If you’ve watched Lionel Messi play soccer all these years, you’ll know that the Argentinian maestro isn’t the sort of athlete who picks up red cards often.
In fact, he draws red cards out of the players who attempt to get the ball from him, as he’s able to glide along the pitch with such close control and precision!
However, looking through Messi’s career to date, there have been a couple of occasions where he has managed to get sent off of the field by the referee.
So, let’s cut right to the chase.
Lionel Messi has picked up a total of three red cards throughout his professional soccer career so far. The first two were handed to him in 2005 and 2019 whilst he represented his national team – Argentina – with the third given to him in 2021 when he used to play for the Spanish club FC Barcelona.
Breakdown of all the red cards in Messi’s soccer career
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty details of how he managed to pick up these red cards.
1. Argentina vs Hungary (2005)
Quite astonishingly, Messi picked up his first professional red card on his national team debut for Argentina back on August 15th 2005.
The South American side were playing against Hungary in a friendly match.
A then 18-year-old Messi – who was probably too eager to make a strong first impression after coming off of the substitutes bench – found himself heading back to the changing rooms right after stepping on to the field moments earlier.
Here’s how this happened.
Messi had achieved his childhood dream to play for La Albiceleste, as he came off the bench in this friendly game to replace his team mate Lisandro Lopez at the 63rd minute.
But things changed for the worse a minute after entering the field.
Messi received possession of the soccer ball almost right away, and one of the Hungarian players called Vilmos Vanczak started pulling on to Messi’s shirt which inhibited the Argentinian’s movement.
With Messi clearly frustrated at having his jersey tugged by the opponent, he made the rash decision to release his elbow into the path of Vanczak.
Subsequently, the Hungarian was caught in the face by Messi’s flailing elbow and the Hungarian took the opportunity to act in a theatrical manner.
He immediately fell to the floor upon contact whilst clutching his face.
You see, soccer players act dramatically if they believe they can obtain an advantage from it.
And that was clearly the case here, as the referee blew his whistle for the foul and consequently dished out the red card to teenage Messi.
After the match, Messi was adamant that he was only trying to legally break free from the grip of his opponent without inflicting any sort of injury.
Unfortunately for the Argentinian, this was not how the referee interpreted the incident.
All in all, it was an international debut to forget for Lionel Messi, who reportedly cried later on in the dressing room after having himself sent off of the field of play.
Check out the video clip below, as it demonstrates the exact send off sequence right from when Messi receives possession of the ball:
2. Argentina vs Chile (2019)
Messi picked up his second red card 14 years after his first.
Once again, he got sent off when playing for Argentina, receiving his marching orders this time in the first half of a Copa America third-place playoff game against Chile on July 6th, 2019.
36 minutes into the tie, Messi decided to chase down a loose ball which was going out for a goal kick.
Then one of Chile’s players – Gary Medel – attempted to prevent Messi from retrieving the ball before it went out of bounds and as a result, the two players collided.
After this happened, animosity between the two players instantly grew and they started bumping into each other right after the ball had rolled out of play.
This then prompted the match official to rush to the scene of the incident and send off both players.
Team mates from both sides tried to calm things down but their efforts were futile, as the referee had already decided to send off Messi and Medel.
At the time, the referee also requested a video assistant referee (VAR) check just to confirm that the sending off decision he made for both players were correct, and after a few minutes the review confirmed his initial decision as being the right one.
Ultimately, the sending off for Lionel Messi didn’t have consequences for the result of the game, as Argentina still managed to win the fixture by two goals to one.
Messi received a one match suspension from the south American soccer confederation and organizers of the Copa America tournament – CONMEBOL – along with a $1500 fine for demonstrating unruly behavior.
You’d think that would be the end of that, but this wasn’t the case.
Messi went on to make highly controversial comments after the match had concluded.
In fact, this is what he had to say:
“There is no doubt, the whole thing is set up for Brazil… I did not want to be part of this corruption, we shouldn’t have to be part of this disrespect we suffered during the Copa America. We could have gone further but we weren’t allowed into the final. Corruption, referees and all the rest stopped people from enjoying the football.”Source – Eurosport
This was highly uncharacteristic of the Argentinian, known for having a calm temperament and rarely complaining to journalists in the media.
As a result of these comments, Messi was required to pay a $50,000 fine for levelling corruption accusations and received a further three-month ban from international football by CONMEBOL, which meant that he missed future friendly fixtures against Chile, Mexico, Germany and Ecuador.
