9 World Cup squads that spectacularly imploded mid-tournament
Although rumours in the national press about players testing positive for drugs on the eve of the tournament proved false, Portugal players’ involvement in the notorious Saltillo Affair (or O Caso Saltillo in Portuguese) overshadowed their first World Cup in 20 years. The players, led by midfielder Carlos Manuel, threatened to pull out of the tournament when they failed to receive advertising payments owed to them by the Portuguese FA from Adidas products and Cristal Beer.
After two weeks of sunning themselves by their hotel swimming pool and wearing their training kits back to front – so as to avoid displaying any brands, naturally – the players finally received their money.
Ringleader Manuel promptly scored the team’s winner against England in their opening game, but subsequent losses to Poland and Morocco meant the Portuguese players – who were accused of heavy drinking by their national press – finished bottom of the group. Heartbroken national coach Jose Torres sighed: “I’m amazed the players even got themselves out onto the pitch at all.”
West Germany (1974)
“You boys are greedy,” barked West Germany coach Helmut Schon at his charges, “and if people find out what you're doing, they will spit on you in the street.” The reason for Schon’s ire was that his squad – offered around £4,900 per man in bonuses – was pushing for a figure more in line with the Dutch and the Italians; around £16,900. At one point, Schon threatened to pick a second-string side for their opener against Chile, and Paul Breitner threatened to pack his bags and leave altogether.
Fortunately, skipper Franz Beckenbauer rallied the troops, but his side suffered a shock 1-0 loss to neighbours East Germany in the group stage, after which the players smoked and drank until dawn. Schon once more vowed to resign. Yet somehow, this dysfunctional crew rallied to win the World Cup.
But even after that, several players walked out of the celebration banquet after being informed that their wives weren’t welcome. So appalled was striker Gerd Muller, whose goal beat Holland in the final earlier that day, that he quit the international scene immediately.
“I think it’s fair to say that the players’ minds were not fully on the job in hand,” admitted a dejected Otto Pfister after seeing his Togo team lose all three group matches at their inaugural World Cup. After qualifying, Togo players – headed by Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor – threatened to withdraw from the tournament unless the Togo FA finally paid them the $40,000 bonuses they earned by qualifying.
They relented and played their inaugural match, losing to South Korea, after which Pfister apparently resigned – only to take his place in the dugout for the match against Switzerland. After journalists asked him what he made of captain Jean-Paul Abalo’s ongoing threat to strike, Pfister harrumphed: “You must ask the Togo Football Federation these questions, not me. I do my job, I coach football." If only it had been that easy.
Despite Ally McLeod’s optimism that his side might return “with a medal” from Argentina, the squad’s morale quickly deteriorated as arguments over bonuses, poor hotel facilities and boredom (the squad took to flicking pebbles at a colony of leafcutter ants to dislodge food from their jaws) grew.
Then there were the awful results (a 3-1 loss to Peru and a 1-1 draw with Iran), and winger Willie Johnston being sent home after testing positive for the banned substance Reactivan, a medication prescribed for hay fever. The Scots rallied to beat eventual finalists Holland 3-2, but by then the players couldn’t wait to fly home and put, as forward Lou Macari described it: “A month of madness behind us.”
Perhaps France’s World Cup campaign was always fated to be mired in controversy, after Thierry Henry’s infamous unpunished double handball against Ireland in the play-off enabled William Gallas to tap in the winner. From that moment on, France’s ageing and surly crew of Henry, Gallas and Patrice Evra turned on their astrology-loving coach Raymond Domenech. And that was before the squad even reached South Africa.
The French bombed completely on the pitch, and Anelka was sent home after telling Domenech at half-time during the clash with Mexico to: “Go f**k yourself, you son of a w**re.” Evra clashed with the kit man and the squad refused to train, while Gallas raised his middle finger to journalists. After picking up one point in three games and finishing bottom of Group A, French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy castigated the team – which was forced to fly home economy class – as being unworthy to represent France.
It was the ultimate basket case of a World Cup squad, with a number of reputations sullied and in some cases utterly destroyed.