Although most fans don’t like them, red cards are part and parcel of football and have been for decades. The current Premier League season has seen 36 of them brandished and for various reasons too. We’ve seen bad fouls, diving, violent conduct, and the usual fare, and while some have been questioned by fans, none were too bizarre.
However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, for a number of reasons, referees choose to show players the red card for truly bizarre reasons.
Here are 10 of the most bizarre red cards in football history.
#1 Edin Dzeko – Bosnia vs. Greece, 2016
Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko is perhaps most well-known for his stints at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, where he won league titles. However, in 2016, he was sent off while playing for the Bosnia national team after a truly bizarre incident.
Faced with Greece in a World Cup 2018 qualifying match, Bosnia were leading 1-0 as the game headed into its final 10 minutes. Dzeko went down under a challenge from current Arsenal defender Sokratis, and seemed angered when the Greek attempted to wrestle the ball from his grasp.
The striker’s retort? He decided to pull Sokratis’ shorts down.
The incident triggered a mass altercation, and the referee was not impressed, as he awarded Dzeko a red card for his actions. To make matters worse for Bosnia’s captain, Greece went onto find an injury time equaliser.
After the match, Dzeko was incensed, stating that he was shown the red card for “no reason”. While that wasn’t truly the case, it’s hard to dispute the fact that this was a bizarre dismissal by anyone’s standards.
#2 Jamie Carragher – Liverpool vs. Arsenal, 2002
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher would probably be remembered as one of the most dependable, and professional, players of his generation, but even he wasn’t immune to a strange red card in 2002. The incident happened during an FA Cup tie that saw the Reds facing Arsenal at Highbury.
Gunners fans were already angry with referee Mike Riley for awarding Martin Keown a red card – and when he sent off Dennis Bergkamp for a two-footed lunge, they completely lost their heads. Debris began to rain down onto the pitch, and Carragher was struck by a coin thrown by a Gunners fan.
The Liverpool defender angrily threw the coin back into the crowd, and was subsequently sent off by Riley. Carragher ended up being widely condemned for his actions, although the blame was also laid at the feet of the fans who threw the debris.
The defender ended up publicly apologising – avoiding a charge of misconduct by the FA in the process, but was slapped with a formal warning by the police instead.
#3 Eden Hazard – Chelsea vs. Swansea, 2013
Current Real Madrid star Eden Hazard is not a player renowned for his temper, but an EFL Cup semi-final that pitted Swansea in 2013, saw him lose his cool, receiving a bizarre red card in the process. The game was tied at 0-0 in the 80th minute, and with Swansea holding a 2 goal lead from the first leg, the Blues needed to score, and quickly.
The ball went out for a goal kick, and when Hazard jogged over to hurry things up, he found a ball boy had got there first. What happened next was astonishing. The Belgian attempted to snatch the ball away, only for the teenager to seemingly dive onto the ground, holding onto it.
In his attempt to get the ball, Hazard lost his temper and appeared to kick the ball boy in the stomach, forcing him to free it. A replay confirmed the act of villainy, and moments later, the referee showed the Belgian a red card.
After the match, Hazard tried to claim that he’d attempted to kick the ball, and then apologised, but it didn’t make this incident any less bizarre, nor to be frank, any less shameful.
#4 Javier Mascherano – Argentina vs. Ecuador, 2013
A genuinely bizarre incident in 2013 saw Barcelona veteran Javier Mascherano sent off in action for Argentina during a 1-1 draw in World Cup qualification against Ecuador. With the game tied going into the final minutes, La Albiceleste were pushing for a winner, when Mascherano went down after taking a knock.
It was decided that he needed to go off the pitch for treatment, and so medics placed him onto a cart and began to wheel him away, only for someone to apparently throw water at the Barcelona man. Mascherano then saw red, and decided to lash out at the medic who was steering the cart, kicking him in the shoulder with his left foot.
Referee Enrique Caceres immediately sent him off, much to his disgust, and he had to be led away by teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi, preventing him from confronting the official.
Mascherano later claimed that he’d made a mistake in kicking the medic. According to the player, he was merely trying to warn the driver that the stretcher was going too fast and he was about to fall off. Whether that was the case, we’ll never know, but there’s no disputing that this was a very strange dismissal indeed.
#5 Neymar – Santos vs. Colo Colo, 2011
Brazilian superstar Neymar is no stranger to controversy, but back in his days playing for Santos, he was the victim of a red card that was surely unfair. Faced with Chilean side Colo Colo in a Copa Libertadores match, the then-19 year old forward scored a brilliant solo effort, giving his side a 3-0 lead.
He then chose to celebrate in a somewhat unusual way – being handed a mask of his own face by a fan, and pulling it on upside-down. Somehow, the referee decided this was an infringement of the rules, and showed the forward his second yellow card, sending him off.
Neymar naturally protested, but the referee was having none of it. Thankfully, Santos held on for a win although Colo Colo did score twice and somehow, both sides had 2 more players sent off each.
After the game, Santos manager Marcelo Martelotte seemingly had no sympathy for Neymar – stating that he was sent off for “not knowing the rules” – which felt a little harsh to say the least.
