Despite being a breath taking and highly entertaining spectacle week in week out, the Premier League hasn’t been without its fair share of foul play. Diego Costa’s recent antics in Chelsea’s League Cup semi-final defeat of Liverpool (including a stamp on Emre Can and squaring up to Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel) have once again shone a negative light on the striker and he has been handed a three-match ban, a sign that he will no longer get away with the many offences he has committed since his move to the West London club. But the Spaniard has a long way to go before dining with the big boys in the dirty department. Whether for rash challenges, an exorbitant number of bookings or generally bad attitudes, the Premier League has bore witness to some of the nastiest footballers to ever play the game. Their crimes range from ending careers, fighting teammates and time in jail. Many could have made this list but here is a selection of some of the worst (or best) in the dark arts:
Arguably the pioneer of foul play in the Premier League era, legendary Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane has seen it all. The Irishman’s no-nonsense approach on the pitch, while generating acclaim from fans and players alike, did expose an angry side to Keane’s game, his persistent rivalry with Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira perhaps one of the most iconic rivalries in the history of football. His dirtiness reached unimaginable heights in 2001 when an extremely horrible tackle on Alfe Inge Haaland ended in a career-ending knee injury. Keane admitted last October that he does not regret making the tackle, a testament to his consistently unapologetic nature, something that made him such a tour de force in his playing career.
He was English football’s modern day hard man, a persona that helped launch a successful Hollywood acting career after he retired from the game. But in his day Vinnie Jones was known for his dirty style of play. Long before the Premier League started Jones was at it, his infamous grabbing of Paul Gascoigne’s nether regions in 1988 the clearest sign of how far he would go. In the Premier League era, the Wimbledon captain, with tackles as reckless as some of his haircuts, was sent off on six different occasions, receiving 12 red cards throughout his career, and still holds the record for fastest dismissal in English football history, after only three seconds. Add a £20,000 fine and six-month ban for presenting the notorious Soccer’s Hard Men in 1992, and we have an enigma whose toughness has yet to be replicated, and probably never will.
Another uniquely dirty player whose dark arts extended far beyond logic. The former Leeds, West Ham and Newcastle midfielder earned his reputation as a physical midfielder during his spell at Leeds with his tough tackles, earning 99 yellow cards throughout his career. But in 2005, Bowyer hit the headlines for a violent brawl with Newcastle teammate Kieron Dyer during the visit of Aston Villa, a unique incident that best highlights the volatile character of the man.
It really is a shame when a footballer is known more for a particular nasty incident than his ability. But in the case of Ben Thatcher this is fully warranted. Back in 2006, the former Manchester City left-back achieved infamy for a heinous elbow to the temple of Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes, rendering him unconscious and sending the Portuguese to the hospital. Thatcher was not sent off during the match but was later investigated by the FA and Greater Manchester Police. The multiple enquiries resulted in an eight match ban and a six week wages fine for the Welshman and this incident alone places Thatcher among the worst disciplined in Premier League history.
One of the most unstable characters to ever play in the Premier League, Joey Barton has a rap sheet longer than Peter Crouch on his tiptoes. In addition to receiving frequent red cards and suspensions throughout his career, the QPR midfielder has also demonstrated his violent side off the pitch. Barton has been arrested on suspicion of assault, criminal damage and in 2004, was substantially fined for stubbing out a cigarette in youth team player Jamie Tandy’s eye. In 2007 he served a ban for brutally assaulting Manchester City teammate Ousmane Dabo, an offence for which he also spent time in prison. Unpredictable doesn’t begin to describe him.