Football's Most Red-Carded Players: A Comprehensive List Up to 2024

Updated: 700 Football

Get ready to delve into the infamous tales of football's most red-carded players up until 2023. From Sergio Ramos to Cyril Rool, we shed light on the careers and on-pitch antics of these remarkable players, and recount memorable expulsion moments.

Football's Most Red-Carded Players: A Comprehensive List Up to 2024
In this article: The Top 10
Dan Tracey Data Scientist and Football Editor

Writer, analyst, podcaster, Spurs fan. Three out of four is not bad. If there is a data angle, I will find it.

Ever wondered which footballer has amassed the most red cards up until 2023? This journey unravels football's most indisciplined culprits across Europe including the Premier League but with the majority of the action taking place in La Liga and Ligue 1

We'll walk through the illustrious careers of players such as Sergio Ramos, who has amassed an eye-watering number of expulsions, highlighting the key moments that have led these players to top the red card league table. This deep dive into football's bad boys reveals fascinating insights into the roles and players most likely to see red and the leagues they play in.

Revealing Football's Most Red-Carded Players

Red Alert! 🟥⚽ Who are the most red-carded football players up until 2024? Our latest article unveils football's red card magnets.

Football Bad Boys

Those who watched football in its bygone era tend to look at today’s game through rather misty eyes and the main reason is that tackles are far less robust than they used to be. For better or worse, referees are a lot quicker to blow their whistle and bones are not as crunched with such regularity.

However, that does not mean the football bad boy has been eradicated for good and although the hardmen of the game have got softer, they are not necessarily somebody you would want to run into or try and run past.

For some players, cards are not just for Christmas, they are a constant throughout their career and for someone such as Sergio Ramos, the Spanish defensive legend has managed to earn quite a collection.


At the time of writing, the former Real Madrid star who is now back at boyhood club Sevilla has earned no less than 29 expulsions. An eye-watering amount it must be said but a small reason of what makes Ramos the player who is or perhaps was.

Because although Ramos is winding down his career these days, he is still a fearsome sight on the field of play and with his 29th sending off coming back in November 2023, the FIFA World Cup winner is still more than capable of putting it about when he wants to.

29 and counting and you would not be surprised if that figure increases to 30 by the time he finally does hang up his boots and whenever that retirement is announced, opposition players will be breathing a sigh of relief.

Of course, red cards are not a unique act for the former Galactico and although the now 37-year-old has set the gold or should that be red standard when it comes to being given their marching orders, he are the rest of European football’s men on the naughty step: 

Player Red Cards
Sergio Ramos 29
Cyril Rool 24
Alexis Ruano Delgado 22
Paolo Montero 21
Rafael Marquez 21
Felipe Melo 20
Matteo Contini 20
Fernando Amorebieta 19
Gary Medel 18
Pablo Alfaro 18
Share

Sergio Ramos at the top and with the Sevilla defender still active, there is every possibility he will extend the gap over Cyril Rool. Rool was the previous warrior on the field with no less than 27 red cards during his lengthy career and French referees could finally relax when he retired in 2010. 

Rool’s 24 is two more than Alexis Ruano Delgado’s tally of 22 and the hard-hitting defender was known to be something of a hothead – a statement that Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic will easily attest to.

Mandzukic was unfortunate enough to feel the full force of Delgado’s fist and when this haymaker was delivered, a red card was unsurprisingly brandished just seconds after. A red card that is just one of his infamous 22.

Top 10 Players Red Carded

Here are the top 10 players to have received the most red cards before 2024 in football

1. Sergio Ramos (29 Red Cards): 

A tough-tackling defender, Ramos is known for his tenacious playing style and often finds himself on the wrong side of the refereeing decisions. His most notorious red card came in a closely fought El Clásico in 2014, when several reckless tackles resulted in a contentious second yellow and ensuing expulsion.

2. Cyril Rool (24 Red Cards): 

Rool's aggression was a key part of his playing style, leading him to accumulate 24 career red cards. The Frenchman famously saw red in a match against Monaco in 2003 for an obscene gesture towards the opponent's bench.

