Skip to Content

How Many Red Cards Does Lionel Messi Have? 

Over his stellar career, Lionel Messi has gained a reputation as one of Soccer’s greatest strikers. Some commentators and fans regard him as the best player ever ― even ahead of his nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo and eternal legend Pele.

Messi’s role for his club and country in crucial matches over the last 15+ years has earned him plenty of prestigious awards and silverware. Yet, his seemingly faultless career has had its share of incidents too. The times when he received a red card and was sent off the field were definitely occasions to forget for the Argentine. 

Messi’s playing style is not naturally aggressive or dangerous. Nonetheless, he is a passionate and ambitious player who can get emotional in the heat of battle and has, on rare occasions, seen red. Furthermore, some of the red cards he has received were viewed as harsh. 

Lionel Messi’s Red Cards

In Messi’s professional career, he has played in 3 different decades at the highest level of professional soccer and has a mere 3 red cards to show for it. In other words, he has averaged one red card per decade.

Here is the complete list: 

Date Messi’s Team Opposing Team Competition
August 17th, 2005 Argentina – Hungary, International Friendly
July 6th, 2019 Argentina – Chile, Copa América
January 17th, 2021 Barcelona – Athletic Bilbao, Supercopa de España

A peculiar fact is that each of Lionel Messi’s red cards came in a different decade. In addition, every incident consisted of a straight red card ― Messi has never received two yellow cards in the same game. Now we will review each red card more closely. 

Messi’s Red Cards for Argentina 

  • The 1st Red Card 

Although he has not seen red many times, his first order to leave the field came very early on in his international career. In fact, it happened during his very first senior-level appearance. Owing to his brilliant performances at the under-20 level, Argentina’s then-manager decided to test the 18-year-old prodigy in a friendly match against Hungary. 

It was August 17th, 2005, and Messi was brought on as a substitute in the 64th minute of the game. After receiving the ball, he made a threatening run towards the opposition’s goal,

whereupon a Hungarian defender started pulling him back by his shirt. This continued for several strides until Messi lost patience, lashed out, and struck his opponent’s face. 

With the Hungarian rolling on the grass in pain, the referee deemed Messi to be the aggressor and showed him the red card. Fans have since lamented this decision and argued that Messi was unfairly punished. 

So, to summarize: he stepped onto the pitch in the 64th minute and marched promptly off in the 66th. Not exactly the promising international debut that his nation was hoping for. Luckily for them, it would be nearly 14 years until he was sent off in an Argentinian shirt again. 

  • The 2nd Red Card 

This took place in a much more important game. Argentina was playing against Chile in the bronze medal match at the 2019 Copa América championship. By this point, Messi was already a seasoned veteran and probably the most famous player in the world. 

In the 37th minute of the play-off match, Argentina had a 2-0 lead over Chile. Messi was chasing down a ball in the Chilean half and collided with defender Gary Medel. After the ball went out of bounds, the Argentine and Chilean locked horns and aggressively shoved each other a few times. 

After separating the pair, the referee handed both men a red card. Medel’s anger was understandable since Lionel Messi did start the altercation with a little push. However, the clash was hardly violent, so the decision to give both players a red card seemed a little harsh. 

Luckily for Messi, his team managed to hold on for a 2-1 victory and claim the bronze. 

Messi’s Red Card for Barcelona 

Lionel Messi’s sole red card in club soccer (so far) came during his final season at Barcelona in yet another high-profile match. Barcelona were contesting the 2021 Supercopa de España final against Athletic Bilbao. 

In the last minutes of extra time, a frustrated Barcelona trailed 3-2 and was on the verge of losing the match. Messi passed the ball to try and build a desperate last attack but was obstructed by Bilbao’s Asier Villalibre as he ran forward. Out of pure frustration, he struck his opponent on the back of the head and sent him crashing down. 

After a VAR check, the official pulled out his red card and sent Messi off the field. Few doubted that Messi deserved a red card for his display of violence on this occasion, though such desperation in extra time is understandable. 

Considering he was at FC Barcelona from his childhood until 2021, it is astounding that he only picked up a single red card along the way.

How Many Yellow Cards Does Messi Have? 

Lionel Messi’s red card tally has always been scarce, but his collection of yellow cards is a slightly different matter. He has received 104 yellow cards in total: 96 during club competitions and 8 while representing Argentina. 

You must, however, take into account the large number of games he has played. With over 800 club games and 150 international games under his belt, it is clear that he avoids receiving any cards in most matches, let alone a red. 

How Disciplined Is Messi Compared to His Rivals?

The statistics of some of Messi’s fellow elite strikers make you realize just how disciplined he is. 

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 14 red cards 
  • Cristiano Ronaldo: 11 red cards 
  • Neymar: 11 red cards 

I listed the 15 players with the most red cards in this post.

Are There More Red Cards in Store for Messi? 

As Lionel Messi enters the final years of his career, his chances to make history will slowly decline. He is no doubt eager to cement his legacy as the greatest soccer player ever, so this may impact his ability to control his emotions. Hence, there is a possibility that he might lose his temper and be sent off in future games. 

Messi has largely avoided red cards due to his phenomenal movement ― he skips effortlessly past most players and has been the target of fouls rather than the perpetrator. As he gets older, his speed and agility will decrease which may cause him to commit more fouls of his own. 

While nobody can predict how Messi’s discipline will be in the coming seasons, based on his statistics so far, any future red cards will be few and far between.