From Cassano to Balotelli: The Top Ten “Bad Boys” in Serie A

In the elusive history of Calcio, a long host of legends captivated the supporters’ hearts thanks to their unique skills and great personalities. Who can ever forget the elegance of Paolo Maldini, Javier Zanetti’s dedication, Alessandro Del Piero’s loyalty or Francesco Totti’s eternal love story with the capital?

But on the other hand, other stars choose to walk on a different path – a darker one. Some call them bad boys, other label them as villains, perhaps notorious men, while some see them as anti-heroes. But whether you love them or simply love to hate them, the past and present of Italian football wouldn’t be the same without these bad boys.

Some of them were renown for their over-aggressive approach, while others just couldn’t fit in with the rest of the squad due to their unusual behavior. But whatever is the reason, these men surely earned their notorious reputation.

So here are The Cult of Calcio’s Top 10 bad boys in Italian football history.

10 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Despite being one of the greatest players of his generation, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s larget-than-life persona exceeded anything he’s done on the pitch.

The Swede started his career as a big striker with an even bigger ego, but with time, he and the fans began to embrace the character. At times, it becomes hard to tell when the striker is speaking genuinely and when he’s just playing the role, and that’s probably because the real Zlatan and the over-the-top Zlatan are two faces for the same coin.

Perhaps age has made the 40-year-old a serener person, but back in his heyday, the Milan legend didn’t hesitate before letting a punch or a kick escape him.

Whether it was his opponents or his own teammates, everyone got a taste of Ibra’s infamous karate kicks.

9 – Sebastiano Rossi

Moving on to another Milan legend but from a different era. Between 1990 and 2002, Sebastiano Rossi was the main man between the posts for the Rossoneri.

But while the Diavolo possessed some of the most elegant players in the sport at the time, the former goalkeeper had much more substance than style.

For opposing strikers, facing the tough shot-stopper was never a pleasant task. And even when they managed to score, he’d still get his revenge, one way or another (as proven by the video below).

In 2011, the Italian was arrested for attacking a police officer, solidifying his status among the bad boys.

8 – Paolo Montero

When you hold the record for the most red cards in Serie A history, then your spot on the list is definitely reserved. Think of Paolo Montero as Italian football’s answer for Sergio Ramos.

Big, strong, nasty and unpleasant to the eye. The Uruguayan embodied all the aspects that make Juventus’ rivals despise the Turin-based club.

7 – Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio is a case study in itself. An absolute genius on the ball and the author of some of the best goals in the Premier League history during his successful stint at West Ham.

But on the other hand, the Italian bad boy is as temperamental as they come. He even pushed a referee following his dismissal during his time on the English shores.

Oh, and he has some “slightly” controversial views when it comes to politics, and actually “saluted” his Lazio supporters not once, but TWICE, before promising to stop after receiving fines and bans.

6 – Pasquale Bruno

According to Italian sports writer Adalberto Bortolotti, Pasquale Bruno “is not violent, but an exhibitionist of violence”.

The former Torino defender once grabbed the legendary Marco Van Basten by the hair and threatened to end his career. Why? Because, the Dutchman had celebrated an own goal in front him.

Sensing the danger, Fabio Capello wisely took the striker off the pitch. Instead, “The Animal”, as they call him, decided to take his frustration on Van Basten’s teammate Carlo Ancelotti by repeatedly smashing him – even though he admitted that he still doesn’t know why he chose poor Carlo to be his punching bag.

Although he retired from the game a long time ago, the Italian bad boy never lost his temper. In 2015, he revealed his desire to punch Leonardo Bonucci due the Juventus player’s gamesmanship during the Derby against Bruno’s beloved Torino.

No wonder he became a cult hero for Heart of Midlothian supporters during his time in Scotland.

Bonus: Salvatore Soviero

Having spent the vast majority of his career playing in the lower tiers, Salvatore Soviero is far from being a household name in Italian football, but he certainly deserves a mention on any bad boys list.

During a Serie B clash between Messina and Venezia, the Neapolitan goalkeeper lost his temper after being sent off and unleashed a one-man crusade against any person sitting on the opposition’s bench.

You can read the whole story in The Cult of Calcio’s piece on the Top 5 brawls of Italian football.

5 – Marco Materazzi

Sometimes, it’s not about the quantity, nor even the quality, but it’s the timing that matters the most.

Prior to 2006, Marco Materazzi was involved in some minor controversial incidents here and there, but they were listless in comparison to the other beasts on the list.

But it all changed for the former Inter star when Alessandro Nesta got injured during the 2006 World Cup group stage.

“Matrix” rose to the occasion and became the unlikely hero for the Azzurri in the grand finale against France.

In the space of 120 minutes, Materazzi turned himself from an overlooked mediocre defender to a national hero, a World Cup winner, and of course of one the most recognizable bad boys in sports as his taunting of Zinedine Zidane resulted in the most famous headbutt in the game’s history.

4 – Claudio Gentile

When a modern striker complains over the roughness of his marker or a slightly late tackle, he should be reminded how lucky he is for avoiding Claudio Gentile’s era.

The Juventus legend surely wasn’t the only nasty defender of his generation, but he’s arguably the most famous.

During a World Cup fixture against Argentina, the Italian committed 23 fouls on Diego Maradona. Some even claimed that if Gentile was asked to mark you, he’ll even follow you to the restroom.

The Tripoli native was also notorious for helping his victim rise on his feet following a nasty challenge by offering his hand, only to dig his nails into the hapless prey.

This is just another level of villain-ness.

3 – Mario Balotelli

This one’s acts deserves a list on its own (perhaps an idea for the future). While some footballers start their careers in rather normal fashion before their egos turn them into something else, Mario Balotelli never gave us the illusion of being your “average Joe”, even when he rose to the scene at the age of 17.

Between Inter, Manchester City, Milan and Liverpool and anywhere else he played, the Italian never failed to amuse us with his stunning acts on and off the pitch.

Whether it’s throwing darts at youth team players, burning his place by launching fireworks, breaking into a women’s prison (just for the sake of curiosity), throwing his Inter jersey on the pitch in an act of defiance, or making Francesco Totti track all the way back to the byline just so he can viciously kick him, Super Mario remains a one of a kind human being.

2 – Antonio Cassano

And now we reached Italian football’s ultimate mercurial talent. “Il Talentino di Bari”, “Fantantonio”, and also known as “Peter Pan”, the boy who refused to grow up.

Due his numerous incidents and never-ending quarrels with his managers, directors and even club presidents, Antonio Cassano’s antics earned their very own name which has been adopted by the dictionary: Cassanate.

This includes mocking Fabio Capello during his time at Real Madrid and directing some less-than-respectful words towards the feared tactician. Due to incidents like these, he was frozen out of Los Blancos’ squad, so he opted to keep himself busy by enjoying the company of beautiful women – hundreds of them! At least if his were words are to be believed.

Although he hanged his boots in the last few years, he’s still causing stir with his colorful comments during his regular appearance on Christian Vieri’s Bobo TV, and he even managed to get under the skin of Cristiano Ronaldo lately.

1 – Edmundo

Football fans around the globe can easily identify at least one stereotypical flamboyant Brazilian player. You know which one we’re talking about; The incredibly talented star who has all making to become amongst the best in the world, but his poor discipline proves to be his Achilles Heel.

Now meet the parody version.

The tales about Edmundo are so outlandish that one would hardly believe it. And yet, the vast majority of them are absolutely real.

The striker was nicknamed “O Animal” in his home country, and for a good reason. His storied career is filled with controversial incidents, including quarrels with officials, managers and even his own teammates. He shared an long and awkward love-hate relationship with the legendary Romario.

During his time at Fiorentina, he once fled back to Brazil just to take part in Rio De Janeiro’s festival, despite the fact that his services were direly needed due to the injury of Gabriel Batistuta.

Edmundo’s wacky stories are endless, and some of them ended in tragedies.

Coincidentally, “O Animal” found himself on the wrong side of animal welfare groups due to one surreal incident. He once invited an entire circus to his son’s birthday. During the party, he got a chimpanzee (called Pedrinho) drunk after offering him beer and whiskey.

Although he’s not an Italian citizen, Edmundo did enough during his time in the peninsula to earn himself the moniker of the ultimate bad boy of Calcio.