3. Alexis Ruano Delgado (22 Red Cards): 

A no-nonsense defender, Delgado's career was marked with 22 dismissals. His most infamous red came when he swung at Mario Mandzukic during an Atletico Madrid match, earning himself an instated dismissal.

4. Paolo Montero (21 Red Cards):

Di Allsport UK / Getty Images - Paolo Montero, su facebook.com, Juventus - Archivio Storico by Gobbo Maltese, 22 giugno 2017., Pubblico dominio, https://it.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6446785

Montero's solid defending often went over the line. However, his most notorious dismissal was when he headbutted an opponent while playing a match for Juventus in the Serie A - his second red in consecutive games.

5. Rafael Marquez (21 Red Cards):

Marquez was known for his composed play but occasionally let his temper slip. Once in a Champions League match for Barcelona, he received a straight red for a high boot to an opponent’s chest.

6. Felipe Melo (20 Red Cards):

The tenacious midfielder enjoyed a bustling career, earning 20 expulsions. His most well-remembered ejection came during a fiery encounter with Barcelona, where a studs-up tackle led to an early bath.

7. Matteo Contini (20 Red Cards):

By Ago76 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25052949

Not known for holding back, Contini has 20 career red cards. His most hard-hitting expulsion was for a two-footed tackle on an opponent during a Serie A clash.

8. Fernando Amorebieta (19 Red Cards):

Despite his physical approach, Amorebieta reserved his most aggressive actions for derby clashes, earning a memorable red card during an intense Basque derby.

9. Gary Medel (18 Red Cards):

Known as "Pitbull," Medel’s aggressive style resulted in 18 dismissals. His most memorable sending off was during the 2011 Copa America, after getting into a confrontation with Lionel Messi.

10. Pablo Alfaro (18 Red Cards):

Photo: Horacio Seguí

Alfaro was an intimidating figure in defence, and his combative play led to 18 red cards. One of his most infamous dismissals was in 2003 when a reckless elbow swing saw him receive an early marching orders.

Premier League Card Records

To provide some further context we can also look at the Premier League and those players who have been sent for an early bath more often than the others: 

Player Red Cards
Richard Dunne 8
Duncan Ferguson 8
Patrick Vieira 8
Lee Cattermole 7
Vinnie Jones 7
Roy Keane 7
Alan Smith 7
Gareth Barry 6
Joey Barton 6
Luís Boa Morte 6
Share

By Michael Kranewitter - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28989159

The Premier League’s naughtiest boy award is shared by three players and with Richard Dunne, Duncan Ferguson and Patrick Vieria all amassing eight red cards in the competition, they have a certain distinction connected to their careers.

While there are some notable hardmen that also find themselves in the Premier League’s top 10 when it comes to red cards. Lee Cattermole was never afraid to throw it about in the middle of the park and the same can certainly be said for both Vinnie Jones and Roy Keane.

The Premier League's Most Ejected Players & Positions

⚽🟥 Meet the Premier League's naughtiest boys: Richard Dunne, Duncan Ferguson & Patrick Vieira jointly hold the record with 8 reds each! 👏

Jones and Keane would marshal centre midfield with an iron fist and sometimes they would end up dishing those same fists out to opposition players. The role of the defensive midfielder may have softened in the past few years but it is still more than capable of earning a red card. 

Now that we have an idea of those players who have a fractious relationship with the officials, we can now begin our deep-dive into which positions are collecting red cards and we can do so by looking at each of the 379 sending offs across Europe’s biggest five leagues (2022/23 season).


Where Were the Red Cards Given?

When collecting the red card data from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and La Liga, those players involved will also have a position attributed to them and as the game has evolved in terms of positional play, it is not necessarily as simple as labelling defender, midfielder, attacker.

Due to the way formations are shaped in 2023, some players can be considered as hybrid roles and adept to playing defence or midfield or cutting in from the wing to then join the attack. Whichever the position or positions, this is what the data tells us across Europe: 

Pos Count % Split
DF 178 46.97%
MF 77 20.32%
FW 33 8.71%
FW,MF 33 8.71%
DF,MF 17 4.49%
MF,FW 16 4.22%
MF,DF 13 3.43%
GK 9 2.37%
DF,FW 3 0.79%
Total 379 100.00%
Share

Unsurprisingly it is defenders who assume the position as the dirtiest position on the field. Of the 379 red cards that were shown across Europe’s top five (or T5 as labelled), 178 of them were from the backline. 

This means 46.97% of all those red cards were courtesy of a player who is considered an out and out defender. No dual roles or hybrid positions, simply players who will do absolutely everything required to stop a chance on goal.

Red Card Report: Unveiling Football's Dirtiest Position

🟥🏃‍♂️ Defenders lead the 'red race' in Europe's top 5 leagues! Almost 50% of the 379 red cards in the 2022/23 season were shown to the backline 🛑⚽️. Midfielders secured one in five ejections, while our sharpshooting forwards weren't immune, adding 33 early exits to the tally!

178 out of 379 and more than double than that of those players who are solely classed as midfielders. The middle of the park was responsible for 77 T5 red cards during the 2022/23 season – a figure that is just over one in five of our data sample.

77 out of 379 and more than double than those who are tasked with leading the line. However, just because you are at the sharper end of the pitch, does not make you immune to being sent off either and 33 forwards also earned early marching orders during the 2022/23 campaign.

Interestingly, wide forwards also have some apologising to do when it comes to being sent off. 33 out and out forwards were dismissed, the same number of their wing-based cohorts were also responsible for making their team be a man light on the field of play. 

While if you pivot to the opposite end, nine goalkeepers also had to pass their gloves on to a teammate. Whether that be for an out of the box handball or a mistimed attempt to grab the ball, 2.75% of red cards were courtesy of the player between the sticks.

Red Cards By European League

If that is a one-season sample across Europe that mops up 379 red cards, we can also see the split of each of these five European leagues involved:

League 2022/23 Split %
La Liga 139 36.68%
Ligue 1 99 26.12%
Serie A 68 17.94%
Bundesliga 43 11.35%
Premier League 30 7.92%
Total 379 100.00%
Share

While if you ever wanted proof that they do things stronger on the continent, you only have to look at the number of Premier League red cards in 2022/23. Of the 379 awarded, only 30 or 7.92% were on English soil.

As always, you need a set of comparative figures to really compound how strict referees are abroad and when you see that Spain’s La Liga had a incredible 139 red cards during the 2022/23 season – that only equates for 36.68% of the sample.

When looking at Europe’s T5 leagues, more than one in three red cards were in Spain last season. 109 more than the Premier League and 40 more than the second strictest league in the sample, as Ligue 1 chipped in with 99 of their own.

Just over one in four red cards were shown across the English Channel and this would mean Ligue 1 ranked higher than both Serie A (68) and the Bundesliga (43) that were ranked third and fourth respectively,

Of course, one season in isolation can tell a far different story than five grouped together and therefore, we can now look at the same leagues between the 2018/19 and 2022/23 campaigns and see if there are any patterns to be found: 

League 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 Average
La Liga 79 89 75 92 139 94.8
Ligue 1 100 70 102 103 99 94.8
Serie A 90 102 69 93 68 84.4
Premier League 47 45 48 43 30 42.6
Bundesliga 43 55 33 24 43 39.6
Share

Across the past five completed seasons, both La Liga and Ligue 1 have amassed an average of 94.8 red cards per campaign. While it must be noted that if Spanish referees did not go on the warpath during 2022/23, their French counterparts would be clear at the top.

This means it will be rather interesting to see if this is the beginning of a new trend within Spanish football or a simple outlier compared to the previous four seasons, when 92 served as the highest watermark.

At the same time, it does seem as if Ligue 1 breeds the toughest players across Europe’s major leagues. In four of their last five seasons, 99 or more red cards have been shown – a drop off 70 during the 2019/20 season but you must also account for the season being curtailed.

Red Alert: Ligue 1's High-Temperature Showdowns Making It Europe's Toughest League!

