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30th Mar 2021

The top five footballing tantrums of all time

Cristiano Ronaldo really loves winning, but that obsession is a double edged sword, because when things don't go his way, well... this happens

Reuben Pinder

We’ve all lost our head on the football field

Full disclosure: I’m a bastard of a footballer. Anyone who has had the misfortune of playing 5 a side with me will attest to the fact that I will not hesitate to trip up my close friends, commit cynical fouls, and bend the rules to my will. Being the skinniest player on the pitch, I have to make up for my lack of strength with shithousery. That’s my justification for it anyway.

But I’ve never gone full Cristiano after a defeat. That is to say, I have never bawled my eyes out while throwing my shirt on the floor and cursing to the high heavens. Not after the age of 8 anyway. Maybe that’s because the stakes of casual small sided games are non-existent, whereas at the very top, there is everything to play for. But still, it remains one of football’s most fascinating phenomena, watching professional players in their 30s throw tantrums because the referee didn’t allow a goal, or showed them a red card.

And so without further ado and in no particular order, here are the top five football strops of all time. Please leave suggestions for other contenders in the replies/comments.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Serbia

The main inspiration for this article of course comes from Ronaldo’s recent outburst at the end of Portugal’s World Cup qualifier against Serbia, when the Portugal captain was denied a late winner after Stefan Mitrović cleared his shot off the line, as well as the rebound. Well, supposedly. Replays show that the ball probably did cross the line, but the absence of VAR and goal line technology meant the officials did not award the goal, and Portugal were effectively robbed of two points. I would feel bad for Portugal if it wasn’t so funny to watch a 36-year-old man rip his captain’s armband off and throw it on the ground.

Standing about five inches from the assistant referee, arms outstretched, a look of bemusement, anger and panic on his face, Ronaldo simply cannot handle the fact that the ball might not have crossed the line. It’s mesmerising.

2. Wayne Rooney vs England fans

I watched this game in the cinema. It was my worst ever experience in an Odeon. Worse than the three hours I spent enduring The Revenant. A truly awful game that I have largely forgotten because nothing happened in it. But nobody could forget this. Wayne Rooney’s outburst after the game was the nadir of a horrendous World Cup from an English point of view. It’s hard to stoop lower than the star player of the team publicly calling out the nation’s fans while looking down the lens of a the TV camera. Not even Lampard’s goal that wasn’t given felt that grim.

3. William Gallas vs Birmingham City

We didn’t realise at the time, but this was the peak of Arsenal’s banter era. A defender wearing number 10 is bad enough, but a defender wearing number 10, and responding to a draw by sitting on the floor and refusing to move until he sees his manager approaching? That is the behaviour of a child.

4. Kepa vs Sarri

Players being disappointed by a substitution is not uncommon. You’ll regularly see attackers in particular begrudgingly taking a coat from a member of the coaching staff as they slump into their seat in the dugout, annoyed to have been denied the chance to get another goal. That is normal and understandable, an indication of their determination to succeed.

But a player flat out refusing to come off? That just doesn’t happen. Not in a normal football match. When Maurizio Sarri went to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga with penalty specialist Willy Caballero in the 2019 Carabao Cup Final, it would have been perfectly understandable for Kepa to feel gutted. But this level of insubordination, as he raised his arm and shouted his refusal to leave the field at his manager, in front of a packed out Wembley, was pure box office. And the worst bit? Chelsea went on to lose the shoot-out.

5. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Valencia

The final strop of the list, and my personal favourite, is Ronaldo’s biggest ever career tantrum, when he was sent off against Valencia in the Champions League in September 2018.

It was his first return to Spain since his shock move to Juventus in the summer of 2018, and Ronaldo was keen to leave a mark at Mestalla. Unfortunately for him, the mark he left was on Valencia defender Jeison Murillo, and Ronaldo subsequently shown a red card.

Harsh? Probably, it didn’t look like there was too much in it. Funny? Absolutely, because his reaction to the red card is like nothing you’ve ever seen on a football field.

At first Ronaldo wisely removed himself from the situation. He looked calm, and confident he would not be punished. But after some discussion between officials, Juve’s star man was given his marching orders and they were not well received.

Ronaldo slumped to the ground, wailed his arms in the air, and began crying. It was a scene reminiscent of a toddler who had been told they couldn’t have their favourite treat from the supermarket, except this was a 33-year-old man being punished for violent conduct with the whole world watching.

Maybe I’m being unfair to Ronaldo. These reactions clearly stem from an unparalleled desire to win, and when emotions run high, sometimes they spill over. But fundamental truths cannot be disputed. And the fundamental truth here is that watching Ronaldo throw a hissy fit is really, really funny.