In professional sports, there are many great players and former stars who we admire and follow. We often try to emulate these figures whether it’s on the hockey rink, basketball court or baseball diamond. After all, how many of us have put on a #23 Bulls Jersey, #99 Oilers Jersey or #7 Broncos jersey and headed outside for a game with friends, full of pride in the number and name on our back. These greats are the icons of the sporting world and ones we look to when weighing the worthiness of new ‘greats’ who are arriving in the sporting world.
Alternatively, there are just as many figures who we have grown to despise because of their track-record of cheating, dangerous play, or poor attitude. These are athletes who are well known not necessarily for the good stuff they do but more so for the controversy or negativity they bring the sport, their team or themselves – they are as infamous as they are famous. These types of players are found in every sport and on every team and are often deemed dirty or undisciplined. Thanks to its worldwide popularity, one sport which has some of the best known players which fit this description is world football.
The following list looks at 25 of the best known players who were more than a little dirty or undisciplined – in some cases both. The list is in no particular order as in some cases it can be like comparing apples and oranges. One footballer may be a horrible tackler while another likes diving. One player may have a nasty temper which causes them to lash out uncontrollably at times while another may plan and premeditate their actions. One thing is for sure, these guys aren’t here for just one or two infractions. They all have reputations which were developed over many years and, in some cases, while they may have been ‘good’ for the last few seasons, their past actions were memorable enough to stick with them.
25 Emmanuel Eboue
Starting off this list is current Galatasaray defender Emmanuel Eboue. The Ivorian rose to fame (or infamy depending on where you stand) between 2005 and 2011 while playing for Arsenal. Eboue was fast, strong and apparently a real comedian off the field. Nonetheless, he developed a big reputation for diving and feigning injury. One of the most notable dives committed by the defender came in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona – resulting in a free kick and goal against the Catalans. His reputation followed him to Turkey and fans soon tired of the antics. In a match against Besiktas in 2011, Eboue was pelted with bottles, lighters, and coins as fans reportedly became tired of his diving.
24 Ryan Shawcross
Back in 2010, the British media were full of stories both attacking and defending Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross. The reason for the attention? Shawcross had just broken the leg of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey. It was not the first bad challenge put in by the Englishman, nor was it the first leg he had broken. In 2007, he had put in a bad tackle on Sheffield Wednesday’s Francis Jeffers, damaging his ankle. In 2008, he injured Emmanuel Adebayor with a poor challenge and followed that up in 2010 with the tackle on Ramsey. Whether malicious or mistimed, Shawcross definitely deserves his reputation for being ill-disciplined when it comes to challenges. The reputation is further reinforced by the fact that Shawcross’ team, Stoke City, hold a reputation for playing a ‘physical’ style of football.
23 Dani Alves
Over the years, Barcelona’s Dani Alves developed a reputation for being a fast and effective defender. He has also developed a reputation for diving and feigning injury. Add into that more than a couple bad challenges and you have a player who is a little dirty and undisciplined. Perhaps it’s the faking of injuries that works people up the most. Alves’ most notorious moment came during a Champions League game against Real Madrid. Pepe (who has a special place on this list) came in high and fast on Alves with his studs showing. At full speed it appeared as though the Brazilian was caught full on by the Real Madrid defender’s studs. A solid red card, right? Maybe. The challenge itself was bad but replays show no actual contact occurred and, thus, Alves had no reason to be rolling around in ‘pain’ in an effort to influence the official.
22 Lorik Cana
Any time you feel the need to head to the press and announce that you’re not a dirty player, chances are you’re a dirty player – or at least undisciplined in your style of play. Enter Lorik Cana. He’s the kind of player you hate playing against but probably don’t mind too much if he’s on your side. The Albanian often said he performed a non-compromising style of tackling – more than a few players and officials would agree. Cana has only ever seen red in several matches over his career. His heavy tackling style isn’t necessarily dirty but when used against a speedy team or player, it can all go wrong. This all or nothing approach has led to trouble – well, that and other absurd things like getting ejected for fighting with a Lorient player over a throw in.
21 El-Hadji Diouf
El-Hadji Diouf may have the look of a villain but he was never really a dirty player in the traditional sense. Still playing in Malaysia, the Senegalese star made his reputation in France and England. Unfortunately, what he did on and near the pitch hurt his reputation far more than his goals could ever repair. While in England he was accused of spitting at or on the fans of West Ham, Celtic, and Middlesbrough. He also spat in the face of Portsmouth’s Arjan De Zeeuw and later spat at Blackpool’s goalkeeper. Not done there, the human sprinkler was also investigated for using racial slurs against a ball-boy and directing inappropriate gestures to away fans. I think this qualifies as undisciplined.