🔴 Europe's toughest league? Ligue 1 says hello! In 4 of the last 5 seasons, there were 99+ red cards shown, dropping to 70 in the 2019/20 season. But, let’s not forget it was cut short! Tough tackles and high tempers, welcome to French football! 🇫🇷⚽

Unlike the other four competitions in the table above, there was nothing akin to a ‘Project Restart’ when COVID-19 had a vice like grip on the world and the French football authorities decided to curtail their season early.

Had the season played out to a completion, there is every chance that 100 red cards or more would have been awarded. We will never know if that is the case but we do have an idea that such a feat is likely.

However, if Ligue 1 records 100 or more red cards by the end of 2023/24 season, their players will have only ramped up their fouling strategy further and with the league being reduced to 18 teams, it is the Bundesliga that will now act as its new comparative benchmark.

With the Bundesliga consistently operating with 18 teams, it means there are 74 less matches being played when compared to the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and previously Ligue 1 and therefore, a simple by the numbers comparison will be unfair on the top tier of German football.

Red Cards per Game per League

To level the playing field, we can also look at the average number of red cards per game across the past five seasons:

League 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 Average
Ligue 1 0.26 0.25 0.27 0.27 0.26 0.26
La Liga 0.21 0.23 0.20 0.24 0.37 0.25
Serie A 0.24 0.27 0.18 0.24 0.18 0.22
Bundesliga 0.14 0.18 0.11 0.08 0.14 0.13
Premier League 0.12 0.12 0.13 0.11 0.08 0.11
Share

If we look at the red card data from an average perspective, it is Ligue 1 that just squeezes out La Liga. Just over one in four French top tier matches saw a red card, exactly that ratio was recorded in Spain.

Caught in the middle of the pack was Serie A with 0.22 red cards per matches – equal to just over one every five and a figure that was exactly double that of the Premier League. 0.11 per game in England, 0.13 for their German counterparts in the Bundesliga.

Premier League's Surprise Show of Leniency: Less Red in Action? 🟥🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿⚽

⚽ The Premier League may be known for its high stakes and tough tackles, but the numbers don't lie! With averages in play, it's still viewed as the most lenient league when it comes to red cards. 😮

Even when applying the leveller of average red cards per game, the Premier League is still viewed as the most lenient of the T5 and now we are going to focus on where exactly those red cards are coming from in terms of position.

Premier League Red Cards by Position

By looking at the last five complete seasons of the Premier League, we can build a picture of those positions that are mopping up the reds and the list of honours looks as follows: 

Pos Count % Split
DF 104 48.83%
MF 46 21.60%
FW 26 12.21%
FW,MF 12 5.63%
DF,MF 7 3.29%
MF,FW 7 3.29%
MF,DF 5 2.35%
GK 5 2.35%
DF,FW 1 0.47%
Total 213 100.00%
Share

Whereas before we looked at five leagues across one season, we are now looking at one league across five seasons and even with that flip of data filter, the results are largely similar to what we saw earlier.

Once again, it is defenders who are top of the list when it comes to collecting red cards and of the 213 in the sample, 104 came from the backline. A figure that comprises 48.83% of the data sample or just under one in two.

More than twice the number of midfielder who were sent to the dressing room before the final whistle and with 46 out of the 213 coming from the middle of the park, just over one in five players were labelled as an out and out midfielder.

More than the forward line but not as big a jump when compared to across Europe. 26 out of the 213 red cards were from recognised strikers and this was more than double those players who can also play out on the wing. 

Which means if we know where players are getting sent off in the Premier League, it will also make sense to compare those tallies to the other three fully professional tiers of the English football pyramid.

As you may know the remaining three professional tiers are made up of 24 clubs compared to the 20 of the Premier League and therefore, if we were to simple list the red card count of the past three season, the EFL divisions would amass more red cards.

Red Cards by English League

As before, we will apply an average red cards per game metric instead and this is how things look between the 2020/21 and 2022/23 seasons. 

League 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 Average
League Two 0.14 0.17 0.13 0.15
League One 0.12 0.14 0.15 0.13
Championship 0.13 0.13 0.12 0.12
Premier League 0.13 0.11 0.08 0.11
Share

When it comes to English football, the lower down the pyramid you go, the larger number of red cards are shown. Admittedly the difference is no as significant as when comparing leagues across Europe but there is a definite inversion of the pyramid at the same time.

In League Two an average of 0.15 per red cards have been displayed in the 1,556 matches that have taken place in the past three seasons and this figure shrinks to 0.13 when looking at League One above.

The figure of 0.13 red cards per game in League One, then shrinks to 0.12 in the Championship and this shrinks to 0.11 in the Premier League. Is it a simple case of better players or referees being slightly more lenient the higher you go up the ladder? 

The answer arguably lies somewhere in the middle and when it comes to Premier League referees, we can also take a look at those who like to brandish the red card the most: 

Red Cards by Referee

Referee Matches Red Cards Average
Mike Dean 107 24 0.22
Michael Oliver 146 18 0.12
Anthony Taylor 150 18 0.12
Craig Pawson 119 15 0.13
Paul Tierney 127 14 0.11
Graham Scott 67 13 0.19
Kevin Friend 95 13 0.14
Jonathan Moss 102 13 0.13
Stuart Attwell 109 12 0.11
Share

When looking at a data sample of the last five complete seasons, Premier League professionals can now breathe a sigh of relief that Mike Dean has hung up his whistle and the reason for this, is the regularity in which he loved to show a red card.

107 matches were he was overseeing the laws of the game, no less than 24 red cards in the process. An average of 0.22 per game and six more sending offs compared to Michael Oliver who officiated 39 more matches.

Michael Oliver awarded 18 red cards during the same timeframe, the same as another referee Anthony Taylor – Taylor oversaw 150 matches compared to that of Oliver’s 146, giving them both an average of 0.12 per game. 

As always, you are going to find some data anomalies in a table such as this. Robert Madley has refereed one game since the start of the 2018/19 season through to the end of the 2022/23 season and has issued one red card, his average a red card per game is rather misleading.

Therefore, if were to apply a filter of 50 games minimum (an average of 10 per season) and then ranked the referees by average red cards per game, the table would look as follows:

Referee Matches Red Cards Average
Mike Dean 107 24 0.22
Graham Scott 67 13 0.19
Kevin Friend 95 13 0.14
Jonathan Moss 102 13 0.13
Craig Pawson 119 15 0.13
Michael Oliver 146 18 0.12
Anthony Taylor 150 18 0.12
David Coote 89 10 0.11
Paul Tierney 127 14 0.11
Share

To the surprise of nobody, it is Mike Dean who keeps his position at the top of the table with 0.22 red cards per game and whereas Messrs Oliver and Taylor was the next names in the previous list, they have been pushed down four places each in this.

Graham Scott is the next name in the list when it comes to average red cards per game and at 0.19, he is certainly giving former colleague Mike Dean a run for his money. While also getting up a boost up the rankings are Kevin Friend, Jonathan Moss and Craig Pawson.

Friend is not necessarily living up to his surname as he also brandished the same number of red cards as Graham Scott (13) but it did take him 28 more matches to reach that rather unfortunate number of dismissals. 

Rising Red Tide: Referees and their Affinity for Red Cards in the Game

🟥⚽ Mike Dean leads with 0.22 red cards per game, but Graham Scott isn't far behind at 0.19. Keep your eyes on Kevin Friend, Jonathan Moss and Craig Pawson - they're climbing up the ranks! 👀 How does your favourite referee rank?

The same number that Jonathan Moss also brandished but compared to both Friend and Scott, he was more relaxed when it came to dismissals. 13 awarded, 102 matches and an average of 0.13 per game.

The same average as Craig Pawson and although he awarded 15 red cards across the past five complete seasons of the Premier League, they came across 119 matches in total. With that said, his average is still just higher than both Oliver and Taylor. 

While if there are three letters that nobody in football loves at present, they V, A and R. The bane of supporters and arguably a bugbear for those who have to work with the ailing technology on a week-to-week basis.

VAR and RED CARDS

With VAR being introduced to the Premier League at the start of the 2018/19 season, it gives us a perfect line in the sand when it comes to comparing and contrasting. Have there been more or less red cards since it has been switched on? 

