Who are the Dirtiest Premier League footballers of all time?
December 19, 2017
If you’ve watched the Premier League since its inception in 1992, you’ll have noticed a considerable change in terms of how teams approach the physical side of the game.
Make no mistake, tackling has evolved into a fine art in recent times, with challenges from behind having been largely outlawed and goalkeepers protected against almost any form of severe physical contact from opponents.
This transition has not been well received by some, who feel as though the English game has lost some of its essence as it shifts towards being a minimal contact sport. It has also arguably ended the age of the on-field enforcer, which produced some of the most physical and aggressive players in living memory.
But who are the definitive ‘dirtiest’ players ever to grace the EPL? Here’s BetHut’s top four!
1. Lee Cattermole
When he started out as a Middlesbrough academy graduate, midfielder Lee Cattermole was considered one of English football’s brighter prospects. With an economic passing game, high energy and genuine leadership qualities, he was even considered by some to be a prospective captain of England.
While Cattermole enjoyed a sustained Premier League career, an England cap never materialised, and the Sunderland captain gradually fell into the limited role of midfield enforcer. His aggression has boiled over almost continuously during his career, and the Premier League tally of 88 bookings – including five red cards, has established him as one of the dirtiest players ever to grace the league.
According to recent data compiled by the ‘Dirty Players’ website (which utilises a so-called ‘dirty points’ system based on the ratio of yellow and red cards per appearance), Cattermole actually ranks as the worst offender ever to perform in the Premier League. In fact, he was the only player to amass more than two ‘dirty’ points per game, averaging 2.08 across his 271 league appearances.
Of course, Cattermole’s disciplinary record must be contextualised by the climate in which he has played, but we should surely raise our cap at a man who built an entire career on aggression and tough tackling.
2. Lee Bowyer
Our next player has certainly earned his spot on our list, not least because he has faced criminal charges for affray and received a red card for fighting a member of his own team!
It says a great deal about Lee Bowyer that, despite being a first-rate goal-scoring midfielder in his prime, he remains best known for fighting Newcastle teammate Kieran Dyer during a 3-0 defeat against Aston Villa in 2005. This was one of four red cards during his controversial and high-profile career, which also yielded 99 bookings and a considerable dirty points rating of 1.5 per game.
Bowyer was different to Cattermole in that he was an attacking midfielder who often operated on the right-hand side. So, while Cattermole’s challenges were often mistimed and committed in the heat of midfield battle, Bowyer’s tended to be the result of his own hot-headedness and short fuse.
This has secured him a high place on our list, although it remains a genuine shame that a player as talented as Bowyer should be remembered more for his indiscretions than his on-field talent and achievements.
3. Vinnie Jones
The legendary captain of Wimbledon’s fearsome ‘Crazy Gang’, Vinnie Jones only played in six Premier League seasons and plied his trade at a time when aggressive tackling remained a key part of the English game.
Despite this, Jones managed to amass an impressive 36 bookings and seven red cards during his time in the league, even as he matured as an individual and began to provide a more composed presence in midfield.
In fairness, Jones likely earned his inclusion on his list from his strong play during Wimbledon’s halcyon days of the late 1980’s. The club enjoyed a meteoric rise through the divisions and managed to beat an all-conquering Liverpool side in the 1988 FA Cup final. Jones aggressively targeted Liverpool’s talented midfielder Steve McMahon during that game, with a number of X-rated tackles that would have earned him multiple red cards, and maybe even a criminal charge in the current climate!
Jones also holds the record for the fastest yellow card in history, having been cautioned just five seconds into a First Division match between Sheffield United and Manchester City in 1990.
A true legend of the game, there’s no doubt that Jones was one of the dirtiest players ever to play in the Premier League and a man whose game clearly harks back to a different era.
4. Patrick Viera
In Patrick Viera, we have an interesting juxtaposition. Not only is the French midfielder one of the dirtiest players ever to play in the league, but he also happens to be one of the best and most physically gifted of all-time.
Viera’s dirty points tally of 1.89 per game is second only to Cattermole, with the French powerhouse earning 76 bookings and eight red cards across 307 appearances. Viera’s tally of eight dismissals is also a joint record for the Premier League era, shared with the similarly fiery Duncan Ferguson and the occasionally clumsy Richard Dunne.
Despite these impressive numbers, Viera is unique on our list in that he continues to be remembered for his purposeful midfield game and immense physical presence. He was also an accomplished and highly gifted footballer, who excelled in winning three Premier League titles and three FA Cup during nine years with Arsenal.
He was also part of Arsenal’s great “Invincibles” side of 2004/05, when the Gunners went through the entire Premier League season undefeated and won the title by a mammoth 11 points.
So, there we have it, four of the Premier League’s dirtiest players of all-time. Honourable mentions should also go to Duncan Ferguson (who actually served prison time for a headbutt committed during a Scottish Premier League game) and Manchester United’s ultra-aggressive skipper Roy Keane.
We feel compelled to mention the seemingly placid and composed Gareth Barry too, whose tally of 119 league bookings actually make him the most cautioned player in the history of the modern game!