One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: When Footballers Skive Off Training

Alexis is far from a trendsetter in the world of footballing absenteeism


Poor old Alexis Sanchez is a bit under the weather, it seems. A nasty case of the blue – or perhaps red – flu has struck down this powerful athlete in his prime, reducing him to a couch-bound, scarf-wearing sicknote.

Thankfully, brave soldier that he is, Alexis has managed to persuade his no doubt swollen, sweaty fingers to punch through an Instagram update on his affliction.

Head on over to for the latest odds on Alexis to leave the Emirates

Of course, absolutely none of this can be linked to his reported desire to leave Arsenal in favour of any one of the five different super-clubs clamouring for his signature.

There is simply no truth to the idea that by feigning sickness he’s attempting to manufacture a move away from his current club.

None at all. No sir.

Let’s just hope that if, somehow, he manages to battle his way through this illness and eventually departs the Emirates, he doesn’t fail a medical at whatever club ends up being the highest bidder.

Still, the Chilean is far from the first footballer to cry off work on a dodgy premise. Here are five of the best examples of players who were sadly forced to stay away from the office.

Gate-gate: Ross McCormack gets trapped in his own mansion

While on the books of Aston Villa, the Scottish international gained something of a reputation for his “inconsistent” attendance at training, and one particular incident from the 2016/17 season immediately springs to mind.

The diminutive striker awoke one frosty Midlands morning to discover that, alas, the electric gates keeping him safe inside his home had malfunctioned. Unfortunately for Ross, it appeared that, in a terrifying vision of the post-apocalyptic future that awaits us all, technology had turned against him.

He, and his car, were trapped.

By what Villa manager Steve Bruce describes as a “four-foot-six inch fence”.

Rumour has it that Bruce turned up in person and scaled the wall to have a word with McCormack, although these whispers are most likely apocryphal.

It is yet to be ascertained why the player didn’t simply clamber over the gate and arrange a cab to training, but soon enough it was “Taxi for Ross” as he was shipped off to Nottingham Forest on loan.

Ronaldinho’s “abdominal pains”

Consummate professional. Hard-working self-improver. Avid trainer.

None of these descriptions could be applied to the Bacchanalian man-about-town that is Late Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian maestro is a player known for his joyful exuberance on and off the pitch, rather than his relentless desire to master whatever training drills in which he is forced to participate.

He became well-known for absenteeism during his time at Barca, but as his career progressed, it became clear that his commitment to attendance was growing ever weaker.

In March 2012, while captaining Flamengo, it emerged that Ronaldinho and his former international team-mate, Adriano, hadn’t shown up for a morning practice session after a bit of a session of their own the night before.

The deadly duo had been spotted departing a concert venue at 4am, and the next day several hours later Ronaldinho “called-in with ‘abdominal pains’ before making a miraculous return for the afternoon’s training session.”

Fair play to the skipper for setting a good example.

Kanu’s age gets the better of him

The gangling Nigerian was never a great mover. Despite his height, Kanu’s skill-set was infinitely better-suited to the technical rather than physical side of the game.

He always cut an awkward figure, a stumbling beanpole lumbering around the pitch and coming alive only when the ball appeared within ten feet of his enormous levers.

As the great man aged, “movement” became a word that was less and less relevant to him with each passing day.

By the time he pitched up at Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth, he was a crock (and, if the internet is to be believed, in his mid-40s).

And, when it came to training, Redknapp started to notice a trend.

“The most common thing I’d get from Kanu was a message every Monday morning with the exact same, that at some points it felt pre-recorded,” said the Pompey manager.

“Boss, the King cannot come into training. I have an upset stomach.”

Romário jets off to the Rio carnival

Before Ronaldinho, there was Romário, an equally hard-partying Brazilian forward who spent almost as much time swanning around the VIP area of his local nightclub as he did on the pitch.

Back in 1994, Romário was playing for Barcelona, then managed by Johan Cruyff. That January, during the heart of the Spanish league season, the club’s star striker approached his coach with an unusual request.

“One time, Romário asked me if he could miss two days of training to return to Brazil for the carnival in Rio de Janeiro,” said Cruyff.

Surprisingly, Cruyff accepted, but on condition that his main man score two or more goals in the team’s game the following day, which just so happened to be El Clasico.

Unsurprisingly, Romário duly netted three times against Réal Madrid, with his first two arriving in the opening twenty minutes.

Mere hours later, he was on his way to Rio.

Stephen Ireland attends the funerals of his grandmothers, both of whom were alive and well at the time

It’s the oldest one in the book.

Frankly, there’s just no telling how many grandparents have given their lives in the service of work-related absenteeism.

But back in 2007 the former Ireland and Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland added at least two more to the pile.

The story of Ireland’s career is one of underachievement, questionable decisions and the occasional moment of madness. Perhaps the most infamous of which occurred when he made the sad announcement to his international and club managers that his grandmother had passed away.

Except. She hadn’t.

What followed was a troubling series of lies that saw Ireland change his story on several occasions (in the process returning both his paternal and maternal grandmothers from the grave) before eventually coming clean and admitting that he’d made it all up in order to be with his girlfriend, who he later revealed had suffered a miscarriage.

A few days later, he was described by then-City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson as “stupid.”

Momo Sissoko turns in a mediocre performance in a match that never even happened

While playing for Valencia, Mohammed Sissoko dutifully heeded the call of his national side, Mali, and jetted off to face Kenya in a friendly.

The future Liverpool midfielder played solidly if unspectacularly during his 48 minutes on the field, and was pleased to see his side come away with a 1-0 victory.

Only, he didn’t. And they hadn’t.

It turned out Sissoko had made up the entire episode, and had simply gone AWOL for a number of days, in the process missing two training sessions.

Unquestionably, it was this type of imagination that subsequently earned him a move to Anfield.

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