Premier League Red Cards VAR?
2013/14 53
2014/15 70
2015/16 59
2016/17 41
2017/18 39
2018/19 47
2019/20 45
2020/21 48
2021/22 43
Share

Surprisingly there have been fewer red cards in the five previous seasons compared to the five most recent. Across the past 10 complete seasons, there have been 475 dismissals, 262 (55.1%) came previous to VAR.

Compare this to 213 (44.9%) since its installation and we can see that Pre-VAR you had a better chance of walking a disciplinary tight rope. However, with VAR being in play, it means red cards can be immeaditely rescinded and obvious errors overturned.

VAR or No VAR?

Fewer football players have been seeing red 🚫 since the introduction of VAR. There were 262 dismissals pre-VAR vs. 213 post-VAR. More eyes on the field means crucial errors can be corrected on the spot! ⚽️👀

Therefore, there is perhaps no surprise that the number of red cards has lowered in the past five seasons and with an extra set of eyes now watching play unfold, it means sending offs are not as regular as they were before.

World Cup Red Cards

Since the 1998 FIFA World Cup, 32 teams have contested the tournament and every four years and this means 64 matches are played in a bid to find a global king. With a fair comparison of data, we can see how many red cards were awarded at the showpiece event.

FIFA World Cup Matches Red Cards Average Per Game
1998 64 22 0.34
2002 64 17 0.27
2006 64 28 0.44
2010 64 17 0.27
2014 64 10 0.16
2018 64 4 0.06
2022 64 4 0.06
Share

22 in 1998, just four each in both 2018 and 2022 and once again a major contributing factor in all of this would be the introduction of VAR. Plugged in for the 2018 edition in Russia and in place in Qatar four years later, the decrease follows a similar trend to the Premier League analysis above.

Even if you look at the last non-VAR tournament in 2014 and compare it to those since, there were 10 red cards shown in Brazil that year. More than double that of Russia and Qatar at an average of 0.16 per game versus 0.06.

However, none of those editions of the World Cup compared to Germany 2006 and with 28 red cards being awarded across 64 matches, a ratio of 0.44 per game is not far off one dismissal every second match.



Author Information

We are blessed to have Dan Tracey here at OLBG with a love of deep-diving into data for unique data angles and information. Dan collected and fact-checked the data and added the world, and Steve Madgwick edited and formatted it.

Dan Tracey

Dan Tracey

Data scientist and football editor

Dan Tracey is a multi-talented writer, data analyst and podcaster whose six-year career in the sports data sphere has seen incredible successes. From helping UEFA create their annual technical reports to writing articles for Sports Betting Websites including sites like TheLinesUS and Goal - there's no shortage of areas where his expertise shines through! In addition, he can be heard on podcasts lending an insightful voice as well as providing weekly betting angles - all culminating with him teaming up OLBG.com in the present day. Simply put: wherever you find angled data being crunched? You'll also likely find Dan not far behind!

👨‍🏫 Specialist Subjects🔬📚

Dan's specialist area is data; and lots of it! Wherever we need numbers to create our unique deep dive articles, Dan is our go-to. Dan is also a Tottenham Fan and a football commentator for Newcastle Blue Star

Methodology and Source

We have taken the red card data from several sources to create some comparisons in the frequency in which referees have handed out red cards to players, in leagues across Europe and by referee themselves. The following sites provided the required data sets for this work

https://fbref.com/en/

https://www.whoscored.com/

https://www.myfootballfacts.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_FIFA_World_Cup_red_cards

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Rugby_World_Cup_red_cards

Data correct as of 11th Dec 2023.

No Comments

There are no comments here. Be the first to comment...

Keep Reading

Exclusive Interview with Mauricio Sulamain

Updated: 62 Boxing and MMA

Exclusive Interview with Mauricio Sulamain

Mauricio Sulaimán Saldivar (born December 30, 1969) is a formidable figure in the international boxing universe, known for his significant contributions to the sport. Since 2014, Sulaimán has presided over the World Boxing Council (WBC), a coveted position that cements...

Continue Reading

By using this site you confirm you are 18+ and consent to our use of cookies and processing of personal data as set out in our Privacy Policy
Got it!