Spain are following a dangerous precedent with the madness that has engulfed their camp leading into the World Cup.
Julen Lopetegui’s sacking on the eve of the showpiece, a day after Real Madrid announced he would become their manager after Spain’s campaign ended, has blown up the squad’s preparations at a tournament where they were one of the favourites.
Here’s a look at the biggest off-pitch implosions in the famous tournament’s history.
KEANE: CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEAVER
Nothing tops this. Captain Roy Keane, who had almost singlehandedly led Ireland to the World Cup through a qualifying group that included the Netherlands and Portugal, either walked out on his team or was sent home, depending on whose version you believe.
In the former Manchester United player’s telling of the story, manager Mick McCarthy ambushed Keane at a team meeting, claiming the skipper had faked an injury to avoid playing the second leg of Ireland’s qualifying playoff against Iran. That set Keane, already upset by what he viewed as the Irish federation’s poor preparations on behalf of the team, off.
Let’s just say “I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager and I don’t rate you as a person” was about the nicest thing Keane said to McCarthy in an astonishing tirade. He was on his way back home the next day.
FEUDING FRENCH, 2010
Keane was a one-man insurrection against his manager. Leave it to the French to conduct a proper revolution – or mutiny, depending on perspective.
Manager Raymond Domenech’s tactics and selection all came under question, especially as Thierry Henry was reduced to a squad role. At halftime of their disastrous 2-0 loss to Mexico, Nicolas Anelka went one further and openly insulted the manager. The striker was sent home – leading to open rebellion.
France’s players refused to train the day after the game, and to add insult to injury for Domenech, he was forced to read a statement from the players explaining their actions. In it, they accused the French federation of failing to protect the players and bowing to media pressure. They would soon bow out of the World Cup, ignominiously.
MAD MARADONA, 1994
Argentina’s talisman was near the end of his career as it was, but the 1994 World Cup was in theory a chance for him to have one last hurrah. Diego Maradona had received a 15-month drugs ban in 1991, come back, and won back his place in La Albiceleste’s squad – as captain, no less
The script was written. Then Maradona tore it up.
He scored in Argentina’s opening 4-0 win over Greece, but drew more attention for the crazed look in his eyes as he celebrated. Sure enough, following a 2-1 win over Nigeria, Maradona tested positive for ephedrine, and was sent home. A shellshocked squad followed him after two losses.
Russia begin their World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia on Thursday on the backfoot as they battle a horror winless run.
The host enter their first home World Cup in terrible form, going winless in seven matches and slumping to 70th in the world.
They will have their task cut out as they face a dangerous Saudi side at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Watch the video below for all the stats ahead of the World Cup opener.
Following Enzo Perez’s late call-up to the Argentina World Cup squad, his side now boast the oldest team at a second World Cup in a row, with an average age of 29 years and six months.
The 32-year-old has taken the place of 25-year-old Manuel Lanzini who injured his knee. The River Plate midfielder’s inclusion takes Argentina past Costa Rica as the oldest squad by a single day.
Argentina also had the oldest squad in Brazil four years ago, when they finished as runners-up to Germany, with an average age of 28 years, 11 months and six days.
At 36, Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero is the eldest member of the squad, two years older than Javier Mascherano, while Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Pavon are Argentina’s youngest players, both 22.
Latin American sides account for the third and fourth oldest squads as well, in Mexico and Panama respectively, while Brazil are eighth out of the 32 teams.
At the other end of the scale, Nigeria, who will face Argentina in Group D, feature the youngest squad at an overall age of 25 years and 11 months.