These are players who let you know they’re there. Who leave a mark. Who make sure you’ll feel that in the morning. Who put a name on it, no matter who’s in their way. Who get there somehow.
Well, some of them are, anyway. A number of these players find their way onto this list more through longevity than nastiness, so it’s interesting to see just how many stars can be considered dirty when you total up the number of misdemeanours that they’ve committed over years of Premier League football.
Introducing the 50 players who have committed the most fouls in Premier League history (well, since 2006/07 when accurate records began)…
50. Cheikhou Kouyate (310)
West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest
After spells with West Ham (opens in new tab) and Crystal Palace (opens in new tab), Kouyate is now kicking opposition shins while wearing the red shirt of Nottingham Forest (opens in new tab).
Steve Cooper’s side look set for a season of struggle, so they will need the midfielder to bring all his tenacity and bite to the table.
49. James McCarthy (311)
Wigan Athletic, Everton, Crystal Palace
McCarthy is now provoking the referee’s whistle north of the border, having joined Celtic in 2021.
During spells with Wigan, Everton (opens in new tab) and Crystal Palace, the dogged Irishman committed 311 fouls in just 272 Premier League games.
48. Jordan Ayew (314)
Aston Villa, Swansea City, Crystal Palace
Only four players were fouled more than the industrious Ayew in 2021/22, but the Ghana international gives it out as much as he takes it.
A manager’s favourite for his willingness to work hard for the cause, Ayew has illegally halted Premier League opponents 314 times to date.
45= Cheick Tiote (315)
The late Tiote was a fan favourite throughout his time at Newcastle (opens in new tab), with his willingness to get stuck in endearing him to the St James’ Park faithful.
The Ivorian’s timing in the tackle wasn’t always perfect, though: he committed 315 fouls in 138 top-flight games for the club.
45= Morgan Schneiderlin (315)
Southampton, Manchester United, Everton
At one time Schniederlin was one of the most well-regarded holding midfielders in the Premier League, but his move to Manchester United (opens in new tab) did not work out.
The Frenchman squeezed his 315 fouls into 200 games, giving him an average of more than 1.5 per match.
45= Emmanuel Adebayor (315)
Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace
There was more to Adebayor’s game than goals and knee slides, you know. The Togolese striker was also a prolific fouler, committing 315 offences in his Premier League career.
Most of those breaches came with Arsenal (opens in new tab), but Adebayor continued to impede opponents at Manchester City (opens in new tab), Tottenham (opens in new tab) and Crystal Palace.
44. Sadio Mane (317)
Liverpool (opens in new tab) have struggled to adjust to life after Mane, who is experiencing his own adaptation difficulties over in Munich. The Senegalese was the perfect fit for a team coached by Jurgen Klopp, who demands that even his attacking players get stuck in.
Mane was at times overenthusiastic in that regard, with Premier League referees penalising him 317 times over the years.
43. Vincent Kompany (321)
The long-time Manchester City captain is a club legend at the Etihad Stadium, where he won four titles during a fantastic career in the Premier League.
The Belgian was also an expert at charging up the pitch and making rash challenges, and was duly punished 321 times during his 11 seasons with City.
41= Ryan Shawcross (323)
Shawcross lived by the maxim that the “ball or man can go past, but never both”.
The 6ft 3in Stoke stopper made 323 fouls in 317 Premier League games for the Potters. Shawcross hung up his boots in 2022 and is now the assistant manager of Inter Miami II in the third tier of the US soccer pyramid.
41= Dimitar Berbatov (323)
Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Fulham
Yes, that’s right: Dimitar Berbatov. The classy Bulgarian wowed Premier League audiences with his flawless first touch at Tottenham, Manchester United and Fulham (opens in new tab), but he wasn’t a total stranger to the dark arts.
Berbatov committed 323 fouls during his time in England’s top tier, although they were all probably someone else’s fault.
40. Kevin Nolan (326)
Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, West Ham United
We’re not clucking joking. The chicken-imitating midfielder was a menace to opponents and referees alike during his time in the Premier League.
