With modern rules going the way they are in football, the day when a genuine hard man had a place in the team may well be a thing of the past. This is a shame as there was nobody opposing fans loved to hate more than the opposition’s wrecking ball.

Over the years there have been some very imposing players who have had this somewhat dubious role in the game. There are some very obvious ones, such as the famous Wimbledon midfielder turned film and TV star Vinny Jones, to less obvious ones such as the former Rangers, Sampdoria, Liverpool and Middlesbrough midfielder Graeme Souness who had a ferocious reputation alongside his commensurate skill.

However, we will be looking beyond just the UK shores for our top ten of football hardmen. We’ll be branching out into the realms of Italy, Spain and South America, where some of the most fearsome players have earned reputations over the years.

To that end, we will be picking out five toughest players from the UK & Ireland, plus five from the Rest of the World.

And we’ll also put paid to the rumour that these players didn’t have any ability. The truth of the matter is, they could all play football to a very high standard. This is why they reached the level that they did. It’s just that they were less averse to sticking the boot (or more) in every now and then when circumstances dictated.

These are the players that nowadays would be the short odds selections for the bet365 Sport yellow and red card betting markets in games and hopefully, some of the documented video evidence will allow you to see why.

10. Harold Schumacher

A goalkeeper in the top ten? Well yes, because Harold Schumacher was the perpetrator of what was probably the worst intentional foul I’ve seen on a football field. In the 1982 World Cup Semi Final, Patrick Battiston was put through on goal by Michel Platini, Schumacher rushed out and leapt into Battison, his hip colliding with the Frenchman’s head. Battiston was severely injured losing teeth, damaging his vertebrae and at one point slipping into a coma.

On being told Battiston had lost two teeth, Schumacher’s response “If that’s all that’s wrong with him, I’ll pay him the crowns.” Incredibly the referee did not give a free-kick let alone a red card and West Germany won the game on penalties.

9. Andoni Goikoetxea

The Butcher of Bilbao was a decent footballer who amassed over 30 caps for Spain and had a long and successful career with Athletic Bilbao, but he is most famous for two challenges that put two of the world’s best players, Bernd Schuster and Diego Maradona out for almost a year due to the severity of the challenges. Andoni wasn’t too bothered. He had the boot that broke Diego Maradona’s leg framed and displayed in his living room.

8. Norman Hunter

Perhaps most famous for his scrap with Franny Lee which saw Hunter and Lee trade punches on the pitch (with Lee coming off much the worse), Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter was an old-school defender. By that, we mean he could stop you by football means and if that failed, he’d just sweep your legs from under you and leave you in a heap on the floor.

7. Graeme Souness

The Rolls Royce in Liverpool’s midfield of the 1980s, Souness was a superb footballer who created and scored goals alike. However, alongside that was a single-minded and often brutal footballer who was not averse to wiping out an opponent if he had the opportunity. Some of his tackles are X-rated even by the standards of the 1980s.

6. Claudio Gentile

Perhaps the best known of a number of Italian hardmen of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The Italian Stopper provided a steely backbone for club and country alongside Antonio Cabrini, Marco Tardelli and Roberto Bettega. He’s the defender who tore Diego Maradona’s shirt almost in half and man-marked Zico so brutally that the Brazillian’s ankles were purple after the game.

5. Billy Bremner

The 1970 Leeds United team was revered both for their talent and their brutality. In a team that included many players that could have made this list (two did), Bremner was the captain and the architect. Another outstanding midfielder, he was as tenacious as he was talented and as hot-headed as he was inspirational.

His 1974 bust-up with Kevin Keegan at the Charity Shield is arguably him at his hot-headed best, even though it was teammate Johnny Giles that instigated it with a right hook.

4. Sergio Ramos

The Spanish legend has amassed 25 red cards in his career and quite frankly, he doesn’t give a damn. That’s Ramos all over, it is everything for the team, even if he sacrifices himself. He’s well averse to the dark arts (as anyone who saw him injuring Mo Salah in the 2018 Champions League final will know) but allied to his brutality and calculated nature is a fabulously talented footballer who has scored so many key goals for club and country.

3. Duncan Ferguson

Everton’s fearsome current manager was not someone to be trifled with on or off the pitch. He asked no quarter and gave no quarter. He was imprisoned while playing for Rangers, moved south to play for Everton where he became an icon despite numerous sendings off, one for punching Paul Scharner in the stomach in a game against Wigan. When two burglars broke into his home in the middle of the night a barefoot Ferguson not only chased them off but handed the pair a beating.

2. Dave MacKay

The phrase ‘hard as nails’ has been used for so many players over the years but for Tottenham and Scotland star Dave MacKay, it was the perfect description. MacKay was a force of nature, leading Spurs to several trophies in his career, including the league and cup double in 1961. However, he was a fearsome competitor who never shirked a tackle.

George Best called him the hardest and best opponent he ever faced. Oh, and the picture of him leading the article, that’s Billy Bremner who is number 5 on our list probably wishing he hadn’t made that last challenge.

1. Gerardo Bedoya

Who you may say? Admittedly the Colombian-born South American isn’t as easily recognisable as some of the names on this list, but his tally of 46 red cards in his career, almost double the amount of Sergio Ramos clearly marks him down as the dirtiest player ever. He even remarked that red card number 41 was his favourite as after punching an opponent to the floor, he kicked him in the head for good measure, receiving a 15-match ban.

Others who receive an honorary mention for just missing out on the top ten include Ron “Chopper” Harris, Tommy Smith, Roy Keane, Vinny Jones, Pepe, Dunga, Felipe Melo, Steve McMahon, Billy Whitehurst, Daniel Passarella, Paolo Montero, Jaap Stam, Martin Keown, Terry Butcher, Walter Samuel, Johnny Giles, Norman Whiteside, Joey Barton, Jose Camacho, Javi Navarro, Gennaro Gattuso, Giorgio Chiellini and anybody that played in the 1962 World Cup game between Chile and Italy!

More Top 10 Lists

Check out out our other Top 10 Lists from Ian John: