Saipan for a pre-tournament training camp, and saw the state of the pitches there, he gave an interview in which he said he was thinking of leaving the squad. When the interview was published, he and McCarthy got into a blazing room, which ended with Keane heading to the airport and flying home.

The issue literally divided the nation, with those believing that the Irish FA had acted correctly, marginally outnumbered by those who took Keane’s side.


Nicolas Anelka (France 2010)

The French squad that travelled to the World Cup in South Africa were deeply divided, with many of them unhappy with the leadership of coach Raymond Domenech, whose quirks including refusing to pick certain players because of their astrological beliefs.

The flashpoint came during a World Cup group match with Mexico, when Domenech criticised striker Nicolas Anelka at half-time during the dressing room. Anelka responded furiously, prompting Domenech to substitute him.

There was no going back after that, and, not only was Anelka sent home, but he was subsequently banned by the French Football Federation for 18 games, effectively ending his international career.


Diego Maradona (Argentina 1994)

Although Diego Maradona is best known in World Cup terms for how he helped his country win the tournament in 1986, less happy memories associated with his exploits in the USA eight years later.

He came into the tournament under a dark cloud. In 1991 he had been suspended for more than a year for using cocaine, and he was facing a lawsuit back in Argentina, after injuring four reporters with a gun.

Playing in his fourth World Cup seemed to offer a chance of redemption, but it was not to be. In the opening game against Greece, he scored, and then ran towards the camera with his eyes bulging, in a celebration that verged on the manic.

When the news broke nine days later that he had failed a drugs test few were surprise, arguing that the signs were there in the footage from that match. He was sent home in disgrace, a sad note on which to end what had been a fabled international career.


Stefan Effenberg (Germany 1994)

German midfielder Stefan Effenberg was no stranger to controversy during his career, and was rarely out of the papers, making both back and front page news with his exploits, which included a colourful private life.

However, he went too far as German manager Berti Vogts was concerned after a World Cup match in 1994 against South Korea. Germany led 3 – 0 before South Korea made a fist of it by pulling back two goals in fierce heat, with temperatures close to 50 degrees Celsius.

The German fans were not impressed at the final whistle and booed the team, causing Effenberg to gesture obscenely towards them.

A furious Vogts decided he would play no further part in the tournament and he was sent home, even though some of his team-mates thought that the punishment was too harsh.

He would make just two more international appearances after that.




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