The red card is one of football’s most controversial elements. There is always an abundance of drama involved with a sending-off. The victim’s team tend to surround the referee in the hope of turning the dismissal around. The opposing team pull all the stops to show why the official made the best possible call to send the player packing. Rarely does the chaos bear fruit, though, with the referee almost always sticking to his initial decision.
Over the course of the 21st century, football has had its fair share of offenders; a handful of footballers who simply cannot keep themselves out of the referee’s books. Today, we will take a look at five players who have spent an awful amount of time on the suspension list. Here are five footballers who have received the highest number of red cards since 2001:
Special note: Only the top five European leagues have been counted. All competition and national team stats included.
#5 Daniele De Rossi — 15 red cards
Former Italy international Daniele De Rossi was one of the hardest men of his time. He was an excellent distributor of the ball and knew how to read the game better than most. At his best, De Rossi could make opponents sweat without laying a finger on them. At his worst, he slammed them to the ground and deservedly received marching orders for it.
Between Roma and the Italian national team, De Rossi received a whopping 15 red cards, which sheds light on his unchecked aggressive nature. The 2006 World Cup winner played 117 games for the national team, recording 21 goals and five assists. For Roma, he turned out in 616 games, scoring 63 goals and claiming 60 assists. He won two Italian Cups during his 17-season stint with the club.
#4 Daniele Bonera — 15 red cards
Daniele De Rossi’s compatriot Daniele Bonera was another tough nut in football, going above and beyond to make the opposition’s life miserable. Bonera played for Brescia, Parma, and AC Milan before joining La Liga outfit Villarreal and retiring there.
The center-back, who could also play as a right-back, was a gifted defender, but he had a dangerous knack for prematurely committing himself. He often went into challenges without thinking things over, resulting in unnecessary red cards. Bonera, who played only 16 first-team matches for the Italian national team, did not see red in his country’s colors. In club football, however, he was dismissed a whopping 15 times.
Bonera arguably played his best football during his time with AC Milan between 2006 and 2015. He featured in 201 games for them, providing two assists. He won a Champions League trophy and a Serie A title with Milan, amongst other honors.
#3 Philippe Mexes — 16 red cards
French central defender Philippe Mexes played for three reputed football clubs in the top five European leagues. He started his career at AJ Auxerre and played 168 games for them across competitions (between 1999 and 2004) before joining Roma.
There, he established himself as an integral member of the team and made 267 appearances (15 goals and nine assists) over seven seasons. AC Milan signed him in 2011 and he remained there until retiring in 2016. Across clubs, he won two Italian Cups, one French Cup, and two Italian Super Cups.
Mexes' aggression and never-say-die attitude landed him in trouble throughout his career, with him receiving 16 red cards. From grabbing an opponent's throat to scathing someone down with a rough tackle, he did it all, and as a result got marching orders quite frequently.
#2 Thiago Motta — 18 red cards
Italy international Thiago Motta’s profile does not necessarily match the rest of the players here. The defensive midfielder was not a textbook aggressive player like the others on this list, but that did not keep him from getting into trouble.
Over the course of his career, he was sent-off a total of 18 times, making him one of the most frequent offenders in the business.
Motta played for Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Genoa, Inter Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain in his career. At Barcelona (total 147 games), he won two La Liga titles, a Champions League trophy, and a Spanish Super Cup. He won another league title and a Champions League at Inter (83 appearances), before going on to bag five domestic titles and four French Cups with PSG (231 matches).
#1 Sergio Ramos — 27 red cards
Sitting at the top with a haul of 27 red cards, Paris Saint-Germain center-back Sergio Ramos has emerged as the player with the most sent-offs in the 21st century. Ramos, who has won four Champions League trophies and six domestic titles in his career, amongst other honors, has been nothing short of an enigma.
He has proven himself to be capable of stopping even the most daunting forwards in their tracks, but has also been known to jeopardize his team by committing silly errors. At Real Madrid, where he played 671 games and won a total of 22 trophies in 16 seasons, he saw 18 indirect red cards and eight straight reds.
Ramos joined PSG as a free agent last summer and played only 12 Ligue 1 matches for them in the 2021-22 season. Despite featuring in less than 1/3rd of available league games, he got himself a sending off. He was sent off for an indirect red card in a 1-1 draw with Lorient on matchday 19 (December 22).