Liam Morgan

Football’s rap sheet makes for grim reading. Over the years, players have been banned for pushing a referee, kung-fu kicking a supporter and for racism, amid all the acts of violent conduct often found throughout all levels of the beautiful game.

As the number of unsavoury incidents we see in sports such as football grows, the likelihood that the usual suspects are involved gets ever greater.

This theory extends into the wider sporting world. A top executive is arrested? They must have ties to FIFA. Someone else has been done for match-fixing? They must be a cricketer or a tennis player. Doping? Yep, that’ll be Russia.

United States women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo is one such sportsperson who has never quite been able to rid herself of the repeat offender tag. After all, her name has become synonymous with controversy during her time between the sticks.

Her career, while sparkling with trophies, records and personal achievements, is also littered with scandals, indiscipline and accusations, both on and off the field.

Solo’s latest misdemeanour - labelling Sweden’s team as a “bunch of cowards” during the Olympic football tournament at Rio 2016 - is likely to prove the most costly. U.S Soccer announced on Thursday (August 25) that they had banished the 35-year-old into a six-month exile, which rules her out of representing her country until February 2017 at the earliest.

During that time, if the 2016 to 2017 fixture list for the USWNT, as they are called in the States, is anything to go by, she could miss as many as 14 matches. Retirement is more likely than seeing her in an American shirt again.

U.S Soccer also revealed they had terminated her contract, but, by all accounts, she will be clear to return early next year should the Federation declare her eligible for selection.

But after Thursday’s damning verdict, why would she ever want to?

United States goalkeeper Hope Solo has been hit with a six-month suspension for calling Sweden's team a bunch of cowards ©Getty Images
United States goalkeeper Hope Solo has been hit with a six-month suspension for calling Sweden's team a bunch of cowards ©Getty Images

Solo is not perfect - not by a long stretch - and the comments she made in the Brazilian city have no place in football. Nor in any sport, for that matter. There’s no doubt what she said was wrong and she will regret ever speaking to that reporter following her side’s shock defeat on penalties to the European nation - a team which was only competing in Rio because politics prevented Britain from fielding a side.

Yet to ban her for six months seems excessive at best, particularly compared to others in her sport who have done far worse but have got away with far more lenient sentences.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez is the prime example. The FC Barcelona star has undoubted talent and a natural ability for goalscoring which few in the world can rival but he will perhaps be remembered for what he has done with his mouth rather than his feet when he eventually hangs up his boots.

In 2010, while playing for Dutch team Ajax, he bit PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal, which earned him a seven-match ban. A year later, Suarez was again the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons, using racist language in an altercation with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra when he was at Liverpool. The Football Association came down hard and suspended him for 10 games.

More was to come for Suarez. He was ordered to watch another 10 matches from the stands for another biting incident - this time on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic - in 2013, before he quite unbelievably chomped on a third opponent at the 2014 World Cup, with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini the victim.

The final act in the Suarez biting saga saw him banned from all footballing activity for four months, two less than was given to Solo, whose previous track record is not great but doesn’t come close to that of the Uruguayan.

Luis Suarez was banned for four months for a third biting offence in 2014 ©Getty Images
Luis Suarez was banned for four months for a third biting offence in 2014 ©Getty Images

Casting the net further back in time, Paolo Di Canio, who was then playing for Sheffield Wednesday, pushed over referee Paul Alcock - who tumbled to the ground in comic fashion, it must be said - in an encounter with Arsenal and was sanctioned with an 11-game ban.

Eleven games for physically assaulting an official, a complete no-no in all walks of life, while Solo could get 14 for what was little more than an over exuberant criticism of an opposing team’s tactics. Fair? 

The fact that the matches the 35-year-old would miss could feasibly be friendlies does not, in my eyes, detract from the harshness of the punishment - her absence will still create a storm and there will be no escaping it for the powers-that-be.

Solo’s suspension is also only three months less than Manchester United legend Eric Cantona received when he kung-fu kicked a Crystal Palace supporter - a man by the name of Matthew Simmonds - during a Premier League match at Selhurst Park in 1995. The Frenchman, who remains an icon with the club’s supporters to this day, faced criminal charges as a result of the attack but avoided a custodial sentence.

Like Cantona, Solo is no stranger to the legal system. The American currently has accusations of domestic violence looming over her following claims she assaulted half-sister Teresa Obert and one of her nephews in a drunken-fuelled rage in 2014. She has been trying to avoid trial but may still have to face the music in court.

It is partly the alleged incident two years ago, coupled with serving a 30-day ban in January of last year after she was in the passenger seat when husband Jerramy Stevens was charged with driving under the influence during a USWNT camp in California, that has prompted U.S Soccer to act.

Solo might even be the public scapegoat U.S Soccer want following the American team's failure to progress beyond the last eight, thus meekly giving up the defence of an Olympic crown they have held since Athens 2004. 

For the governing body, led by FIFA Council member Sunil Gulati, the “bunch of cowards” quote was the last straw.

Solo has endured a fractious relationship with U.S Soccer throughout her career, which has yielded 202 appearances for her country, but has undoubtedly always performed to the best of abilities when pulling on the national shirt. She has spoken in the past about how much it means to her to represent the US on the international stage and she admitted she had been “saddened” by the organisation’s decision.

Former Manchester United star Eric Cantona faced criminal charges after kung-fu kicking a fan in 1995 ©Getty Images
Former Manchester United star Eric Cantona faced criminal charges after kung-fu kicking a fan in 1995 ©Getty Images

It seems as though she has been made a pariah by U.S Soccer following an ongoing row over equal pay, which prompted the women’s side to threaten to boycott the Olympics in Rio. Solo was one of the leading voices in the campaign to ensure they were remunerated at the same level as their male counterparts, who are much less successful but take home a much greater slice of the pie.

The goalkeeper, along with several of her team-mates, has seen what she feels to be an injustice. She feels a wrong needs to be corrected. Their efforts, which came at a time when the debate about equal pay for men and women was at the top of the sporting agenda, did not go unnoticed.

While talk of a strike proved to be premature, the damage had seemingly been done. The bond between U.S Soccer and their women’s team, the crown jewel of football in America, was precariously close to being severed completely.

The accusations of domestic abuse, which still follow Solo around like a dark, menacing cloud, have also, unquestionably, played their part. She has every right to feel an injustice here, too - the allegations that she was more culprit than victim remain exactly that at this stage.

Solo already has the backing of the USWNT Players Association, who called the six-month suspension "excessive, unprecedented, and a violation of Ms. Solo's First Amendment Rights" - a heavy sanction met with a weightier response.

At its most basic, U.S Soccer’s decision could simply be put down to an excuse to get rid of Solo, with the next major tournament - the Women’s World Cup - still three years away.

By that point, she would be 38. They would have plenty of time to find a suitable replacement. Are U.S Soccer forcing their most capped and most decorated player out the exit door in acrimonious fashion, without the credit her illustrious career deserves?

If so, they are no better than what they make Solo out to be.