All sports, including soccer, have a set of rules that govern them and ensure that they are played safely and in an orderly manner. To enforce the said rules, sports often employ custodians commonly known as match officials or referees to guarantee that they are followed to the letter. Aside from the express power they are endowed with, officials are also equipped with instruments to sanction players for conduct unbecoming, with the two most common being the whistle and cards (yellow and red). In the English Premier League (EPL), one player has distinguished himself by receiving the most yellow cards in its 30-year history.
Which Premier League player received the most yellow cards? Former Aston Villa and Manchester City strongman Gareth Barry received the most yellow cards in Premier League history with a mind-boggling 123 in 653 EPL appearances. The former defensive midfielder, who also holds the record for the most Premier League appearances, managed to accumulate a little over 20 more than his closest “competitor” in a stellar career that saw him ply his trade for four top-flight clubs.
Illustrious Club Career
Like most professional players who go on to have successful careers, Barry’s romance with soccer started at a tender age. At 10, the young prospect joined top-flight side Brighton & Hove Albion where he learned the ropes for the next six years.
At age 16, Barry moved to seven-time FA Cup winners Aston Villa along with friend and future manager Michael Standing in a deal believed to be in the neighborhood of around £2.4 million. After a season with the club’s youth side, the then-teenager made his professional debut for the Villans in early May 1998 and went on to score his first professional goal in a 2-0 routing of former top-flight side Nottingham Forest.
Barry continued to establish himself as a first-team regular over the following two seasons and ultimately won his first major trophy – the now-defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup – in 2001 by besting Swiss side FC Basel 5-2 on aggregate.
In late October 2007, Barry became the youngest player to play 300 Premier League games by breaking the previous record that was held by Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. The Englishman also held the record for being the longest-serving player in Villa’s squad.
Becoming a Defensive Maestro
By the late 2000s, Barry had already been linked with moves to several top clubs in the EPL. Unlike many traditional defensive midfielders, the former Brighton & Hove Albion standout was equally as gifted on the offensive end and had developed a knack for providing key assists and finding the back of the net whenever the opportunity presented itself.
His undeniable skills and leadership which had earned him the captain’s armband made him a great addition and garnered the attention of Liverpool, who made several bids of up to around £15 million for Barry in 2008. Villa nevertheless rejected the bids as they fell short of the £18 million price tag the club had slapped on him.
Barry, who was admittedly open to the move and the opportunity of playing Champions League football, had an ill-advised interview at the time where he criticized former Villa manager Martin O’Neill. The fallout saw the club fine him two weeks’ worth of wages and strip him of his captaincy.
He however remained at the club and continued to put spectacular performances en route to making his 400th appearance for Villa in mid-September 2008. Barry eventually regained the skipper’s armband in January 2009.
EPL Glory and Twilight Years
In June 2009, Barry ultimately departed from Villa Park for Manchester City where he signed a five-year, £12 million deal. The talisman fit in seamlessly with the then-newly revamped City side and scored his first goal for the club in late September.
His first major title with City came in 2011 when they beat Stoke City 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Barry then went on to win his first and only Premier League title in their 2011-12 campaign. The midfielder was a key contributor in the squad that dethroned derby rivals Manchester United in the last minute of the last match of the season. He played an impressive 34 league matches to clinch City’s first top-flight trophy of the EPL era.
Barry then moved to Everton on loan in their 2013-14 season after falling out of favor with then-new City boss Manuel Pellegrini before making a permanent move to Goodison Park the following year. The former City ace stayed another two seasons with the Toffees and once was again recognized for his stellar leadership skills by being appointed captain of the English side.
The 2015–16 Everton Players’ Player of the Season then moved to West Bromwich Albion in August 2017 and was naturally named captain of the then top-tier side. He hung his boots at the end of the Baggies’ 2019-20 season, setting the record for the most EPL appearances in the competition’s history
Barry was every manager’s dream defensive midfielder and was quite willing and able to do the “dirty work” to ensure his side emerged victorious. Because of the nature of his job, Barry almost always had the worst disciplinary record in the clubs he played for.
The 123 yellow cards he accumulated over the duration of his EPL career are a true testament to his exemplary skills considering he was only sent off 6 times in 653 Premier League matches. Simple math shows that Barry averaged 1 yellow card every 423 minutes.
The former Everton skipper also registered over 1000 successful tackles, blocked over 80 shots, and made well over 600 interceptions to average a tackle success rate of 77%. He is widely considered by many including former Everton bosses Ronald Koeman and Roberto Martinez as one of the best defensive midfielders to ever play in the EPL.
Other Notable EPL Players with Multiple Yellow Cards
Barry may lead the pack as far as the number of yellow cards accumulated but another five players have earned at least 90 in their Premier League careers. They are:
- Wayne Rooney – 103.
- Lee Bowyer – 99
- Kevin Davies – 99
- Paul Scholes – 97
- Scott Parker – 92
The former West Brom captain’s booking accomplishments however pale in comparison to those of Paris Saint-Germain center-back Sergio Ramos. The former Real Madrid captain has earned well over 260 yellow cards in over 870 games for the two clubs and is highly likely to continue adding to his tally for the foreseeable future.