Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Sorry for the cheesy 90s pop song reference. Dating myself but hey- I am old anyway.


The distribution rates of red cards by league is not exactly stuff to bring up during guy’s night at the bar (pub). Why do I actually care about this?

This is truly useless data. This falls into the category of trivia that nobody will EVER get to use.

Yet the data shows a specific anomaly that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

First, methodology. I was able to grab data of the 50 most disciplined players per league for the last two years. So before everyone gets up in arms about the fact that this is not a truly comprehensive look at discipline per league- you are right….but still 50 per league isn’t bad. I grabbed the leagues I could. I know there were requests for the Mozambique Sunday League and for the English League 2 but:

  • I only had so much time;
  • ESPN only had so much data.

If you find me the data for the Mozambique Sunday League I will be happy to include it.

Enough. Here is the data. I even was able to dress this graphic up a bit (I know you are impressed).

Red Cards by League
Red Cards per Player by League

So if it didn’t hit you over the head with a hammer- let me be clear. The Primera League in Argentina had more than 30% more red cards distributed per player than any of the other leagues studied.

That is a pretty dramatic difference.

So the question becomes…why?

My first reaction was to blame the Argentine players (no I am not xenophobic and one of the best soccer matches I have ever watched live was at La Bombanera).

However the data certainly begged the question. So I ran an analysis of discipline by nationality rather than by league. Guess what? Argentines fall in the BOTTOM THIRD of discipline across all of the leagues studied. So if the Laws of the Game are applied consistently across all leagues that means it isn’t in the Argentine national upbringing/character to foul.

Discipline by Nationality
Discipline by Nationality

Therefore I can only assume that the refereeing in Argentina skews towards a higher distribution of red cards. Am I right to think that? Can you think of other reasons why?