Here’s the footage of how the incident which led to his sending off played out:
3. Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao (2021)
Messi’s third red card was picked up whilst he was on domestic club duty for former team Barcelona.
This was actually his first red card at club level, in his 753rd professional game for Barcelona.
Now here’s some more context.
The sending off happened on January 17th 2021 in the Supercopa final against Athletic Bilbao in Seville.
Barcelona ended up losing the game by three goals to two after extra time, which was a bitter pill to swallow for the Catalan giants.
What made matters worse was the fact that Messi picked up this red card in the closing moments of extra time, as he committed a red-card worthy foul on Asier Villalibre in the 121st minute.
In a desperate search for an equalizing goal, Messi made one of his typical inward dribbles in from the right-hand side of the pitch.
Now, the Athletic player Villalibre was close on Messi’s coat tails when the Barcelona player released the ball to the left wing.
Once that play was made, the two athletes bumped into each other on their way towards the penalty area, and after a second physical altercation, Messi could be seen lifting his hand upwards and knocking the Athletic Bilbao player to the ground in frustration.
It was another uncharacteristic moment from Messi who’s usually quite calm in such situations.
At first, the referee never even looked to stop the play for that physical challenge, but once he did, he had to consult the VAR technology after being alerted to the incident by one of his fourth officials.
Finally, after having had a long look at the video footage, the referee elected to send Messi off via a red card.
Due to the fact that it was a straight red card, Messi had to undergo a two-game ban, which saw him miss a Copa del Rey match against Cornella and a La Liga match against Elche.
Here’s how it went down:
Why doesn’t Messi get many red cards?
Lionel Messi isn’t a player who’s prone to picking up red cards in soccer games, and this is down to a number of factors present in his game that help him avoid getting in the referee’s bad books.
Here are some of those things:
Advanced field position
Messi generally plays as a right winger or a central striker in the forward positions.
What this means is that he spends the vast majority of his time on the pitch looking for ways to penetrate the opposition defense
In a dominant team like Barcelona or Paris Saint Germain, Messi will have possession of the ball in attacking areas for long stretches of games, and that leaves him in the enviable position of not needing to commit to tackles and interceptions too often.
Style of play
The diminutive forward also has a laid-back playing style that lends itself really well to not picking up red cards.
Because of his immense talent level, soccer managers like to build their teams around Messi by making sure that he doesn’t have too much defensive responsibility.
So, he conserves his energy through a lack of running and rarely presses opposition defenders to recover the ball, which ultimately lowers the number of actions that could lead to him making fouls that result in red cards.
Lastly, Messi is a player who generally avoids confrontation.
He rarely looses his temper on the field and doesn’t spend much time arguing with referees, which makes for fewer opportunities to get booked by center match officials.
However, this doesn’t mean that Messi is immune to picking up yellow cards.
How many yellow cards does Messi have?
Lionel Messi has done very well to keep his red card record down to three throughout the entirety of his professional soccer career.
So, kudos to him for managing to have such discipline.
On the other hand, Messi has picked up a fair few yellow cards during his time as a soccer player.
In fact, as of the time of writing, he has a sum of 82 yellow cards across his time at FC Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain so far.
And if you add that tally up with the 8 yellow cards he’s received on international duty for Argentina since his debut in 2005, you get a total figure of 90 yellow cards.
Messi vs Ronaldo – who has more red and yellow cards?
We can tell you right away that Cristiano Ronaldo has more red cards than Lionel Messi, as the Portuguese star has picked up 11 reds in his time as a professional soccer player.
He received all of these playing club soccer, meaning that he’s never been sent off while wearing the jersey colors of Portugal.
Ronaldo also has a higher yellow card record than Messi as well, which shows that his propensity to pick up a caution on the field is fairly more common the Argentinian superstar.
Here’s a table that summarizes this data:
|Player Name||Red Cards||Yellow Cards|
That brings us to the end of this post on how many red cards Lionel Messi has.
Hopefully you’ll have learnt a thing or two about Messi’s disciplinary record on the pitch.
If you’ve enjoyed this content, have a read through more of our blog posts that discuss Messi, such as:
- The meaning of Ankara Messi;
- Messi holding up his shirt against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu;
- How many trophies Messi has won;
- Why Messi has the La Pulga nickname; and
- Why Messi follows Chelsea on Instagram
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