5 modern-day hardmen of football

  • A look at 5 modern-day footballers who love to play the game the physical way.
  • The list includes players who have won the biggest titles in European football.
Modified 02 May 2020, 19:35 IST

Sergio Ramos is one of the hardmen in football.
Sergio Ramos is one of the hardmen in football.

Football hardmen are a dying breed. In modern football, skill and finesse are considered more critical than grit and physical dominance.

Roll the clock back, and football was very different. Tackles flying in and men just toughing it out. Brawls broke out quite frequently, and referees didn't protect players as much as they do nowadays. Nasty players are a rarity in football these days. Back in the day centre backs used to be no-nonsense and midfielders were full of rowdy Pitbulls who were ever ready to fly into crunching challenges.

The '80s and '90s saw players kicking lumps out of each other almost every match. The likes of Vinne Jones, Graham Souness and Terry Butcher were renowned for their aggressive brand of football. While the sport has gotten more technical, no one seems to have given these players the memo.

Put on your shin pads as you go through the list. You've got a two-footed tackle coming your way from these five modern-day hardmen.

5) Scott Brown

A man who just loves seeing his rivals seethe in rage
A man who just loves seeing his rivals seethe in rage

Renowned for his rough and aggressive style of play, Scott Brown is as tough as they come. He'll elbow his opponents in their face, kick them, even grab them by their throat, whatever it took to win. A Celtic legend in his own right, Brown has a knack of getting under his opponent's skins using his over the top antics.

An absolute tank in the middle of the park for Celtic, he has been a central figure of the team for over a decade. Very highly rated during his younger years, his mean streak meant the biggest clubs stayed away from him. Brown is, however, a leader in the truest sense of the word, but a man always up for a fight.

Brown has been a part of many confrontations over the years. Back in 2011, he scored the equaliser against Rangers and ran straight to El-Hadji Diouf whom he had been tussling with all through the time. Brown proceeded his sprint over to his rival, staring him down with his outstretched arms celebrating right in Diouf's face.


A couple of years ago when Celtic faced Aberdeen, a couple of their players tried to give Brown a state of his own medicine. Two players successively put in almost leg-breaking challenges on him. What did he do, you ask? Got up, brushed himself off and flexed his muscles in a way that would make even Ronnie Coleman proud.

Not many splits opinions in Scotland as this man does. Either way once he decides to hang his boots up, he'd have had quite a career for himself with twenty titles to his name.

4)Ryan Shawcross

If Stoke City FC were a man, Ryan Shawcross would have been their name.
If Stoke City FC were a man, Ryan Shawcross would have been their name.

Ryan Shawcross took no prisoners and gave it his all every time he stepped onto the field. Shawcross' short temper often saw him get into fights. Aggressive and hard tackling, he made a career out of hacking away at more technically gifted players.

The former Manchester United academy player couldn't make it at that level. But Shawcross has since gone on to become Stoke City's all-time leading Premier League appearance maker. Often described as a 'typical English defender', Shawcross wasn't particularly skilful but gave it his all. If there was ever a man who embodied Stoke City, it was this man: tall, strong and indeed a tough nut.

His horror tackle on Aaron Ramsey back in 2010 that broke two separate bones in the latter's leg would send chills down any opponent's spine.

Rory Delap, his teammate at Stoke City, summed up what kind of player Shawcross is:

“He’s a pain in the a*** to referee because he contests every decision and wants to win every game, whether it’s 11-v-11 or five-a-side".

3) Pepe

Pepe: Anarchy personified
Pepe: Anarchy personified

While there is no denying Pepe was an outstanding defender, you just can't see past him as a man possessed. With head butts, elbows and kicks, you had hell coming your way if you ever got in the wrong books of this man.

Pepe's mean streak made him renowned the world over. Insane aggressive and extremely tenacious, he was an integral part of both Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team for well over a decade. Apart from being a solid defender, Pepe regularly drew a lot of heat for his tendency to start brawls and unnecessarily pick up card suspensions.

If not flying into two-footed tackles, he also built a reputation for diving around trying to get his opponents sent off. Due to his unsportsmanlike behaviour, Pepe was targeted by the booing fans on every away ground he visited.

Love him or hate him; there is no denying that this man carved out a pretty successful career for himself. Pepe has won 21 trophies that include three Champions League titles, three La Liga titles and the Euros. He will no doubt go down as one of the most strong characters in world football.

2) Diego Costa

Loved in one part of London, hated by the rest of England.
Loved in one part of London, hated by the rest of England.

The level of sh*thousery that Diego Costa brought to the Premier League will never be forgotten. During stints with Chelsea and Rayo Vallecano sandwiched between his time at Atletico, he built quite a reputation for himself. He took the statement 'fight for the badge' quite literally and would claw, stamp and choke his opponents like no one's business.

Costa was in a way Simeone's ideal player - a dogged, hard-working and determined player. The striker was a part of the Atletico side that broke Real Madrid and Barcelona's duopoly of the Liga title. He scored 27 goals that season and even led his side in the Champions League final. This spectacular season earned him a high profile move to Chelsea. 

Perennially angry Costa did what he wanted. Make no mistake of it that on his day, he was unplayable. Quick, physically imposing and with a keen eye for goal, the 16-17 season saw him at his frightening best. Twenty goals in the league saw him lead Conte's men to the Premier League title.

A master of the dark arts as he had a knack of getting under the skin of his rivals and getting them sent off, Costa was arguably Chelsea's best striker since Didier Drogba. Just ask any Arsenal fan about that fateful game in 2017, and you'll hear an earful about this man.

While injuries and age have caught up with him, Costa is still a feared striker in Spain. Once this man finally decides to kick back and call it a day, he'll still chuckle thinking about the nightmares his opponents had over the years.

1) Sergio Ramos

The greatest modern-day hardman
The greatest modern-day hardman

It could only be one man who tops this list - Sergio Ramos, the king of red cards. While scoring clutch goals for club and country, he did just as much to tarnish his legacy as one of the greatest modern defenders. Another king of dark arts, Ramos, has pulled every dirty trick in the book. The greatest anti-hero, if you will, that football has ever seen.

Ramos will forever be remembered for his header in the dying seconds of the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico that forced extra time. The goal that eventually won Ream Madrid the coveted La Decima. As skilful as he was at effortlessly ending counter attacks, he was just as capable of sliding in from behind to clear out a player.

Along with his partner in crime, Pepe, this dynamic duo bludgeoned opponents for more than half a decade. The man who holds the most red cards in El Classico, La Liga, Champions League, Real Madrid and Spain is truly one of a kind. A cult hero at the Bernabeu, Ramos will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest tp have donned the white of Madrid.

A man who you could trust to lead an army into battle, he won all that there was for him to win. He captained his side to an unprecedented three Champions League titles in a row. Add a World Cup, two European Championships, four La Ligas and another Champions League title to that tally. With an astonishing 96 goals and 26 red cards to his name, Ramos had had quite a career. The ultimate modern-day hardman.

Published 02 May 2020, 19:35 IST
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