Messi, Maradona, Cantona: What are the longest bans in football history?

What are the longest bans in football history?

Lionel Messi received the first red card of his Barcelona career in the Spanish Super Cup final against Athletic Bilbao last weekend. 

The Argentine was rightly given his marching orders for lashing out at Asier Villalibre off the ball, and his side eventually fell to a 3-2 extra-time defeat in his absence. 

Reports shortly after the game initially suggested that Messi was in danger of receiving a 12-match ban, but he has escaped such severe punishment. 

According to a report from the Daily Mail, the revered attacker has only been banned for two games by the Spanish FA.

With Messi now able to breathe a sigh of relief following a tense few days waiting to hear a verdict regarding his punishment, GIVEMESPORT have looked at some of the longest bans in football history. 

With enforced absences ranging from eight matches to seven years, take a look at a ranking that includes obscene challenges, failed drug tests and assaults on match officials…

Roy Keane (8 matches)


Those who have any basic knowledge on the game will be acutely aware of Roy Keane’s aggressive side. 

During a Manchester derby back in April 2001, Keane had unfished business with Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, the father of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling. 

Four years prior, while Haaland was playing for Leeds, Keane attempted to foul his opposite number and managed to snap his cruciate ligament in his leg. As the Republic of Ireland midfielder lay on the ground in pain, Haaland accused him of feigning injury. 

During the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in 2001, with the ball almost nowhere to be seen, Keane lashed out at Haaland with a horrific challenge that is now regarded as one of the most infamous “tackles”, if you can reasonably call it that, in the history of the Premier League. 

Keane was banned for three games having been sent off for the gruesome challenge, and his ban was retrospectively extended by five matches after the United icon admitted in his autobiography that his foul was an act of revenge. 

David Prutton (10 matches)

David Prutton, who was sent off 10 times during his career, lost his head during Southampton’s clash with Arsenal at St Mary’s back in 2005. 

Having been given his marching orders, the Saints midfielder shoved referee Alan Wiley as he attempted to approach linesman Paul Norman and was given both a 10-match ban and a £6,000 fine as a result. 

Paolo Di Canio (11 matches)


One of the most iconic moments in Premier League history. 

The ever controversial Paolo Di Canio went one step beyond Prutton in 1998 with an act of  rebellion that has been immortalised in footballing memory.

While playing for Sheffield Wednesday in a clash against Arsenal, Di Canio pushed the late Paul Alcock to the floor with a dismissive, two-handed shove having just been sent off for gouging Martin Keown’s eye in the midst of a brawl between both sets of players.

Alcock, clearly stunned by Di Canio’s reaction to the sending off, staggered and stumbled for a few yards before eventually succumbing to the forces of gravity. 

Di Canio received a three-game ban for his red card and a further eight games were added on due to his push on the official, while he was also fined £10,000.

Luis Suarez (4 months)

World football’s answer to Dracula rather incredibly sunk his teeth into an opponent for the third time in his career during a World Cup clash against Italy at the 2014 World Cup.

Giorgio Chiellini joined Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and Otman Bakkal on the list of Suarez’s career victims, with the Uruguayan earning a four-month ban from football following the astonishing incident on the biggest stage of them all. 

Joey Barton (5 months)


Another player who has been involved in his fair share of controversy during his career came close to earning the lengthiest ban in modern footballing history in 2017.

Joey Barton was initially banned for 18 months for a series of betting breaches which took place over a ten-year period, but the sentence was reduced to five months on appeal.

The ban marked the end of his career in professional football, and he spent two-and-a-half years as manager of Fleetwood Town before he was sacked on 4 January in light of a dressing room altercation with Ched Evans.

Vinnie Jones (6 months)

One of football’s most iconic hard men, a player whose game almost solely relied on intimidation tactics and thundering tackles that have been left behind in a by-gone era,  was banned for six months for bringing the game into disrepute in 1992.

Vinnie Jones offered advice on how players could bolster their fear factor by hosting a video called ‘Soccer’s Hard Men’. 

He was initially given a suspended sentence of six months but, after missing an FA hearing and continuing to operate as he typically would on the pitch – flying into tackles and utilising all of football’s dark arts – the ban was enforced. 

A £20,000 fine was also slapped on Jones as punishment. It’s a good job he translated his hard-man aura into a successful TV and film career. 

Kolo Toure (6 months) 

In a bid to control his weight, Kolo Toure took some of his wife’s water tablets.

The Ivorian was unaware that they were a banned substance and was eventually banned for six months by the FA in March 2011. 

His absence ruled him out of Manchester City’s FA Cup final win over Stoke City in 2011, and he later claimed he was unaware that the weight-control tablets were a banned substance, per BBC.

“My weight had been up and down a little bit and when you put on two, three or four kilos you are a different player, so I took something to make me go to the toilet more.

“I didn’t know I had done anything wrong. When I found out, I was shocked.”

Patrice Evra (7 months) 

What are the longest bans in football history?

Man United legend Patrice Evra always had fire in his belly during his time in the Premier League, but his passion spilled into lunacy when he was contracted to Marseille.

During the warm-up ahead of a Europa League clash in November 2017, the French defender kicked a supporter in the head and he was subsequently banned by UEFA until June the following year. 

Adrian Mutu (7 months)

Adrian Mutu and Chelsea became embroiled in a lengthy saga after the Romanian forward tested positive for cocaine in September 2014.

Not only was Mutu banned from football for seven months, he was ordered to pay Chelsea £9.6m for breaching his contractual agreement.

Rio Ferdinand (8 months)


Drug tests are part and parcel for professional footballers,

The ramifications of missing a scheduled test can be career changing and that’s a statement that certainly won’t be wasted on Rio Ferdinand.

Ferdinand missed a drug test arranged for 23 September 2003 and was later banned for eight months and fined £50,000 by the FA. 

Man United director Maurice Watkins described the length of the ban as “a particularly savage and unprecedented sentence,” but it was upheld following an appeal from the club. 

Eric Cantona (9 months) 

Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick remains one of the most shocking moments of madness in the history of English football. 

Man United’s insatiable attacking talent had a propensity to induced audible gasps and drop jaws amongst the onlooking crowd with his dazzling repertoire of attacking attributes. 

Back in 1995, though, he took centre stage for assaulting a Crystal Palace fan by jumping over the advertising board and plunging his boot into the supporters’ ribcage. 

He avoided a jail sentence by the skin of his teeth but was ordered to do 120 hours of community service and banned from football for nine months. 

Mark Bosnich (9 months) 

Is there something in the air in west London? 

Mark Bosnich is another former Chelsea player who was banned after testing positive for cocaine and the player admitted to having a $5,000 per week habit

The goalkeeper failed a drug test in September 2002 and was banned for nine months.

Diego Maradona (15 months) 


The late Diego Maradona was a brilliant, tortured genius who found his way into trouble on more than one occasion during his career. 

Maradona tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine at the 1994 World Cup and was banned from football for a whopping 15 months – a punishment that put an end to his Argentina career. 

Peter Swan, Tony Kay, David Layne (Lifetime bans – reduced to seven years)

Sheffield Wednesday trio Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne were involved in one of the most dramatic footballing scandals in the sixties.

The trio bet on their own team to lose in a clash with Ipswich Town in December 1962, and the Owls did indeed fall to a 2-0 defeat. 

In 1964 a wider match-fixing problem was uncovered which led to imprisonment and lengthy bans from the game. 

Swan, Kay and Layne were initially sentenced to lifetime bans but later were allowed to return after a seven-year hiatus. 

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