20 Mark van Bommel
If you ever saw Mark van Bommel play club or international football, you knew he was a very tough and aggressive player. The Dutch defensive midfielder played a style which could get a little rough at times – and just plain nasty others. Throwing elbows, kicking, pinching and even grabbing other players’ ‘business’ – it was all fair game for this guy. Cameras caught the Bayern Munich midfielder pinching the crotch of a Stuttgart player in 2007. His tackles left more than one player sidelined. Most notably, during the 2010 World Cup final, Jean-Claude van Bommel took out Spain’s Andres Iniesta. As if to sign off in a way that reflected his career, van Bommel received a red card in his final game in May 2013 while playing for PSV Eindhoven.
19 Nigel de Jong
Countryman of Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong has enjoyed a relatively successful international and club career. Over his career with Ajax, Hamburg, Manchester City and Milan, the Dutch international has established himself as a physical and, at times, undisciplined player. Many consider him a dirty player – an accusation fuelled by the fact the midfielder has done so much ‘damage’ to opposing players and only ever been sent off once. A late challenge on Scottish midfielder Stuart Holden in 2010 left the Scot with a broken leg. De Jong followed that up in the 2010 World Cup with a kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso that would have left Bruce Lee jealous. Only a yellow was shown for the infraction that left everyone around the world speechless. In 2010, a bad challenge on Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa left the Frenchman with a broken leg, yet De Jong again stayed on the pitch.
18 Paul Scholes
Not really a dirty player, former Manchester United and England international player Paul Scholes did put in his share of bad challenges and decisions. Over his career, the midfielder received several red cards and was involved in some headline grabbing moments. From the bizarre volleyball goal against Zenit in the Champions League (resulting in a second yellow) to the brutally bad studs-up challenge against Hakan Mild in 1999 to the punch which just missed Xabi Alonso’s face, the Englishman has had more than a few moments of undisciplined play. Regardless, many of the greatest players to ever take to the pitch have highlighted Scholes as being one of the best midfielders of the modern game. I wonder if any of them were ever on the end of one of his challenges?
17 Javier Mascherano
As far as defensive midfielders go, Argentine Javier Mascherano is one of the best. He’s played for some of the biggest clubs including Corinthians, Liverpool, and Barcelona. The 30 year old has all sorts of silverware (and Olympic gold) to prove he is good at his job and world class. The only problem is that there is a dark side to all of this ability. That is, Mascherano is known to be a bit of a diver, especially among fans of La Liga. He is also known for putting in some less than ideal challenges which leave players either fuming or laying in a heap on the pitch. With only several red cards over his whole career, many opposition fans argue that this proves the sneaky and underhand tactics used by Mascherano when bossing the midfield.
16 Cristiano Ronaldo
We’re going to stay clear of the whole Messi vs Ronaldo debate for one moment. That said, any way you slice it, the Portuguese forward is one of the best players to ever grace a football pitch. Currently at Real Madrid, the superstar player, model, and one-time KFC spokesperson (yes, that’s true) is one of the most popular sports celebrities in the world. On the dark side, Ronaldo has a big reputation for diving and has displayed a bit of a temper over previous years. Those who watched him at Manchester United from 2003 to 2009 admired his pacey runs, amazing free kicks, and ability to leave defenders dizzy and in a heap. What they didn’t admire was the blatant diving and temper tantrums which Ronaldo threw when he wasn’t awarded a free kick. The Real Madrid star has toned it down in recent years but there remains video evidence to suggest CR7 still takes the occasional tumble.
15 Didier Drogba
During his first stint with Chelsea, Didier Drogba established himself as one of the most powerful strikers in the game. For those fans who didn’t support Chelsea, he also established himself as a player who tended to go down easily, exaggerate contact and feign injury. One moment the six-foot two-inch Ivorian could be running down the field with opposition defenders bouncing off him like flies - the next, Drogba was in a heap after performing his patented ‘fall’ which saw him arch his back and snap his head rearward as if hit by a mysterious sniper. Whether peeking out from behind hands clutching his face or screaming obscenities into live television cameras during the 2009 Champions League loss to Barcelona, this very skilled and accomplished, albeit at times undisciplined player, deserves a spot on this list.
