This Premier League season has been one of the most exciting in years. The title race is still to be decided between three teams and, as always, the battle to stay in the league is even more intense at the bottom. There have been instances of exhilarating football and some superb goals have been scored almost on a weekly basis. While most fans notice the artistry and skill on display every week, there are also instances of dirty play. In their desire to stop opponents from scoring or playing good football, defenders and midfielders have often resorted to tactics outside of the rule book. For the purposes of this article, dirty players were identified not just by the amount of fouls they commit or the amount of cards they receive. Fouling is part of the game and may be used to stop teams but may not necessarily be aimed at hurting an opposing player. This article focuses on players who cynically foul their contemporaries and exhibit minimal regard for their safety on the field. The list is subjective, but it is hard to argue that the players on this list have not been dirty this season.
This article lists ten Premier League players who have resorted to various dirty tactics in their games. This list is not just limited to defenders or defensive minded midfielders. Some attacking players and even one striker makes the list. Some of these players do not have the reputation of being dirty because they do not foul much or accumulate a lot of yellow cards. But when they do foul, they often lash out and their challenges have the potential to seriously harm their opponents.
10. Robin Van Persie – Manchester United
Robin van Persie might seem like a surprise inclusion on the list of dirty players, but watching him closely during games reveals he most certainly belongs. In 17 league games, van Persie has only received two yellow cards but they do not tell the whole story. Van Persie constantly elbows defenders during corners and does lose his temper when his teams are being dominated. Kicking an opponent in the head is not beneath the talented striker. One just has to watch the games when he plays against Chelsea or Liverpool and see the disdain and anger that the defenders on those teams have for the Dutchman. Van Persie gets under their skin not just because he is a great striker, but also because he constantly elbows them and takes several cheap shots during games.
9. Cheick Tiote – Newcastle United
Cheick Tiote is the primary defensive midfielder for Newcastle United. A few seasons ago, his performances led many to believe he could be a target for some of the top teams such as Arsenal. Any potential moves did not materialize and his lack of discipline may be the reason why. This season, Tiote has been relatively well behaved and he has only accumulated eight yellow cards in 26 league games. But like a few other players in this article, it is the nature of his challenges that land him on the list. Tiote slides into tackles with reckless abandon and has little regard for the players he is trying to dispossess.
8. Rafael – Manchester United
Rafael is also another player who does not immediately come to mind when people talk about dirty players. Rafael has a relatively clean disciplinary record this season as he has five yellow cards in 18 games, but he is undoubtedly a hot head and most of his cards come as a result of petulant and cynical tackles. He does seem to lose his temper when things do not go Manchester United’s way, which has been often this season. On several occasions, he has attempted dangerous, two footed challenges and is lucky to not have received a red card this season. A particular tackle against Gary Cahill of Chelsea this season was particularly nasty. Rafael escaped a red card but he has not escaped mention on this list.
7. Charlie Adam – Stoke City
When watching Charlie Adam play, I used to have trouble deciding whether he was a dirty player or just plain clumsy. After watching him play for several seasons, I have settled on dirty. It is not just the mistimed tackles that Adam makes, which are reminiscent of a striker trying to defend, it is the fact that he often manages to have his studs land on an opposing players’ body parts. His tenure in the Premier League has seen him make some of the worst tackles. This season, he appears to be a little more disciplined and has not received any red cards so far. He has received eight yellow cards in 20 games though and in last weekends match against Chelsea, he typically put his studs into an opposing player during several tackles. His biggest indiscretion this season was a stamp on Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud for which he was later banned after escaping a red card.
6. Mathieu Flamini – Arsenal
For the last few seasons, pundits have claimed that Arsenal needed a physical presence in their midfield. Many applauded the signing of Mathieu Flamini who is a defensive midfielder. With Arsenal being at the top of the Premier League for most of the season, the signing looked inspired. The problem is that Flamini does not really offer a physical presence. He is an athletic midfielder who has questionable tackling techniques. He seems to like slide tackling with his studs showing, which by rule is a red card offense. Unfortunately, Flamini usually escapes such penalties. In 17 league games, he has accumulated eight yellow cards and one red card. The red card in question was one of the worst of the season and came against Southampton. Flamini was frustrated with the way Southampton were keeping the ball and lunged in with two feet and deservedly got sent off.
5. Wes Brown – Sunderland
Wes Brown spent most of his career playing for Manchester United. He was accustomed to challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles. He was regularly selected for England squads during his tenure with United. This season, Brown is mired in a relegation battle with Sunderland. Instead of being a calming influence, he has been one of the more rash players in the squad. In 17 league games, Brown has been yellow carded once and red carded a league leading three times. When you lead the Premier League in red cards, it is hard to leave you off the list of dirtiest players.
4. Lee Cattermole – Sunderland
Another Sunderland player makes the list as one of the Premier League’s dirtiest players. Lee Cattermole is a player opponents would like to avoid seeing and would do well to give a wide berth, if they do come up against him. It is never a surprise when Cattermole is sent off in a game. A good indicator of his playing style was given by manager Gus Poyet when he left him out of a match against Arsenal earlier this season. In essence, Poyet said he did not want to play Cattermole because if they fell behind, he feared his midfielder would get sent off and be suspended for a Carling Cup semi-final. Cattermole has four yellow cards and one red card this season. He would without a doubt be higher on the list if he had played more than 15 games this season.
3. Ramires – Chelsea
Surprisingly, Ramires is the second Brazilian player on this list. Most Brazilians are renowned for their skill, flair and attacking play, but Ramires does not really exhibit those qualities. He provides the Chelsea midfield with energy and covers a lot of ground in the matches he plays in. He does seem to lack discipline and when he gets frustrated, he makes some awful challenges. His only red card of the season came against Aston Villa a few weeks ago and nearly sparked a melee and resulted in Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho being sent off when he tried to calm the two sets of players. Chelsea were trailing 1-0 with only a few minutes left and Ramires decided to jump on the leg of a tackling midfielder. This action by itself would put any player on this list. Ramires has also collected eight yellow cards this season.
2. Kevin Nolan – West Ham United
Much to the chagrin of West Ham fans, their team plays a physical, direct brand of football instead of the free flowing version they crave. Teams that exhibit this level of physicality are usually thought of as dirty. While West Ham are very physical and difficult to play against, they do not really have players who specialize in cynical challenges. The one exception is their captain Kevin Nolan. In 29 games, Nolan has received six yellow cards and two red cards. Nolan makes this list for a few moments of madness this season. He received his two red cards in the span of 21 days. His actions greatly disappointed his manager and there were rumors he would be stripped of the captaincy. His red card against Liverpool was especially ghastly. Nolan, without any provocation, just stamped on the back of Jordan Henderson’s calf. That is probably the worst tackle of the season so far.
1. Marouane Fellaini – Manchester United
Marouane Fellaini is proof that using just the number of fouls or cards a player accumulates is not necessarily the best way to determine if they are a dirty player. Fellaini has only received one yellow card in 14 league games this season. But ask anyone to list the dirtiest players in the league and Fellaini would probably be a unanimous selection to the list. It is a minor miracle that the Belgian midfielder has not been sent off this season. Recently, in matches against Manchester City and Newcastle United, Fellaini did his best to get sent off when he used his elbows in a similar fashion to a MMA fighter. Against City, Fellaini attacked the onrushing Pablo Zabeleta with his elbow and miraculously stayed on the field. This facet of Fellaini’s game has persisted throughout his career and does not seem to be changing. What is disturbing is that Fellaini seems to believe that some of his most violent actions on the field are not fouls.