7 Dirtiest Players in the Premier League This Season
Football is all about balance. It is about balance both in a literal sense and a metaphysical one.
You need balance to play football, of course, and you need it to make football interesting. It would be a desperately dull game if everyone played it the same pretty way and no one ever broke the rules. No one would pay to watch that. Football needs its angle grinders as much as it needs its artists. Just like at the movies, it's a contest between heroes and villains.
So who are the seven deadliest sinners in the Premier League in 2012/13? And what's the best way to determine this?
That's a tough one because what criteria do you use? Do you merely take the player with the highest number of red cards? or yellow cards? or the player who commits the most number of fouls? What about those members of that vile sub-culture of diving? and is a one-off challenge enough for a player to be considered dirty?
All of those aspects have to be taken into account, in all honesty. So that's what I have attempted to do.
As a result, there are bound to be players worthy of statistical entry that may not get on this list, so apologies if your favourite bad boy has not made it.
So sharpen your pencils and get ready to give your name and number.
7. Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
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Everton's Belgian playmaker makes the list by virtue of the sheer number of fouls he has committed.
In his 23 appearances for the Toffees this season Marouane Fellaini has racked up 64 infringements at a shin-pad-needing average of just under three per match (via WhoScored.com).
When you consider than he only averages two tackles per match that, is some going. Added to that he has also been booked six times in the league and once in the FA Cup.
If only his tackling was as impressive as his hair.
6. Cheick Tiote (Newcastle United)
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Cheick Tiote was a revelation when he arrived in the Premier League from FC Twente in August 2010.
Powerful, bullying and indefatigable, the Ivorian quickly made a name for himself.
Fans loved him. Alan Pardew, the manager, loved him. And card makers loved him, because whenever Tiote played there was a better-than-average chance you got to see one.
During his two-and-a-half seasons in England so far, Tiote has collected almost as many yellow and red cards as he has admirers.
In his first season in 2010/11 he was booked 14 times—more than any other player.
Last season he was booked 11 times—more than any other player.
So far this time round he has been booked six times and sent off once (against Sunderland).
Since he has been in the Premier League, he is the most persistent offender with a running total of 31 yellow cards and one red. For that reason he makes the list.
Tiote is adamant his reputation goes against him, and he may be right. Any referees worrying about developing tennis elbow cannot rest easy after he signed a new deal with Newcastle that runs until 2017.
5. Craig Gardner (Sunderland)
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Another one from the midfield school of hard knocks, the Black Cats dynamo is another player who sees getting booked as an occupational hazard.
Rather than going out of his way to avoid disciplinary danger and potentially losing that combative edge, the former Birmingham City terrier never takes his foot off the gas.
It is an approach that endears him to fans, gets him goals (five so far) but also gets him into trouble with officials.
Craig Gardner is the most booked player in the Premier League this season with nine yellow cards, and he makes an average of 1.6 fouls per game (via WhoScored.com)
He also picked up five yellows and one red last season.
4. Dean Whitehead (Stoke City)
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The season got off to the worse possible start for the Stoke City defender when he was sent off for two bookings on opening day against Reading.
Since then six more yellow cards have followed, but it is the frequency with which Dean Whitehead picks them up that gets him on this list.
His eight cards have come from only eight starts and 11 substitute appearances. Six of those yellow cards came in the first eight games of the season in which he played.
When you compare his stats with those of other players who have collected a similar number of bookings, Whitehead's have come from the fewest number of fouls: 20 (via WhoScored.com). So his fouls are more likely to be punished with a card.
His bookings do not stop if he comes on as a substitute. When you bring on a defensive sub, generally speaking, it's to shore up the game, keep things tight and not give the opposition anything.
Whitehead has been booked three times as a replacement, so he has not exactly been the completely calming influence needed.
3. Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
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Liverpool's mercurial striker is the first one to make this list by virtue of his fondness for taking a dive...or two.
It's a shame that for a player of his brilliance, Luis Suarez feels the need to try and unfairly gain an advantage by such skullduggery.
His "attempt" to win a penalty in the Reds' goalless draw with Stoke early in the season was outrageous. There was a more convincing shout for a penalty the last time I slipped on my bathroom floor and fell in the bath.
Suarez knows he bends the rules, admitting he dived in that game against the Potters.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has warned his wayward striker to eradicate his "unacceptable" behaviour, and the Anfield boss will be hoping the two bookings Suarez has received this season for simulation will be his last.
Suarez seems to be a player who attracts controversy. If the diving was not bad enough, there was that handball incident against Mansfield in the FA Cup, although the flak that has come his way has not been as universal.
Diving has no place in football, and Suarez, who has 22 league goals, would be far better off channelling his energies into trying to fire Liverpool into the Champions League.
2. Goran Popov (West Bromwich Albion)
Popov sent off for spitting
When you're running around for 90 minutes dealing with your own bodily fluids is quite enough, thank you very much. The last thing you need is to have to cope with someone else's.
In a match with Tottenham in February, West Bromwich Albion left-back Goran Popov felt the need to share some of his DNA far too close for Kyle Walker's liking and was promptly sent off.
Players regard spitting as the lowest of the low, and whether you're playing on Wimbledon common or in the World Cup, gobbing at an opponent has no place at all.
It is an act so abhorrent it puts Popov straight in at No.2 on the list.
Popov is on a season-long loan from Dynamo Kyiv but has not been played since.
I wouldn't hold your breath on his move becoming permanent.
1. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
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You know the stuff about football needing balance at the start of this? Well there is no better player at the moment to encapsulate all aspects of that sentiment than Tottenham's irrepressible Welshman, Gareth Bale.
For his position he is both a great goalscorer, with 16 goals so far, and also a scorer of great goals—That's the good part.
He is also is a great diver.
He has been booked for simulation four times this season. Yes, that's right four times. When you take his record back to last season, it is six times in the last 15 months (via The Independent). Yes, that's right, six times in just over a year.
Bale is a brilliant player. Magical when in full flight. A force of slaloming nature. However, the villainy of his ease of going to ground is in danger of tarnishing what deserves to be a shimmering career.
If he is going to get booked, you would much rather it be for late tackle or over-fruity exchange with the ref.
Football needs its balance, but Bale's make up is so lopsidedly towards his talent, he does not need any dark side.
We want to describe him as "a great player" not "a great player, but..."