#6 Kieran Gibbs – Arsenal vs. Chelsea, 2014
Arsenal’s 2014 defeat at the hands of Chelsea was embarrassing enough – the game finished 6-0 to the Blues – but one of the most bizarre red cards of all time only made matters worse. This strange incident saw defender Kieran Gibbs sent off for literally doing nothing wrong at all.
So what happened? Essentially, it was a case of mistaken identity. A shot from Eden Hazard was tipped around the post by the hand of midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and referee Andre Marriner quite rightly awarded the Blues a penalty.
A red card was the obvious punishment for Chamberlain, but somehow, Marriner decided to show it to his teammate Gibbs. Arsenal’s players were absolutely baffled, but despite Chamberlain seemingly admitting his guilt, the official was having none of it and forced Gibbs off the field.
Marriner did apologise for his actions after the match – but despite Gibbs’ red card being rescinded, the official wasn’t off the hook with some observers. Former referee Clive Thomas stated that it was “the most disgusting, shocking decision” he’d ever seen – and suggested Marriner be banned for the rest of the season.
#7 Robin Van Persie – Arsenal vs. Barcelona, 2011
Plenty of opponents have accused Barcelona of somehow being favoured by officials during Champions League action, and in 2011, Arsenal may well have had a point. After defeating La Blaugrana 2-1 at the Emirates, they simply needed to avoid defeat at the Nou Camp to qualify for the quarter-finals.
With just over half an hour remaining, the game was tied at 1-1 and the Gunners looked relatively comfortable. That was until striker Robin Van Persie found himself through on goal, only to be flagged offside.
Failing to hear the referee’s whistle, the Dutchman shot wide, and moments later, was shown a second yellow card for apparently kicking the ball away. To say the decision was ludicrous would be an understatement, especially when a replay showed there had been one second between the referee’s whistle and Van Persie’s shot.
With the Dutchman dismissed, Arsenal’s remaining 10 men capitulated – conceding 2 goals in 3 minutes – and Barcelona headed through into the next round. Van Persie went onto describe the decision as “a joke” and to be honest, it was hard to disagree with him.
#8 Adam Lindin Ljungkvist – Pershagen SK vs. Jarna SK, 2016
Swedish defender Adam Lindin Ljungkvist is hardly a household name in the world of football, but his name went viral in 2016, for all the wrong reasons. Playing for Pershagen SK, a bottom-tier club in Sweden, against their local rivals Jarna SK, he was shown two yellow cards.
The reason? Apparently, Ljungkvist broke wind, loudly, and offended the referee to the point where he booked the left-back twice and dismissed him. Ljungkvist was understandably baffled by the decision – stating that he had a bad stomach, and simply “let go”.
For his part, the referee claimed he’d sent Ljungkvist off for “deliberate provocation and unsportsmanlike behaviour”, while opposition striker Kristoffer Linde claimed he’d heard the flatulence from quite a distance away.
The incident stands out as perhaps the strangest red card in football history, although the referee, Danny Kako, later claimed he’d experienced a similar incident when a player urinated on the pitch, and was shown a yellow card too.
#9 Edinson Cavani – Paris St-Germain vs. Lens, 2014
Plenty of players have a trademark celebration, and Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani is no different. Like many players before him, Cavani’s celebration involves mimicking the shooting of a gun. Unfortunately, that celebration got him into hot water during a 2014 match between Paris St-Germain and Lens.
With PSG 1-2 up early in the second half, Cavani was brought down in the box by Lens defender Jean-Philippe Gbamin, and the referee awarded a penalty, sending Gbamin off in the process. The Uruguayan promptly scored the spot-kick, and then performed his trademark sniper-rifle celebration.
Evidently unimpressed, the referee booked him, and then when Cavani attempted to remonstrate with him, he showed him a second yellow and dismissed him. Thankfully for PSG, the referee then sent off Lens midfielder Jerome Le Moigne, making the game 10 men against 9.
Still, that didn’t let the official off the hook with PSG’s president Nasser Al Khelaifi after the game. He quite rightfully questioned the red card, unable to understand why, if the celebration was so bad, Cavani had never landed himself in trouble before.
#10 David Abraham – Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Freiburg, 2019
In the most recent incident on this list, Frankfurt captain David Abraham was not only sent off in bizarre fashion, but the red card also led to him being banned for 7 weeks.
The defender’s crime? With Frankfurt trailing 1-0 and the game deep into added time, he bowled Freiburg’s coach Christian Streich over in an attempt to retrieve the ball from him, triggering scenes of absolute chaos.
Freiburg’s players, and coaches, chased Abraham across the pitch, and when cooler heads finally prevailed, the defender was sent off. Also red-carded was Freiburg’s Vincenzo Grifo – who had already been substituted, as VAR spotted him targeting Abraham in the brawl, while Streich’s assistant Florian Bruns was also shown a yellow card.
For his part though, Streich didn’t seem too bothered about the incident. Despite Abraham clearly shoulder-barging him purposely, he stated “Football is a contact sport. At 54 you can be run over by a young buffalo, you can’t hold yourself against it any more”.