Olivier Giroud became the second-highest goal-scorer in the history of French football during the last international break, and while the World Cup winner bagged a brace to reach that milestone, one couldn’t help but wonder what could have been for Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid forward has been banished from the French national team since 2015 for allegedly blackmailing fellow compatriot Mathieu Valbuena and is likely to never represent his country again despite shining for his club. However, here we check out a few well-known players from Europe’s top leagues that were handed lengthy bans.

Diego Maradona

Still considered Argentina’s greatest ever player by most of his countryman, Diego Maradona had his fair share of controversies during his career. From his struggles with drug use to his inner demons, Maradona was as volatile off the pitch as he was mesmerising on it.

However, his longest time away from the game in his playing years was when the 1986 World Cup winner failed a drug test in 1991. The Argentine legend was with Napoli at the time and left the club in unceremonious circumstances after having to serve a 15-month long ban for his failed drug test.

Joey Barton

Joey Barton is no stranger to controversy. Whether it’s on-field altercations, training ground bust-ups with teammates, or gambling, the hard-tackling English midfielder has done it all. He’s been charged for violent conduct thrice in his career by the Football Association and has even been sentenced to six months' imprisonment for common assault and affray.

However, the longest ban during his playing days was a result of betting. Even though professional players aren’t allowed to bet on any football, Barton was found guilty of doing the same for a 10-year period and was subsequently fined as well as given an 18-month ban.

Eric Cantona

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was a game-changer on the pitch, credited with kick-starting a generation of success with the Red Devils. Prior to his arrival at United, the club had gone more than two decades without winning a league title. His arrival, though, changed everything as United won the league title in every season that he was with the club barring the 1994-95 campaign when he had to serve an eight-month ban.

After taking exception to a foul-mouthed fan in the crowd during a game at Selhurst Park, he infamously attacked and ‘kung fu kicked' the abusive Crystal Palace fan in January 1995. Cantona was fined £20,000 and was out of the game for eight months to the detriment of United’s failed title defence. He was charged with criminal assault as well, but his two-week prison sentence was eventually reduced to 120 hours of community service.

Luis Suarez

Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez has been banned from football several times over the course of his controversial and highly successful career. From violence and biting to racial abuse, Suarez has seen plenty of charges levelled against him over the years. Before heading to the 2014 World Cup, he had already served three lengthy bans.

His first ban for seven games was for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal and his second eight-game ban was for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra. A 10-game ban for biting then-Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic soon followed but his longest was yet to come. And when it did come, it happened on football’s grandest stage as Suarez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup. Furious at the Uruguayan, FIFA served him a worldwide ban from playing for four months.  

Rio Ferdinand

After joining Manchester United as the most expensive defender in the world in 2002, Rio Ferdinand’s first season with the Red Devils ended with him lifting the Premier League title. However, his second campaign with United didn’t go according to plan.

The £30m centre-back failed to attend a scheduled test and as a result, was given an eight-month ban by an independent panel. His timeout cost United dearly in the second half of the season as they failed to retain their league title and Ferdinand also missed Euro 2004 on the international front.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Staff