The Dirtiest Players in EPL History: The Starting XI

Dan Wheeler@@DanJLWheelerContributor IApril 7, 2013

The Dirtiest Players in EPL History: The Starting XI

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    The last 20 years have given us dozens of candidates for the Premier League's dirtiest side of all time. But how best to decide who gets in?

    Clearly, the number of red and yellow cards a player has received is the major prerequisite.

    The nature of their "crimes" is also relevant. A two-footed challenge deserves more criticism than a second booking. There are even occasions where the offence is so severe, it merits the player's inclusion on its own.

    Those players who have shown a tendency to dive have not been considered for this side. You can debate whether diving is "dirty," or not, but it is certainly an underhand tactic.

    There are bound to be some very strong contenders who have not made the final cut, so feel free to extol their credentials below.

    For now, here's an XI, in a 4-3-1-2 formation, that you won't be keen to have a preseason friendly with.

    All disciplinary statistics supplied by, and

Goalkeeper: Jussi Jaaskelainen

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    The current West Ham goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, gets the nod between the sticks ahead of the likes of Jens Lehmann and Neville Southall (who merely looked like the dirtiest goalkeeper).

    The Finn has been sent off four times, which is more than any other keeper in Premier League history.

    All of his sendings-off came during his 13 seasons with Bolton.

    He received two red cards and four yellows in 2001-02, another in 2004-05 and, his last one to date, against Birmingham City during the 2010-11 campaign.

    He might be a lovely bloke, but it's his card count that gets him in this side.

Right Back: Ben Thatcher

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    If Ben Thatcher's four red cards were not enough of a reason for his eligibility to this Dirty XI, he makes it by virtue of a challenge for which, ironically, he wasn't sent off.

    Playing for Manchester City against Portsmouth in the Premier League in 2006, Thatcher's "tackle" on Pedro Mendes is now infamous for its villainy.

    Thatcher elbowed Mendes so hard that the Portuguese was knocked unconscious and had to be given emergency treatment at the side of the pitch.

    Thatcher was only booked at the time, but he was later fined and banned for eight games.

Left Back: Franck Queudrue

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    Maybe it was the language barrier, but there was some reason why Franck Queudrue's time in England was littered with so many cards.

    The French full-back was sent off six times in his eight seasons in the Premier League playing for Middlesbrough, Fulham and Birmingham.

    Half of those came during the 2002-03 season, when he was red carded twice in nine days and then again in the last match of the campaign at Bolton.

    Oh la la.

Centre Back: Richard Dunne

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    Richard Dunne looks like a big, friendly, giant.

    His disciplinary record, however, suggests there is considerable steel and no little "professionalism" behind those puppy-dog eyes.

    The Republic of Ireland centre half has been sent off eight times in his Premier League career with Manchester City and Aston Villa. No one in Premier League history has seen red more often.

    He has also been booked over 70 times.

    The Villa man is also not afraid to stir it up off the field at times too.

    Perhaps more clumsy than outright vicious, Dunne has a record nine own goals against his name.

    So he might prevent the odd goal-scoring chance, but he'll more than likely put through his own net to redress the balance.

Centre Back: Martin Keown

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    Martin Keown: hard as nails. 

    The former Arsenal king pin walks into this side (well, who's going to stop him?) and has the pedigree to prove it.

    Sent off six times in his Premier League career, Keown proved you didn't mess with him lightly.

    One of the best illustrations of his ability to shake, rattle, and roll opponents over came during a game against Manchester United in September 2003.

    It was dubbed "The Battle of Old Trafford," and Keown was a main protagonist in one of the fieriest matches in Premier League history.

    You definitely wouldn't want him in your ear when you're about to take a penalty.

Centre Midfield: Roy Keane

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    If there's one player in Premier League history that would make you want to stay in the changing room or volunteer to carry the half-time oranges, it's Roy Keane.

    Dominant, fearless, intimidating and ruthless, Keane could be as vicious as he was brilliant.

    In his time in the Premier League, he racked up seven red cards and over 70 yellows.

    Despite being one of the best midfielders of his generation, he'll best be remembered for the retribution he dished out to Alf-Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby in April 2001.