Nolan, who turned out for Bolton, West Ham and Newcastle in the top flight, drew the referee’s ire 326 times.
39. Oriol Romeu (327)
Romeu might have come through the Barcelona (opens in new tab) academy but he’s never been one for tiki-taka. The Spaniard instead revelled in the role of destroyer at Southampton (opens in new tab), with whom he spent seven seasons after failing to nail down a first-team spot at Chelsea (opens in new tab).
In total Romeu was pulled up by the man in the middle on 327 occasions. He’s now bothering opponents in La Liga with Girona.
38. John Obi Mikel (328)
Close your eyes and picture Mikel. The image that probably comes to mind is him clattering into an opposition midfielder from behind.
A No.10 for Nigeria, Mikel tended to be employed as a destroyer by Chelsea, for whom he conceded 328 free-kicks in 249 games.
37. Andy Carroll (329)
Newcastle United, Liverpool, West Ham United
A flailing arm catching a defender square in the face was a regular occurrence when Carroll was on a Premier League pitch.
The ex-Newcastle, Liverpool and West Ham striker committed 329 offences in total, and was sent off twice.
36. Jordan Henderson (330)
Henderson has been an integral part of Liverpool’s success under Jurgen Klopp, even though he’s not the most technical player in the team.
Henderson brings plenty to the table, though, include a willingness to get in opponents’ faces – although he’s overstepped the mark 330 times for the Reds and Sunderland.
34= Moussa Sissoko (331)
Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur
It took a while for Sissoko to win over Tottenham fans but he eventually did just that, thanks in large part to his work ethic and commitment.
Sissoko was a nuisance to play against, and his 295 appearances for Spurs and Newcastle produced 331 fouls.
34= Alex Song (331)
Charlton Athletic, Arsenal, West Ham United
The combative Cameroonian racked up 190 Premier League appearances for Charlton, Arsenal and West Ham.
Opposition limbs were rarely safe in any of those games. In total he committed 331 fouls – although it was probably even more, as his first few appearances for Arsenal came before the 2006/07 campaign.
33. Phil Bardsley (333)
Manchester United, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Stoke City, Burnley
Even Bardsley himself would admit he was not a right-back in the mould of Trent Alexander-Arnold. More destructive than constructive, the Salford-born defender nevertheless carved out a decent Premier League career.
Bardsley represented five clubs in England’s top flight and was penalised by match officials on 333 occasions.
32. Charlie Adam (334)
Blackpool, Liverpool, Stoke City
Adam was one of the Premier League’s standout performers in his debut campaign with Blackpool, but he quickly proved that he had more in his locker than left-footed pings and shots from the halfway line.
Indeed, by the time Adam bade farewell to the top flight in 2018 he’d made 334 fouls for Blackpool, Liverpool and Stoke.
31. Ashley Barnes (336)
You don’t rack up for almost 250 appearances for Sean Dyche’s Burnley without being willing to do the dirty work, and Barnes was never shy in that regard.
The striker, who remains a key player for the Clarets under Vincent Kompany, still has time to add to his 336 top-tier fouls.
29= Steve Sidwell (338)
Reading, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke City
Although his total number of fouls isn’t one of the highest in this list, Sidwell’s ratio is among the best: 200 Premier League games, 338 fouls.
Those came during spells with (deep breath) Reading, Chelsea, Aston Villa (opens in new tab), Fulham and Stoke.
Arsenal, Birmingham, Sunderland
Best remembered for his long-range howitzers and stunning free-kicks, Larsson was no stranger to tickings-off from referees.
The former Arsenal, Birmingham and Sunderland man committed 338 offences during his time in the Premier League.
27= Erik Pieters (339)
Stoke City, Burnley
A tough-tackling Dutchman, Pieters was a mainstay at left-back for Stoke prior to his switch to Burnley in 2019.
The former PSV man is currently in the Championship with West Brom, and at 34 his chances of adding to his 339 top-flight fouls are slim.
27= Craig Gardner (339)
Aston Villa, Birmingham, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion
Tough-tackling midfielders are something of a theme of this list and Gardner takes his place among them with 339 fouls in 260 games.
