What Happens If a Soccer Goalie Gets a Red Card?

Certain actions within football can have game changing implications for a team.

As a matter of fact, one of the most detrimental things that can happen to a side is when a goalkeeper commits a very dangerous tackle or engages themselves in gross misconduct.

In such scenarios, the referee is left with little to no choice but to send the man responsible for keeping the ball out of the net off of the field of play for an early shower.

In the event that a goalkeeper gets sent off via a red card signal, the manager of the impacted team can call upon a substitute goalie to swap out for an outfield player with immediate effect. Alternatively, if there are no more substitutions left to utilise, an outfield player would directly take up the vacant role of the red carded goalkeeper and play the remainder of the game, as football rules mandate for a designated goalie at all times.

Let’s now take a closer look at these possible courses of action.


Goalkeeper red card: potential outcomes

The International Football Association Board Laws of the Game stipulate that there must be a designated goalkeeper for the entire duration of a match.

These football rules mean that another player – be it one already present on the pitch or one sat on the substitutes bench – must assume the vacant goalkeeper position before play is allowed to resume.

Now this happens if a goalkeeper either:

  • receives a sending off via a red card, or
  • has to leave the field as a result of picking up an injury

Here are the choices that a manager can legally call upon in the unfortunate event of the former…


1. Substitution of an outfield player

what happens if a soccer goalie gets a red card - outfield player substitution

Official FIFA competitions allow for up to a maximum of five substitutions to be used within a match, and managers are also afforded the flexibility to name twelve substitutes at most, on the bench for other games that are not recognised by football’s world governing body.

In this case, a manager has the option of calling up a goalkeeper – that was previously named on the substitutes bench for the game – to replace an existing outfield player.

An example of this happening in a past fixture was when Arsenal had former goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny sent off against Bayern Munich in a Champions League loss.

The Polish international was adjudged to have clipped Arjen Robben’s leg after the Dutchman had beaten him to a targeted through pass.

When he was dismissed, the manager Arsene Wenger employed a substitution by taking off Santi Cazorla, with the midfielder replaced by Łukasz Fabiański who was the reserve goalkeeper on the bench at the time.

For a coach under pressure to make a change, this sort of substitution is usually seen as a solid move even though it comes at the expense of offensive threat.

This is because a team is largely able to retain a steadfast defensive structure by swapping out an attacking player for a goalkeeper, as the forwards remaining on the field will position themselves deeper and look to defend more astutely.


2. On-pitch tactical change

Another remedy to having a soccer goalie get a red card is to simply have an outfield player present on the pitch replace the sent off individual straight away.

This sort of move is usually considered as a last resort.

It often happens when a team has already used up all of their available substitutions and when a manager is simply left with no choice but to sacrifice someone from the starting contingent.

Now retired defender Rio Ferdinand had to don a pair of goalkeeper gloves when Manchester United played against Portsmouth in an FA Cup quarter-final clash.

And here’s a neat Premier League compilation of outfield players who have been thrust into the goalkeeping limelight over the years:


When can a goalkeeper be sent off?

There are a number of different scenarios where a goalkeeper can receive his or her marching orders from the referee.

One of these is by committing a professional foul, where the goalkeeper on the defending team illegally impedes an opposition player from scoring or having a clear goal making opportunity by holding, pulling or pushing them without attempting to play the ball.

As the resulting free kick or penalty award gives the attacking team less of a chance to score than they originally had, a referee can choose whether or not to give the offender a red card as it’s a situation that the latter would have weighed up before committing to the action.

Additionally, according to Law 12 of the International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game, the act of a goalkeeper denying the opposing team a goal or goal scoring opportunity by handling the ball outside their penalty area is a red card offence.


How many games do players miss for receiving a red card?

According to the Professional Football Scouts Association, the length of the suspension period will depend on the nature and seriousness of the foul that was committed.

Here’s a table (partly sourced from the Football Association) that makes things much clearer:



All in all, this article has covered all the ins and outs of what happens if a soccer goalie gets a red card.

But as a gentle reminder…

If a goalkeeper receives a red card, the manager is presented with the option of substituting an outfield player off for a reserve goalkeeper who is available for selection on the bench. Alternatively, one of the remaining outfield players can step in and replace the red carded goalie, particularly if the manager doesn’t have any remaining substitutions left at their disposal.

It must be said that such a scenario is incredibly rare in football, with it even being slightly comparable in probability to that of a goalkeeper scoring a goal.


If you enjoy the content that I create and would like to buy me a coffee, then I’d really appreciate it!

Any money that I earn through this donation will be re-invested into more content for this website.

Additionally, by sending in a donation you’ll also receive a copy of my recently released 190+ page eBook on Soccer Ball Care, as well as be subscribed to our mailing list where you’ll be regularly informed on the latest developments concerning the Soccer Whizz blog.

Samuel Waihenya
Share on: