Football managers are quite used to getting the sack, but what about when it happens to the players?
Not to be confused with genuine sackings we’ve seen at the likes of FC Sion of late, every now and then, coaches turn the tables by informing their players they are no longer needed, effectively forcing them to find a new employer regardless of how long is left on their contracts.
Anyway, in modern football, an industry home to many a ruthless individual, there are plenty of high-profile examples of footballers being brutally ousted by managers and owners. Whether you think the players involved were undeserving or not, what follows are the facts, rumours and first-hand accounts of the most savage instances we could find.
1. Joe Hart vs Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
From being a Premier League winner with Manchester City and England’s first-choice goalkeeper, Joe Hart suddenly found himself on loan at Torino after a turbulent summer in 2016.
“[Guardiola] might as well have cut [Hart’s] legs off for what he has done to his career,” was how Ian Wright summarised the situation on a recent Match of the Day podcast.
After a poor showing with the Three Lions at the European Championships, Hart failed to persuade incoming manager Pep Guardiola he was the right kind of ‘keeper for his new City side. Claudio Bravo was brought in for what would become more of a sweeper-keeper role, and Hart was unceremoniously frozen out.
“I respect all of the guys here but I’m here and I have to take decisions and that’s what I feel,” said Guardiola, whose playing style clearly has no room for sentiment.
At the time, Hart’s view was that, “football is a game of opinions: some people have a great opinion of me, others probably think I’m absolutely useless. Unfortunately, the opinion of one of the guy’s in charge of my club wasn’t as strong as it needed to be.”
He later spoke positively about the coach he ended his City career, it must be said: “[Guardiola] came in and was dead honest with me. I looked him in the eye and shook his hand, I thanked him for his honesty. I didn’t thank him for his opinion, but his honesty was second to none.”
2. Robin van Persie vs Louis van Gaal (Manchester United)
It was wasn’t particularly evident at the time, but Robin van Persie’s exit from Manchester United seems rather cut-throat. Especially for a player who had fired the club to a 20th title just two years earlier.
His controversial departure from Arsenal initially resulted in an incredible debut season at Manchester United, but Van Persie struggled under David Moyes, who was eventually sacked and replaced by Louis van Gaal.
You would think a countryman – and one who’d only just gotten the best out of Van Persie at the 2014 World Cup, at that – would look favourably on the striker, then only in his early thirties.
With anyone other than Van Gaal, that might have been true. After an injury-laden 2014/15 campaign, Van Persie was told in no uncertain terms he was no longer needed. “I had this chat with Louis van Gaal and he told me: ‘OK Robin, our ways will part. I’m the coach, you’re the player – you have to go, your time is up’,” Van Persie revealed to Jake Humphries on the BT host’s podcast. “I was like: ‘Yeah but I still have a contract?’ He said: ‘I don’t care’.”
The final slap in the face? United fans regularly remind the club they never successfully publicised his departure on social media.
when did he leave ???
— Keith Russell (@Keith_Russell) October 19, 2016
you didn’t announce his departure
— Asam #StayAtHome (@asammufc) October 19, 2016
3. Jonas Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor vs Newcastle United
It doesn’t get much harsher than this. At the end of the 2014/15 season, not long after Newcastle United had secured their Premier League survival, caretaker manager John Carver phoned Ryan Taylor to tell the defender his contract was not going to be extended.
Remarkably, Carver then asked Taylor to pass the phone to teammate Jonas Gutierrez to tell him the very same thing.
“John Carver rang me and told me the club weren’t going to offer me a new deal,” Taylor said. “Then he asked me to pass the phone to Jonas, which was unbelievable.”
Taylor noted Carver was likely being instructed by those above him, but regardless, what a way to learn your fate. And all of this is to say nothing of the fact Jonas’ fairy tale-esque backstory. The Argentine winger had recovered from a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2013 to assist and score the two goals that saved Newcastle from relegation to the Championship on the final day of the league season two years later.
“I think man to man, face to face is the nice thing to do,” Jonas told the BBC later that summer. “It made me think they don’t care about anything.”
4. Iker Casillas vs Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid)
Iker Casillas found himself in and out of the team under Jose Mourinho, leading to suggestions his time at Real Madrid was coming to an end.
Ultimately the legendary Spanish goalkeeper stuck it out. But despite winning his place back under Carlo Ancelotti, in the summer of 2015, after 725 appearances, five league titles, two cups and three Champions League trophies for Madrid, Casillas was sold to Porto. From a stadium empty of supporters and teammates, on a Sunday, Casillas wept as he told the world his 25-year association with Real was at an end. Accusations immediately followed from his parents that club president Florentino Perez had forced their son to go, contrary to media briefings from the club suggesting the situation had been engineered by the player.
“Iker has put up with a great deal, he has suffered psychological pressure and they treated him differently to other players,” said Casillas’ mother, Mari Carmen.
“I have watched him suffer for many years. It is Florentino who is pushing him out because he wanted to end his career at Real Madrid.”
This really just appeared to be confirmation of what everybody suspected already. Perez was even overheard saying Casillas had been driven to breaking point, or as he put it “he’d had a gut-full”.
After the nature of press conference in which Casillas confirmed the exit came across as uncaring, another farewell ceremony was arranged for 24 hours later and executed in awkward fashion in the middle of working day. A reported 2,000 fans showed up and called for Perez’s resignation. No wonder Casillas’ agent described the club’s handling of the exit as a “disaster”.
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5. Pepe Reina vs Liverpool
In the summer of 2013, Pepe Reina was linked with a dream return to Barcelona only to see the move fall through. He subsequently voiced his desire to remain at Liverpool, but it turns out there was no going back.
The Spanish goalkeeper claims Liverpool accepted a loan offer from Napoli without even informing him.
“It’s only natural I’d be disappointed Liverpool agreed to loan me to Napoli without telling me first,” he said. “I thought I deserved better than that, even though I understand that difficult decisions have to be taken in football.”
Reina agreed to go to Napoli. In fact, he’s had two stints at the club either side of a year at Bayern Munich. He is now on loan at Aston Villa from AC Milan.
6. Diego Costa vs Antonio Conte (Chelsea)
Diego Costa’s turbulent time at Chelsea had too many twists to count. His January 2018 exit came as no surprise, but the manner of how he was told about it was a bit of a bolt from the blue.
“Hi Diego, I hope you are well. Thanks for the season we spent together. Good luck for the next year but you are not in my plan.”
According to AS, that’s the text Antonio Conte sent to Diego Costa to inform the striker he was no needed for the 2017/18 campaign. Costa failed to secure a move away that summer, but in September he agreed to re-join Atletico Madrid in the coming January window (they had been under a transfer embargo until then).
“My relationship with the coach has been bad this season,” Costa had said. It certainly looks that way.
7. Nabil Bentaleb vs Tottenham
Introduced to the first team by Tim Sherwood and relied on as the focal point of his midfield by Mauricio Pochettino, Nabil Bentaleb looked set to be a big part of Tottenham’s future. Until he upset Pochettino.
“I got injured and when I came back, I wanted to play so bad that I had some arguments [with Pochettino], Bentaleb said. “I was a little bit frustrated, and I was learning basically. Being on the bench is a learning curve.”
Known for not taking well to players who complain about not being in the starting line-up, Pochettino made it clear Bentaleb was not in his plans.
The former Spurs boss said: “Only that the rule is very clear: If you are not part of my plans, why are you training with us?” Ouch.