10 of the biggest PL controversies – from Cantona kick to Suarez bite

Eric Cantona’s ‘only regret’ is he didn’t kick Matthew Simmons more

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The Premier League is recognised as one of the most action-packed, drama-filled leagues in the world and is renowned for its high intensity, physical football. Fans attend matches in their droves every weekend to catch a glimpse of the action but on occasion, there are moments which underline the ugly side of the English game which cannot be prevented – as the likes of former Liverpool star Luis Suarez and Manchester United icon Eric Cantona may admit. In no particular order, Express Sport takes a glance at 10 of the most controversial incidents to rock the English top flight and what happened after.

Suarez bites Ivanovic

In a 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Liverpool at Anfield in April 2013, the Liverpool striker was involved in an incident with Chelsea defender Ivanovic as the two contested a corner.

Ivanovic complained to referee Kevin Friend that his Uruguayan opponent had bitten him, and even showed teeth marks on his arm and neck as proof. To make matters worse, Suarez remained on the pitch and hit at 98th-minute equaliser for Liverpool.

With the marks and replays there as clear proof of what had happened, Suarez was hit with a 10-game ban by the FA for his actions, and received widespread criticism within the sport. Remarkably, it was not the first nor the last time he would be caught biting an opponent.

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Cantona’s kung-fu kick

Eric Cantona was a genius at Manchester United, but there was always a sense the Frenchman could kick off at any given moment. And sure enough, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were dealt a huge blow when the Frenchman lost all sense of control back in 1995.

Having already been sent off for kicking out at Crystal Palace’s Richard Shaw, who had been giving him rough treatment for the entire game, Cantona saw the red mist descend as he headed for the tunnel. Before he got there, he was greeted with a barrage of abuse from the home crowd and was particularly unhappy with one spectator, Matthew Simmons.

Hurling himself over the advertising hoardings and at Simmons, Cantona unleashed a ferocious karate-style kick at Simmons as he launched into the crowd at Selhurst Park. The image of his boot catching Simmons will forever blight his phenomenal career after Cantona was banned from all football for eight months, in addition to a community service order of 120 hours.

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Sir Alex Ferguson; A flying football boot; Pizza. The true series of events that led to what is now dubbed the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ at Old Trafford in 2004 are still shrouded in mystery in what transpired to be an infamous chapter in the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United.

After 49 games unbeaten, the Gunners would finally see their extraordinary run come to an end in a heated affair in Manchester. A Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty and Wayne Rooney strike sealed a 2-0 win for the hosts, but the bitter battles between the two sides continued after the final whistle as they headed down the tunnel.

Tempers boiled over between staff of both clubs, particularly after a challenge from Van Nistelrooy on Ashley Cole went unpunished. In the midst of the melee, a slice of pizza was thrown at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, with Cesc Fabregas later owning up to the act on Sky’s A League of Their Own television show. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was fined for comments made about Van Nistelrooy, while the Dutch striker received a three-game ban for his tackle.

Bowyer and Dyer’s boxing match

While even a good-natured debate could cause Graeme Souness to declare he “wants a fight”, as Sky Sports viewers will know, there was nothing positive about this boxing match between Newcastle team-mates Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer back in 2005.

A training ground argument between Dyer and Bowyer had already lit the fuse and things exploded when the Magpies found themselves 3-0 and a man down to Aston Villa after Steven Taylor’s comical red card. A row broke out on the pitch after Bowyer accused Dyer of refusing to pass him the ball and the midfielder made his dissatisfaction clear.

Many expected Bowyer to hit back with words of his own. But to the amazement of those on the pitch, the pair launched into a fist fight on the pitch, with Alan Shearer and Gareth Barry breaking up the fight.

Newcastle arranged a press conference with Dyer, Souness and Bowyer facing the media. The two players apologised to the fans and club, while the no-nonsense Scot laid the blame at Bowyer’s feet. He was hit with a longer suspension of seven games and a £30,000 fine, on top of his £210,000 fine from the club, while Dyer was banned for three matches.

Suarez race row

While Luis Suarez was undoubtedly one of the most talented foreign players to grace the Premier League, ability is not enough to protect players from wrongdoing as the Uruguayan found out during his controversial clash with Patrice Evra.