Those were accumulated during spells with West Brom, Sunderland, Birmingham and Aston Villa.
26. Pablo Zabaleta (350)
Manchester City, West Ham United
The two-time Premier League winner takes his place on this list with 350 fouls in 303 appearances for Manchester City and West Ham.
His disciplinary record wasn’t exactly flawless either: the Argentine picked up 68 yellow cards and four red cards in that time.
24= Mohamed Diame (355)
Wigan Athletic, West Ham United, Hull City, Newcastle United
Handing Diame the No.10 shirt at Newcastle was a somewhat baffling decision, given that he registered just five assists and 18 goals in 239 Premier League games.
Diame spent a lot of his time hauling down opponents in the centre of the pitch during spells with the Magpies, Hull, West Ham and Wigan.
24= Robert Huth (355)
Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Stoke City, Leicester City
Huth is something of a rarity in this list in that he’s a defender. However, anyone who saw him play will know that he deserves his place in the top 25.
The centre-back, who played a starring role in Leicester (opens in new tab)’s stunning 2015/16 title triumph, committed an average of more than a foul a game over 322 Premier League appearances for the Foxes, Middlesbrough, Stoke and Chelsea.
23. Wilfried Zaha (358)
Manchester United, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace
No player in the Premier League was fouled more than Zaha in 2021/22, but the twinkle-toed forward is not a completely innocent party.
The Crystal Palace icon has made 358 fouls of his own – a surprisingly high number for a player who is nevertheless still more sinned against than sinner.
22. Fernandinho (359)
Manchester City have been criticised for their habit of tactical fouling under Pep Guardiola, but Fernandinho was committing misdemeanours long before the Catalan came to England.
The Brazilian, who left the Etihad Stadium in the summer, has been ticked off by referees on 359 occasions.
21. Raheem Sterling (360)
Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea
Raheem Sterling: hatchet man. Who knew? The Chelsea forward is adept at drawing fouls from full-backs but he commits his fair share of offences too.
In 326 Premier League appearances to date Sterling has committed 360 fouls for Liverpool, Manchester City and his current employers, earning himself 34 bookings and one red card.
20. Wayne Rooney (368)
Everton, Manchester United
Rooney is well known for having a hot head and it’s no surprise to see Manchester United and England’s all-time top scorer on this list.
The striker committed 368 fouls in 491 Premier League games for Everton and United, which is by no means a shocking ratio compared to some others in this ranking.
19. Mousa Dembele (371)
Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur
Dembele was an integral part of the Tottenham team that scaled new heights under Mauricio Pochettino, having previously caught the eye at Fulham.
The technically gifted yet tough-tackling midfielder made 371 fouls in that time, but to his credit was never sent off in the top flight.
18. Bobby Zamora (377)
Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers
Zamora may have rarely been a prolific goalscorer during spells in the top flight with Tottenham, West Ham, Fulham and QPR, but he was a pest for opposition defenders.
The striker was a master when it came to the aggression of his tackles: he committed 377 fouls but picked up just 20 yellow cards.
17. Mikel Arteta (380)
Arteta is now teaching the next generation the art of the tactical foul as Arsenal manager, having regularly been punished by the referee during his playing days.
The Spaniard spent 16 years in the engine room for Everton and Arsenal, committing 380 fouls, and opicking up 43 yellow and four red cards.
16. Mark Noble (390)
West Ham United
Noble is about to become West Ham’s sporting director after the one-club man (we’re not counting those brief loan spells at Hull and Ipswich) hung up his boots at the end of last term.
It’s no surprise to see a midfielder with 414 appearances on this list, but Noble fell just short of the 400-foul mark.
15. Carlton Cole (401)
Chelsea, Charlton Athletic, Aston Villa, West Ham United
An awkward customer for opposition defenders, Cole was a prolific fouler if not a prolific scorer.
His 289 Premier League appearances yielded 401 fouls, while the striker was booked 31 times and sent off thrice.
14. Tim Cahill (402)
The Australian is another example of a physically combative frontman who regularly committed on-field offences during his time at Everton.
