Everyone loses their temper once in a while, and in competitive sports, the will to win can bring out the best and the worst in players. But for some players, being the bad boy of their team, even their entire league, becomes an obsession.
Being sent off can have a crippling effect on a team’s ability to win, aside from the numerical advantages of playing a team with only 10 men, the player being sent off usually gets banned for at least 1 to 3 games in the future too, which can disrupt a squad badly.
With a winning mentality often comes a desire to dominate, and some of the players on our list are not only ruthless on the pitch, many are also serial winners. Let’s go through our top 15 and see who is on the naughty list.
15. Jermaine Jones – 13 Red Cards
USA international Jermaine Jones is no stranger to disciplinary issues, having been sent off 13 times in his career. A 20-year career that took in no fewer than 10 clubs, Jones was a combative midfielder that accrued an impressive 134 yellow cards as well as his 13 red cards.
A fan favorite due to his combative streak, Jones had a solid career, and perhaps having to move clubs so often meant he often got carded due to his need to stamp his authority on his new teams.
14. Ricardo Quaresma – 14 Red Cards
Portuguese winger Quaresma played the majority of his career on the right-wing of some of the best teams in Europe. Which makes his 14 red cards all the more impressive, given that his role was as a creative winger.
A position more accustomed to being fouled rather than fouling others, Quaresma should, and did, spend his time flying forwards with the ball to create chances.
So 14 red cards is quite a feat, but given that he was often inconsistent, with the occasional attitude and disciplinary issues, we can see why Ricardo Quaresma makes our list.
13. Gary Medel – 14 Red Cards
Defensive midfield is a battleground, and the role tends to lean towards combative players that enjoy a tackle and look to break up play. The downside to this is that red and yellow cards are handed out at a higher rate.
Gary Medel, the tough Chilean international was in this mold, and having played for teams such as Boca Juniors, Sevilla, Inter Milan, and Besiktas, it is little wonder the player has amassed a tidy 126 yellow and 14 red cards so far in his career.
12. Alberto Lopo – 15 Red Cards
Center-back is another area where cards are to be expected, tackles can go flying in, slow defenders can end up overreaching and take down their opponent.
Spanish defender Alberto Lopo certainly knew how to stop an attacker from getting past: with 166 yellow cards, and 15 red, he was one of the most carded players in every season he played.
At one point in the 2003 season, Lopo was carded 13 times in 23 games, stats that border on open warfare. A deserved addition to our list, and probably a relief to strikers in La Liga that Lopo has now retired.
11. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 15 Red Cards
A black belt in taekwondo wrapped around a 1.95m frame, with a confidence bordering on the arrogant, and a competitive streak that has seen him collect 15 red cards, we welcome Zlatan to our list.
A mean streak runs right through Zlatan when he is on the field, and he is just as happy fighting his own teammates as he is the opposition. But with a skill and a will to win that has made him loved by fans, it is hard not to like the Swedish legend.
Physically and psychologically bullying teams, kicking and stamping like an enraged bull, 141 yellow cards and 15 red seem a small price to pay for the career and trophies he has so far, even if Zlatan does cross the line at times.
To have this many red cards while playing as a striker is incredible, many strikers have gone their entire careers without picking up a single red card.
10. Deividas Semberas – 15 Red Cards
With a career based mostly in Russia, Semberas, a Lithuanian international, was well versed in the dark arts of the defensive foul. And having played for both Moscow giants, Dinamo and CSKA, his switching allegiance would have made him a prime target for retribution.
Semberas however, was more than happy to give as good as he took and accrued a handsome 144 yellow and 15 red cards from his defensive midfield and central defender positions.
With 19 league and cup wins to his name, including a 2005 EUFA Cup, Semberas was a solid and combative team player that willingly put himself in the firing line for the good of his team.
He also put his foot, head, and anything else he could find to hand into the firing line in order to stop players from getting past, which may explain his disciplinary record.
9. Patrick Vieira – 15 Red Cards
Mercurial and elegant on the ball, the French legend that is Patrick Vieira played at the highest levels of the game for years.
With more league titles than you can shake a stick at, and an international record second to none, he was rightly regarded as one of the best players on the planet.
Vieira also had a nasty streak that bordered on rashness, a competitive desire that bordered on the obsessive, and a crunching tackle that put the fear of God into his opponents.
With an eye-watering 158 yellow cards and 15 red cards, the French midfielder powered through teams and players who stood in his way.
A famous adversary of the equally ruthless Roy Keane, Vieira combined a fabulous talent with a controlled violence that took him to the top of the world game. It could be argued that his disciplinary record held him back, given the number of suspensions he received, but it is unlikely he would have been as successful as a player.
Every card was well earned and given his trophy cabinet, it’s hard to argue with the methods used by Patrick Vieira. Arsenal and France were the better for it, but teams rarely relished going up against him.
8. Philippe Mexes – 16 Red Cards
Philippe Mexes was once regarded as the golden boy of French soccer, bursting onto the scene at just 18 years of age. Starting his career at Auxerre before a move to Italian giants Roma, Mexes eventually ended his career at AC Milan.