14 Marco Materazzi
One of the most controversial players in Serie A, Marco Materazzi definitely qualified as a hard man of football. He was, however, noted for his shooting, scoring, and ability to effectively distribute the ball. Where the Italian lost fans was in the more dark aspects of how he defended, which included generous elbows, kicks and stomps – all leading to several red cards over his career. Among many of his controversial acts are included a stomp on Benni McCarthy, a groin shot on Andriy Schevchenko and attacking Mario Balotelli (his teammate at the time) in the tunnel after the game. It all kind of makes you appreciate that whole Zidane head-butt thing a little more.
13 Vinnie Jones
One look at Vinnie Jones and you know he could be a force on a football pitch. It wasn’t so much that Jones was a dirty player – after all, he was pretty honest about the kind of football player he was – it was just that he had very little discipline when it came to a lot of on-field decision making. He had no problem putting in a bad challenge early in a game just to set the tone. He once managed to get booked after just three seconds (a record) for a bad challenge while playing for Chelsea in 1992. Sometimes a challenge wasn’t right for the occasion and, as was the case for Paul Gascoigne, Jones deemed a grabbing of the opponent’s genitals as appropriate. Overall, he was sent off 12 times in his career and criticized by nearly everyone for his dangerous or stupid play. Now he’s the Juggernaut and does voices for cartoons– go figure.
12 Sergio Busquets
Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets is one of the best defensive midfielders in the game. The Spanish international has helped Barcelona win four La Liga and two UEFA Champions League titles in addition to numerous other cup competitions over the past several years. Unfortunately, Busquets has also been labelled as a cheat when it comes to diving and feigning injury. Perhaps one of the best known incidents occurred during the 2009-10 Champions League run when Barcelona came up against Inter Milan. After a clash with Inter’s Thiago Motta, Busquets fell to the ground. Cameras showed him rolling around clutching his face only to stop and peek out to see if the referee had punished Motta. The event attracted a lot of attention and gave Busquets the well-deserved nickname ‘peeka-boo.’
11 Sergio Ramos
After a short stint at Sevilla, Ramos moved to Real Madrid in 2005 and has been there ever since. One of the best all-round defenders, Sergio Ramos is as deadly in the opposition’s box as he is effective in and around his own. The Spanish defender has seen his trophy cabinet grow during his time in the Spanish capital. A Champions League trophy to go with his three La Liga titles and a handful of cup competition titles is all impressive. The defender has also won a World Cup and European Championship title with Spain. He has, however, also watched his red card collection increase to an impressive 19. Is he a dirty player? No. Ramos is prone to collecting double yellows (for stupid things like time wasting) as much as he does straight reds (for bad challenges and flying elbows).
10 Gennaro Gattuso
Today he may be telling reporters to f-off in interviews, but during his playing career Gennaro Gattuso was definitely a hardman of football. Thanks to his aggressive and sometimes ruthless style of play, the Italian midfielder received the nickname “The Rhino.” He wasn’t so much a dirty player as undisciplined at times. Some say the Milan star was more passionate than undisciplined. Slap Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2003? Funny but undisciplined. Choke and head-butt the assistant coach of the opposition? That’s definitely undisciplined. Grab the official’s yellow card, mock him then hand it back? Again, that’s funny but undisciplined. These are but a few of the most notorious examples of a legendary player’s passion leading them into trouble – and a spot on this list.
Another fixture in the Real Madrid defence, Pepe is one of the best known defenders in the world. While his position has come under threat from Raphael Varane, the Portuguese defender can still dominate in and around his box. Pepe is definitely an aggressive and muscular defender but he can (and has) taken things too far. When this happens, the defender does stupid things as his petulant and nasty side comes out. Don’t believe me? Just ask Getafe’s Javier Casquero who received a number of kicks and stomps from Pepe while down on the pitch. He’s also choked and slapped Cesc Fabregas and stomped on Lionel Messi.
8 Lee Cattermole
When you have just as many red cards as senior career goals scored, you know you’ll get a reputation for being ill-disciplined. Sunderland’s defensive midfielder, Lee Cattermole, fits this description perfectly. He currently sits at eight red cards and, at only 26 years of age, has plenty of time ahead to accumulate many more. Although he hasn’t been sent off so far this season, nine yellows suggest we won’t have to wait too long for the total to grow. The defensive midfielder attracts yellow cards the same way One Direction attracts tween girls. He has been shown to get under the skin of manager Gus Poyet with the Sunderland boss benching the player and voicing his dissatisfaction over the “really, really stupid” on field acts.