He plundered 56 goals during his time with the Toffees, and when he wasn’t putting the ball in the net, the flag-punching pest was chasing, harrying and nipping at defenders.
13. Christian Benteke (408)
Aston Villa, Liverpool, Crystal Palace
Benteke’s goalscoring rate declined as the years went on, but he was as adept as ever at making the referee blow his whistle.
The Belgium international was an aerial target at Aston Villa, Liverpool and Crystal Palace, and committed more than 400 fouls in the process.
11= Shane Long (410)
Reading, West Bromwich Albion, Hull City, Southampton
The Irishman makes more than one foul per game on average, having committed 410 in 344 appearances for Southampton, Hull, West Brom and Reading.
That rarely translates to stricter punishments, though, as Long has never been sent off and has just 29 bookings to his name.
11= Lucas Leiva (410)
An eventual favourite of the Liverpool faithful after a difficult start in England, Lucas spent a decade tripping people up in the heart of the Reds’ midfield.
A record of 410 fouls in 247 games is impressively consistent from the Brazilian, unlike his strike rate: he scored just one league goal for Liverpool.
10. Ashley Young (415)
Watford, Aston Villa, Manchester United
Once a goalscoring winger who occasionally played as a No.10, Young has become an aggressive full-back later in his Premier League career.
That allowed him to climb up the foul table, and he would probably be even higher up this list if he hadn’t spent 18 months at Inter (opens in new tab).
9. Lee Cattermole (422)
Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland
The ex-Sunderland man forged a well-earned reputation as a tough tackler during his time in England’s top flight.
Cattermole has 422 fouls, 88 bookings and seven red cards to his name in 271 Premier League appearances.
8. James McArthur (424)
Wigan Athletic, Crystal Palace
A bundle of energy who never stops running, McArthur has been penalised 434 times since his arrival in the Premier League in 2010.
His 12-year stay in the division has encompassed spells with Wigan and Crystal Palace, where he is highly valued by Patrick Vieira – no stranger to putting a foot in.
7. Peter Crouch (425)
Aston Villa, Southampton, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City, Burnley
Ah, Crouchy. Defenders just didn’t know what to do with you, did they?
The 6ft 7in target man made his presence felt over 468 Premier League appearances, scoring 108 goals and committing 425 fouls for Stoke, Tottenham, Portsmouth, Liverpool, Southampton, Aston Villa and Burnley.
6. Antonio Valencia (426)
Wigan Athletic, Manchester United
The Ecuadorian made his presence felt during spells at Wigan and Manchester United, before returning to his homeland in 2019.
To his credit though, Valencia was only ever sent off three times in the English top flight – twice for Wigan and once for United, which isn’t bad going in 325 games.
5. Gabriel Agbonlahor (439)
One-club man Agbonlahor became Villa’s record goalscorer in the Premier League over the course of his 322 top-flight appearances for his boyhood club.
But he was also a master of the dark arts, tormenting his markers throughout his career with an impressive 439 fouls.
4. James Milner (476)
Leeds United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool
Milner still has time on his side to make a push for a podium place in this list as the highest-ranked player currently active in the Premier League.
The England midfielder has committed 434 fouls and counting during spells with Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City and now Liverpool.
3. Marouane Fellaini (588)
Everton, Manchester United
The Belgian’s name is synonymous with a blur of flailing elbows and tangled limbs.
His efforts at Everton and Manchester United earned him a place in the top three, and if he’d stuck around instead of heading for China, you would’ve backed him to make a surge for the No.1 spot.
2. Kevin Davies (605)
Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers
The final striker on this list, Davies is the most prolific when it comes to fouls, if not goals.
He was a horrible handful for defenders while leading the line for Southampton, Blackburn and Bolton. And also referees. Mainly referees.
1. Gareth Barry (633)
Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton, West Bromwich Albion
The Premier League’s all-time record appearance maker also tops the charts for fouls, having been punished 633 times during his time with Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and West Brom.
The midfielder was only sent off six times in the top flight, although he was booked on 123 occasions – another list he tops, ahead of Wayne Rooney on 102.