Imploding World Cup squads
Playing at a World Cup is a dream for any footballer, but the experience can quickly became a nightmare if the dynamics within the group aren’t right. In this slideshow, we pick out nine squads who imploded during the tournament – be it because of poor results, unpaid bonuses or unpopular managers…
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, but captain Franz Beckenbauer rallied the troops. It didn’t work, and the Mannschaf famously lost 1-0 to East Germany in the group phase, after which the players smoked and drank until dawn. Schon once more vowed to step down, yet somehow this motley crew rallied to win the World Cup with victory over the Dutch in the final.
Ferruccio Valcareggi’s Italy may have entered the World Cup as one of the favourites, but the truth was that their squad was deeply divided between the new and the old guard, as well as northern and southern players. The uneasy peace was shattered when notoriously combustible striker Giorgio Chinaglia was substituted against Haiti, after missing several gilt-edged chances as the Azzurri fought back to triumph 3-1.
As he stomped off the field, Chinaglia told his manager to “f**k off”, made a hand gesture and ran straight to the dressing room, where he smashed some empty water bottles and a hairdryer. After the team was eliminated by Poland in the final match, Italian emigrants attacked the team bus, and reserve goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi punched a supporter to the ground.
Despite Ally McLeod’s optimism that his team might return “with a medal” from Argentina, the squad’s morale quickly deteriorated as arguments over bonuses, poor hotel facilities and boredom grew.
Then there were the awful results (a 3-1 defeat by 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 hayfever. 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.”
El Salvador (1982)
The Salvadorans were the last of the 24 teams to get to Spain, arriving after an exhausting 72-hour journey just three days before their infamous 10-1 defeat by Hungary. Goalkeeper Ricardo Mora recalled: "The bags and kit FIFA gave us were old - most bore the 1974 World Cup logo. It was shameful."
After the heavy loss, in which El Salvador had attacked relentlessly in suicidal fashion, skipper Norberto Huezo launched a coup against coach Mauricio Rodriguez, informing the side: “From now on, the coach decides nothing. We will decide our tactics.” And they were far better, even man-marking Diego Maradona effectively during a respectable 2-0 loss to Argentina.
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 overshadowed their first World Cup in 20 years. Led by midfielder Carlos Manuel, the players threatened to pull out when they failed to receive advertising payments owed to them by the Portuguese FA.
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 cash. Ringleader Manuel promptly scored the team’s winner against England in their opening game, but subsequent losses to Poland and Morocco meant Portugal finished bottom of their group.
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 manager Otto 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, manager Pfister harrumphed: “You must ask the Togo Football Federation these questions, not me. I do my job, I coach football." If only.
Perhaps France’s World Cup campaign was always fated to be mired in controversy, after Thierry Henry’s unpunished handball against Ireland in the play-off enabled William Gallas to tap in the winner. From then on, France’s ageing and surly crew of Henry, Gallas and Patrice Evra turned on their astrology-loving coach Raymond Domenech.
The French bombed completely, and Anelka was sent home after the Mexico match for his half-time instruction to Domenech-time 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 from three games and finishing bottom of Group A, France were castigated by their Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as being unworthy of representing the country.
Cameroon’s World Cup squad refused to board the plane due to take them to Brazil because of a long-running dispute over bonus payments for qualifying for the tournament, which they claimed were inadequate. Several stars also refused to attend a function with national team officials prior to departing for the finals unless they received an estimated $61,000 per player.
After agreeing an end to the row, Cameroon Football Federation president Joseph Owona said: "Everything has been resolved. There is no problem and I think the team needs to be mobilised for all to look in one direction." That wasn’t exactly how things turned out, and Cameroon were dumped out in the group stage.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said he had been having "sleepless nights" over a bonus issue which came to a head when players and team officials had a meeting instead of training before the team’s crunch match with Portugal. A proposed strike by Ghanaian players was only averted thanks to the personal intervention of president John Dramani Mahama, who arranged for $3m in cash to be flown to Brazil.
After the tournament, the (now) former coach Appiah later revealed that some of his players kept their $100,000 share in their backpacks in the dressing room while they played their Group G game against Portugal in Brasilia.
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