7 Arjen Robben
One of the more divisive characters in football today, you either love Arjen Robben or you can’t stand him. On the plus-side, the Dutch winger is fast and knows how to score goals. Anyone who has watched him play knows if you let him cut inside anywhere near the box, he’ll shoot with deadly consequences. He’s a world class player in this respect. However, anyone who has watched him play knows that any time he gets near or in the box, Robben develops an inner-ear infection which affects his balance and can send him tumbling to the ground with the slightest of non-touches. His image wasn’t helped by the allegation he was a bully, something supported when he was pictured choking teammate Thomas Muller for being disrespectful following a botched free kick attempt. You stay classy Arjen Robben.
6 Patrick Vieira
Having been sent off 12 times in his career, Patrick Vieira definitely deserves a spot on this list for ill-disciplined players. The powerful French midfielder developed his game, and reputation, at Arsenal from 1996 to 2005. During that time Vieira accumulated eight red cards, became involved in an ongoing feud with Manchester United’s Roy Keane and developed a reputation for hard tackling. Although he never broke anyone’s leg, Vieira did have a tendency to lose his cool, often getting into more trouble in the moments after being dismissed. His years at Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City were far quieter in terms of red cards, with Vieira ‘only’ being sent off four more times in total.
5 Roy Keane
Of course, after any discussion of Patrick Vieira you just knew we’d have to include Roy Keane. The Irish midfielder combined skill with tough tackling and a temper. He enjoyed great success over his career, especially with Manchester United, but also attracted a great deal of controversy. In total, Keane accumulated 11 red cards over his career and garnered as many critics as fans. His ongoing feud with Patrick Vieira became legendary and his deliberate retaliatory challenge on Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland in 2001 still makes you cringe when you watch the clip. Whether you think he was dirty or not, Keane’s disciplinary record and penchant for poorly timed tackles earns him a place on this list.
4 Joey Barton
Unpredictable and outspoken, the QPR midfielder has definitely had a ‘colorful’ career. From starting a brawl in a preseason ‘friendly’ against Doncaster in 2004 to putting out a cigarette in his teammates eye to assaulting a teammate on the training ground to being banned for 12 matches after assaulting more than one member of Manchester City on the last day of the 2012 EPL season – Joey Barton has done a lot of questionable things. We’d list all the other bad challenges and violent conduct committed on and off pitch but there isn’t enough room. What must surely frustrate fans of the teams he has played for is the fact that Barton can be a very good player and often leads in assists on whichever team he plays for.
3 Luis Suarez
Wherever Luis Suarez has gone controversy has gone with him. He deliberated handled the ball to prevent a Ghanaian goal in the World Cup in South Africa, he has bitten three players, been at the center of a racial abuse allegation and also had his own share of diving allegations. It really is too bad that all of this baggage will be with him for the rest of his career because the Uruguayan footballer can be fantastic when he’s focussed. Whether on International duty or playing for his club, Suarez can be absolutely unstoppable. Unfortunately, his competitive side gets out of control and with it his temper and voice of reason.
2 Andoni Goikoetxea
When you acquire the nickname “The Butcher from Bilbao.” you know you might be dirty or undisciplined. Goikoetxea was a defender who played for Athletic Bilbao and developed a reputation for being very aggressive. In 1981, the Spanish defender put in a bad challenge on Barcelona’s Bernd Schuster – a challenge from which the German international never really recovered. In 1983, at Camp Nou, Goikoetxea returned to produce a bone-shattering challenge on Barcelona’s Diego Maradona which caused major ligament damage to the Argentinian star. As if he had just killed a prize buck, Goikoetxea took the shoe that made contact with Maradona and placed it on display behind glass at his home.
1 Kevin Muscat
“The most hated man in football” – That’s how one player in England summed up Kevin Muscat. The English-born Muscat played the majority of his career in the UK from 1996 to 2005. One look at his record and you could tell he was undisciplined. Yet, the 12 career red cards don’t tell the whole story. His record includes elbows, body checks, fighting, challenges from behind and altercations with managers on the sideline. Over his career he injured a number of players and seriously hurt Craig Bellamy and Chritsophe Dugarry. His return to Australia, where he started his senior career, in 2005 witnessed only more of the same aggressive and dangerous play and Muscat was suspended numerous times. He is generally considered one of the dirtiest players ever, so it’s fitting he finds himself sitting #1 on this list.