    The incident was "personal" as far as Keane was concerned, after a previous clash with Haaland four years earlier.

    Never afraid to speak his mind, Keane also had his differences with management. He fell out spectacularly with Republic of Ireland coach Mick McCarthy during the World Cup in 2002 and was sent home.

    Keane was captain of United and leads this Dirty XI.

Centre Midfield: Patrick Vieira

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    If there is one midfield combination that would make you want to quit playing, it's Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.

    Getting the two of them in the same side might be an issue, given their legendary feuding, but is there a more formidable and frightening pair?

    The former Arsenal man holds the record of most dismissals in Premier League history (with Richard Dunne) and never went more than three games without getting at least a yellow card. 

    Vieira wasn't afraid to spit out his aggression either. 

    He was banned for four matches for spitting at West Ham's Neil Ruddock during a game in 1999.

    Unfortunately, his penchant for picking on Gary Neville isn't enough to spare him membership of the Dirty XI. 

Centre Midfield: Joey Barton

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    Joey Barton is, perhaps, the most obvious candidate for an all-time Dirty XI.

    Justifying his place is not difficult.

    A quick flick through his disciplinary resume reveals more than enough to endorse Barton's credentials for this side.

    Choose any one of the following:

    • Puts a lit cigar into the eye of young Manchester City player Jamie Tandy at Christmas party in 2004. Barton was fined around £60,000.
    • Assaults "teammate" Ousmane Dabo during a training ground incident at Manchester City in 2007. Dabo was left with a detached retina, while Barton got a four-month suspended prison sentence and a 12-game ban.
    • Punches Morten Gamst Pedersen playing for Newcastle against Blackburn in 2010. Somehow only booked, but banned for three games.
    • Sent off against Manchester City for Queens Park Rangers for elbowing Carlos Tevez, then challenging Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany. He was banned for 12 matches and sent on loan to Marseille, effectively ending his career in England.

    If that was not enough, there are all the Twitter tirades as well as the charges for assault and affray when he's not wreaking havoc on the field.

    Nice boy is Joey.

Attacking Midfield: Eric Cantona

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    Few players have left their mark on the Premier League with quite the same élan as Eric Cantona.

    A genius who can be credited with triggering the beginning of Manchester United's dominance of English football in the 1990s, Cantona also showed his flaws on a spectacular basis.

    As balmy as he was brilliant, the Frenchman was sent off six times, including four occasions in the 1993-94 season.

    But his real moment of infamy came one night at Selhurst Park in January 1995, in a game against Crystal Palace.

    After being sent off for a challenge on Richard Shaw, Cantona reacted in astonishing fashion to taunts from a fan in the stands. Instead of ignoring him, Cantona lept into the front row, kicking the supporter in the chest.

    Cantona was banned for eight months.

    He returned to help United win two more Premier League titles and another FA Cup before retiring at the age of 30.

Striker: Duncan Ferguson

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    There's no one more suitable to leading the line in a Dirty XI than Everton's big, bad Duncan Ferguson.

    The Scottish striker had two spells at Goodison and a stint with Newcastle.

    He was ordered off eight times in his Premier League career, sharing the record for most reds cards with his Dirty XI teammates, Richard Dunne and Patrick Vieira.

    Ferguson's misdemeanors on the field have reportedly cost him around £200,000 over the years.

    He also was given a three-month prison sentence for headbutting John McStay while playing for Rangers against Raith Rovers in 1994.

Striker: Kevin Davies

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    It's hard to know which fact about Kevin Davies is more unbelievable.

    Is it his 101 yellow cards, or is it that he's actually played for England?

    The totem of Sam Allardyce's highly-effective Bolton Wanderers side, Davies turned fouling, and being fouled, into something of an art form.

    In his Trotters career, he set a Premier League record for the most number of fouls in a season, in 2010-11, breaking his own previous mark.

    It was a run that brought up his century of yellow cards

    Davies is the living, breathing definition of an old-fashioned "battering ram" striker. 

    But he used that style to his advantage, winning almost as many fouls as he committed.

    Indeed, over the last decade, no one has been fouled more often than Davies.

    Subtle work.