12 footballers who were banished to train alone: Aubameyang, Pogba…

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Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang applauds the fans after Everton game. Goodison Park, Liverpool. Monday December 6, 2021.

Being banished to train alone is the utmost indignity, reserved for players who commit the most severe infractions against professional football’s unwritten code of conduct.

Football has very odd rules with regards to group ethic and professionalism. Players are often treated like infants, told where to be and when, what time they can have their afternoon snack and when to go to the toilet.

Alright, we made that last bit up, but the point stands. And when the strict rules about punctuality and eating the right thing in the right place in the vicinity of the right people are broken, punishments are inevitably dished out.

Managers must ‘stamp their authority’, the tabloids tell us. And that usually involves a fine which would be half a year’s wages to you or me, but is relatively insignificant to top-level players.

When more serious transgressions are committed or a player is a repeat offender, however, a fine won’t do. In that case, a manager must wield the sword of banishment, sending the infractor to run around a pristine training pitch kicking a ball all by themselves. Oh, the shame.

Here, we’ve brought together 12 high-profile examples of players who’ve been deemed unworthy of the company of team-mates.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang has long interpreted football’s punctuality rules somewhat artistically, but in December 2021, after what Arsenal described as the Gabon forward’s “latest disciplinary breach”, Mikel Arteta had had enough.

Reportedly, Aubmeyang arrived back late after being granted a day’s leave to visit family in France and for his tardiness was initially stripped of the captaincy.

Arteta clearly felt that was insufficient, however, and Aubameyang was subsequently banished from first-team training entirely.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Aubameyang is not the first Arsenal player to feel the wrath of Arteta.

On the summer transfer window’s deadline day in August 2021, Ainsley Maitland-Niles took to Instagram to make clear his desire to move to Everton.

“All I wanna do is go where I’m wanted and where I’m gonna play,” he wrote.

He wasn’t allowed to. In fact, he was sent to run laps around London Colney on his Jack Jones.

They did manage to patch things up though and Maitland-Niles was reintegrated into the squad for the 2021-22 season.

Luis Suarez

Suarez is one of the most infamous lone trainers of them all, making a right song and dance after he didn’t get the move to Barcelona that he wanted in the summer of 2013.

Suarez accused Liverpool and their then-manager Brendan Rodgers of having broken a promise to let him leave if they didn’t get into the Champions League.

Rodgers retorted that no such promises were made and meted out the embarrassing penalty.

Suarez then came running back with his tail between his legs, banged in 31 goals that season, almost fired Liverpool to the title and was finally allowed to join Barca in 2014.

It seems banishment can be effective on occasion.

Joey Barton

In August 2011, Joey Barton fired up Twitter and sent a volley of 140-character jibes aimed at his employers Newcastle and their manager Alan Pardew, criticising the transfer policy and hinting at a brewing dressing-room mutiny.

The next day, he went back onto Twitter and wrote:  “Made to train alone today, how predictable………”

Well, quite.

Barton then went on to quote George Orwell, which we imagine is what most of these players did in private discussions with their coaches.

Diego Costa

Costa is really good at pissing people off.

That’s a positive when he’s on a football pitch, but less good when it comes to dealing with his managers, two of whom have taken the exile option to try to control the pointy-elbowed centre-forward.

First came Antonio Conte, who sent Costa all the way back to his native Brazil after a bust-up with one of the Chelsea boss’s assistants.

Conte reportedly told Costa he was not wanted at Chelsea via text message. To be fair, we’d not want to say it to Costa’s face either.

Then, once back at Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone took the same path, sending Costa to do some intense physical work by himself to shed a few pounds after a boozy summer break and causing Costa to throw a massive strop.

Paul Pogba

During Pogba’s first stint at Manchester United, it was clear that his agent Mino Raiola and his manager Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t see eye to eye.

The feud resulted first in Pogba training alone for a week, of which he said: “They told me to go in the gym. I said: ‘I’m not an athlete, I’m a footballer.'”

Eventually, Pogba was allowed to leave for Juventus for free.

After four seasons in Turin, United paid almost £90million to bring the French midfielder back. Most fans probably now wish the club had stuck with Fergie’s initial instincts.

Paul Pogba's Manchester United debut

READ: The 10 players Man Utd let leave alongside Paul Pogba in 2012

Cristiano Ronaldo

Right, this is a bit of a different case. Ronaldo, ever the model pro, was never likely to be sent away from his team-mates. But during his first stint at Manchester United, he would go into self-imposed exile.

Mick Clegg, the club’s strength and power coach, told the BBC: “At Carrington [United’s training ground], there was a hill at the back, just away from the training ground, and he used to go behind the hill and do his training on his own.

“And I asked him about that one time, he said, ‘Well, you know, there is nobody there so I don’t have to worry if I do a skill wrong or anything, I can practice it and nobody’s watching me.'”

Well, it worked, didn’t it?

Mason Greenwood

Another United player to train alone, it was forced upon Greenwood rather than a choice.

After he and Phil Foden broke Covid protocols on England duty in Iceland by inviting two women back to the team hotel, Greenwood was sent home by Gareth Southgate and then trained alone upon his return to the North West.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Manchester United are becoming a bit of a recurring theme here.

Mkhitaryan was not a successful signing at all and just four months after arriving from Borussia Dortmund found himself doing shuttle runs at Carrington by himself, one of Jose Mourinho’s many sacrificial lambs.

Antonio Cassano

In October 2006, Real Madrid manager Fabio Capello ordered Cassano to go and warm up at the start of the second half of a game against Gimnastic. Capello then left him running up and down for the whole 45 minutes.

Cassano was understandably peeved and after the game said Capello was “faker than Monopoly money.”

Bad idea. And, well, you know what happened next…

READ: A celebration of Antonio Cassano’s sex-&-croissants-fuelled Real Madrid career

Papiss Cisse

Not so much a transgressor as a conscientious objector.

When Newcastle revealed a predatory payday loan company as their title sponsor in 2013, striker Cisse was put in a tough situation, the company’s practices clashing with his Muslim faith.

Cisse refused to wear the shirt with the sponsor on it, so well-known arbiter of morality Alan Pardew decided to send him to train alone, at the behest, we imagine, of a certain pint-sinking purveyor of tracksuits.

Virgil van Dijk

Even the most serious of players occasionally fall foul of the code of conduct. Like Suarez and Maitland-Niles, Van Dijk wanted out – in his case of his contract with Southampton to go to Liverpool in the summer of 2017.

Southampton stood firm initially, boss Mauricio Pellegrino saying: “The boy said that he is not available to play because he wants to leave. I had to say: ‘If you don’t want to be involved because you don’t feel OK then you have to train alone until this period of time is over.’”

Van Dijk was brought back into the team but eventually got his way, moving to Merseyside for £75million the following January.

It might have been controversial, but the Dutchman’s efforts to move to Anfield have certainly paid off.


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