Regarded as one of the best center-backs that France has produced in years, Mexes was a key player for his teams, a cultured and intelligent defender. Like many players on our list, Mexes also had a temper, and a desire to win at all costs.
The cost of his determination was for the referees to often issue him with a card, and a haul of 16 red cards over his career indicates just how determined he was.
Mexes also had an eye for goal, with some spectacular goals to his name over his 16-year career, but he will be most fondly remembered as a tough-tackling enforcer.
7. Gonzalo Rodriguez – 17 Red Cards
A quality defender for Villareal and Fiorentina, Gonzalo Rodriguez, a tough and menacing Argentine, is a player that referees always had a wary eye on.
Rodriguez actually received fewer yellow cards than many other players on our list, but with 17 red cards to his name, once he committed a foul, he committed to it.
One of the first names on the teamsheet, Rodriguez excelled at stopping play, defensively sound, and with a real edge to his game, he played in mid-table teams that were unlikely to win silverware.
Not the tallest defender around, he made up for that by going into tackles as if his life depended on it, and the stats support that while he rarely got it wrong enough to pick up a yellow card, when he did mistime a tackle, the walk of shame to the dressing room was sure to follow.
6. Gerardo Torrado – 17 Red Cards
Another defensive midfielder, a role that seems to attract a particular type of player to its ranks. Gerardo Torrado, a Mexican journeyman midfielder playing in both Spain and his native Mexico makes our list with ease.
Torrado boasts a superb international record, with 146 caps for his country, with playing spells for Sevilla and Tenerife in Spain, and Cruz Azul in Mexico City, he had a reputation as a no-nonsense ball winner that enjoyed the rougher aspects of the game.
An alarming 197 yellow cards accompany his 17 red cards, which makes us wonder how many more career games he would have played had he not been so ill-disciplined on the field.
Torrado certainly had a successful career and was considered a valued, albeit robust, team member for Cruz Azul, where he quickly became integral to the squad.
5. Fernando Amorebieta – 17 Red Cards
Venezuelan center-back Amorebieta was a physically imposing defender with a knack for getting himself booked. Over a 392 game career, he managed 140 yellow cards and a consistent 17 red cards in a 14-year career.
With a Basque heritage that qualified him to play for Athletic Bilbao, Amorebieta eventually moved to England, and to Fulham, where he quickly settled into his role as commanding defender.
Fernando soon started racking up the cards as his style of play was well suited to the physicality of the British game, and became a fan, if not referee, favorite while at the London club.
4. Rafael Marquez – 18 Red Cards
A superb player with a wonderful trophy record, Rafael Marquez had an illustrious career with Barcelona and Monaco, as well as an international career amassing 147 caps.
Ruthless in the tackle, Marquez was a cultured and talented player, although his career was blighted by recklessness on the field. Both domestically and internationally, he consistently put his teammates under pressure by being sent off or suspended for key games.
It is a testament to just how good a player he was that despite this he is still regarded as one of the finest Mexican players of all time.
3. Felipe Melo – 18 Red Cards
If your nicknames are “Pitbull” and “Gladiator”, you are unlikely to be the quiet type, and Felipe Melo, the industrious, tenacious Brazilian defensive midfielder was certainly not one to walk away from the fight.
Boasting a career spanning clubs such as Juventus, Fiorentina, and Galatasaray, Melo built a reputation for crunching tackles, hard work, and being a ball-winner with few peers.
Winning the ball comes at a cost though, and Melo racked up a bone-jarring 192 yellow cards and 18 red cards. Pitbulls are known for their tenacity and ferocity, and Melo lived up to his nickname, and then some.
2. Matteo Contini – 21 Red Cards
Perennial wanderer Matteo Contini, the Italian defender with a penchant for moving around Italy from club to club is a worthy second place for our list.
Despite not playing for a European powerhouse, Contini did have a solid career at clubs like Napoli, Bari, and Zaragoza to name but a few of his 18 clubs. One thing that Matteo did excel at was collecting cards.
An impressive 165 yellow and a staggering 21 red cards mark a career that typified the Italian defenders’ tough-tackling, no-nonsense style.
Perhaps not the most elegant Italian defender, but with a cards haul such as this, Contini displayed a willingness to get stuck in for almost 18 years that is hard to beat.
1. Sergio Ramos – 27 Red Cards
A truly special player at number one, Sergio Ramos comfortably beats every other player hands down for the number of career red cards. A divisive yet excellent player, Ramos has made a living out of driving opponents and fans alike absolutely insane.
Ramos is not only the most carded player ever in every major European league, let alone La Liga, he also has more cards than anyone else in the history of the Champions League. And he has the record for the most cards for his national team too.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, as Ramos is easily one of the best defenders ever to play soccer. He is excellent at winning the ball, his distribution is excellent, he has an eye for goal, and he is a leader unsurpassed in his generation of players.
In all the time he was at Madrid, he never missed the Clasico (Real Madrid vs Barcelona), playing in each Clasico in his 16 years at the club.
Like some of the other players on the list, Ramos would have played many more games had his disciplinary record been better, and it is hard for it to have been any worse, but losing the worst parts of Sergio Ramos’ psyche would have certainly lessened him as a player.
He may be the dirtiest player ever to play the game, but he is also one of the greatest.