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10 most controversial figures in Premier League history 

The Premier League has produced its fair share of controversy over the years
The Premier League has produced its fair share of controversy over the years
Scott Newman
Modified 02 Oct 2020, 16:54 IST
Top 5 / Top 10

Over its 27-year history, the Premier League has provided fans with an astonishing amount of action, entertainment, and world-class football. Of course, England's top flight is also no stranger to controversy.

There have been a fair few controversial characters – both on the pitch and off it – throughout the history of the Premier League, with some being viewed as villains by the fans and others as cult heroes.

Here, then, in no particular order, are the 10 most controversial characters in Premier League history.

#1 Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona's attack on a Crystal Palace fan etched his name into infamy.

Still known as 'The King' amongst Manchester United fans, it's fair to say that Eric Cantona helped to revolutionise English football during the Premier League's early years. Without the success of the mercurial Frenchman – who won six major trophies, including four Premier League titles with the Red Devils – world-class overseas stars may never have headed to England.

However, there's simply no disputing that Cantona was also a hugely controversial character throughout his time at Old Trafford. Even the way he arrived at United, directly from bitter rivals Leeds United after helping the Whites win the old First Division title, was somewhat divisive amongst fans.

Cantona already had a somewhat chequered past from his time in France, where he'd found himself in hot water for violence, petulance, and a general disregard for authority. But nothing could've prepared fans of English football for quite what he'd bring.

The Frenchman was brilliant on the pitch, but his dark side often shone through too. He was red-carded on three occasions during the 1993-94 season, but the 1994-95 saw him take things to another level.


In perhaps the most notorious incident in Premier League history, Cantona was sent off in a match against Crystal Palace for a petulant kick at Richard Shaw. He then proceeded to leap into the crowd in order to kung-fu kick a fan who'd showered him with abuse.

Cantona was not only charged with assault and slapped with 120 hours of community service, but he was also banned by the FA for a period of eight months. Upon his return, the Frenchman was able to keep his nose clean – and led United to another two Premier League title wins.

But due to this incident, as well as his consistently eccentric behaviour, Cantona remains one of the Premier League's most controversial figures.

#2 John Terry

Chelsea legend John Terry was no stranger to controversy during his Premier League career.
Chelsea legend John Terry was no stranger to controversy during his Premier League career.

Former Chelsea defender John Terry is still renowned as a true hero at Stamford Bridge, where a famous banner picturing him and reading "Captain. Leader. Legend" still hangs. However, despite plenty of success throughout his career, the England international was still a controversial figure who was largely despised by opposing fans.


Terry's first brush with controversy came not long after he'd broken into Chelsea's first team during the 2000-01 campaign. In September 2001, the defender – along with three teammates – was fined by Chelsea after behaving inappropriately towards American tourists.

Given Terry was just 20 at the time, the incident was put down to the naivety of youth. And for the next few years at least, he stayed away from controversy. During that period, not only did Terry become captain for both Chelsea and England, but he also led his side to two Premier League title wins.

However, the dark side of Terry emerged again in early 2010, when it was alleged that he'd engaged in an affair with the ex-girlfriend of his former Chelsea and England teammate Wayne Bridge. The Blues captain denied the affair had ever taken place, but in a much-publicised incident, Bridge refused to shake his hand prior to a match between Chelsea and Bridge's new side Manchester City.

The allegations led to then-England boss Fabio Capello stripping him of the England captaincy – although he was restored to the spot in the following year. Unfortunately, worse controversy was to follow in 2011 when Terry was accused of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand during a match between their respective clubs.

Terry was charged by the Crown Prosecution Service over the incident. And while he was cleared of the charge in a court of law, the FA still found him guilty and banned him for four games, while also stripping him – once again – of the England captaincy.

The Chelsea captain ended his career in 2018 after winning a total of 15 major trophies, but remains one of the Premier League's most controversial figures.

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Published 01 Oct 2020, 17:59 IST
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