Evra reported the striker to the FA after he allegedly uttered a racial insult in his direction and after a lengthy investigation, the FA slapped the striker with a 10-game ban. To this day, Suarez maintains he is not a racist but the incident tarnished his reputation and his antics – including biting and simulation – did not help his case.

When the two teams next met, Suarez bizarrely refused to shake Evra’s hand before the match leaving the Frenchman furious. And the matter was only exacerbated when Liverpool’s squad wore t-shirts in support of the banned striker, causing outrage in the football community.

Di Canio shoves referee

Di Canio often played on the edge as a maverick forward, with the Italian capable of both scoring outstanding goals and letting his passion transform into rage. On one Saturday afternoon nearly 25 years ago, the Sheffield Wednesday star would pay a heavy price for the latter. An ill-advised shove on referee Paul Alcock was an unforgettable example.

Having become embroiled in a clash with Martin Keown, the hostile atmosphere contributed to the fracas on the pitch. Di Canio was shown a red card for losing his head in the brawl and, in one of the most bizarre yet comical incidents in Premier League history, he shoved referee Alcock while walking off the pitch. Unfortunately for the official, he was standing off balance and the force of the push made him waddle backwards before crumbling to the ground.

Di Canio was later handed a huge 11-game ban and fined £10,000. He never played for the Owls again, sealing a move to West Ham in January 1999 where he became an instant hit with the fans after his goals – rather than his temper – took a leading role.

Bridge snubs Terry

Footballers have a bond so close that any hint of betrayal is quickly scooped up – be it on the training ground or in the dressing room. But this bust-up between Terry and Bridge was unique in every sense.

The duo – who played alongside each other for Chelsea and England – were at the centre of one of English football’s biggest scandals back in 2010 when it was alleged that Terry had engaged in a relationship with Bridge’s partner, Vanessa Perroncel the previous year. Terry himself was married to his wife Toni, leading to a huge divide at Stamford Bridge.

Terry and Bridge’s relationship never recovered and the left-back left for Manchester City. Months later, when the two sides met in the Premier League, Bridge snubbed Terry’s peace offering of a handshake and continued to do so in the remaining years.

Mourinho fights Wenger

Jose Mourinho was a box office name in the Premier League for his sassy quotes and passionate behaviour on the touchline. On occasion, the Portuguese would find himself going over the top and his constant winding up of Wenger came to a head when Chelsea hosted Arsenal back in 2014.

Mourinho, who had called Wenger a “specialist in failure”, had regularly taunted Wenger about his inferior record since the pair’s first meeting in 2004. And it all came to the fore a decade down the line when Wenger shoved Mourinho on the touchline, forcing the fourth official to get involved.

Rarely have two managers come to blows in such a manner and for two Premier League titans to lose their cool, it was superb viewing for those at home and in the stadium.

European Super League breakaway

With the future of the Champions League looking uncertain as the elite searched for ways to cut themselves a bigger slice of the pie, it was only a matter of time before a breakaway would be attempted after years of threats.

In April 2021, the Premier League’s top six clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – were joined by AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid as the founding 12 members.

Fans in England, Italy and Spain took to the streets to launch angry protests against their club’s owners. And no sooner than 48 hours later, all six English clubs backed out of the agreement – incurring heavy fines from UEFA and made to sign agreements promising not to join a future breakaway.

Liverpool beach ball

The last thing Rafa Benitez and Liverpool wanted during a title battle with Manchester United in 2009-10 was for something odd to happen. Who knows just where the Reds would have ended up had Darren Bent’s controversial ‘beach ball’ goal not stood.

Steve Bruce’s side got off to the perfect start after just five minutes when a cross from the right found its way to Darren Bent at the far post. The then-England international took one touch to step himself and fired a low, drilled effort into the crowd of players.

But instead of taking a nick off a defender, it collided with an object, which was later revealed to be a beach ball thrown onto the pitch by a young fan. And the ball ricocheted off the plastic ball, deceiving Pepe Reina, as it ended up in the back of the net to clinch three points for the Black Cats.

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