Lionel Messi is considered by many to be one of the greatest football players of all time. The Argentine forward has shattered numerous records over his illustrious career with Barcelona and the Argentinian national team. One statistic that is not as widely known is the number of red cards Messi has accumulated over his career. For a player of his caliber and reputation, this is an interesting statistic to analyze.
In total, Lionel Messi has received 2 red cards in his professional career. His first red card came in his debut season with Barcelona in 2005. His second came 15 years later while playing for Paris Saint-Germain in the 2021-22 season.
Breakdown by Competition
Let’s break down Messi’s red cards by competition:
- Spanish La Liga: 1 red card
- French Ligue 1: 1 red card
- UEFA Champions League: 0 red cards
- FIFA World Cup: 0 red cards
- Copa America: 0 red cards
As you can see, Messi has received 1 red card each in La Liga and Ligue 1 respectively. He has managed to go his entire career without being sent off in UEFA, World Cup or Copa America matches.
Red Card #1 – La Liga in 2005
Messi’s first career red card came on October 1, 2005 in a La Liga match against Espanyol. The match was significant because it was Messi’s first league start for Barcelona. At the time, Messi was still only 18 years old.
In the 45th minute with Barcelona up 1-0, Messi went in for a challenge against Espanyol’s Adriano Correia. Correia had struck the ball upfield when Messi jumped into a high, dangerous tackle. The referee gave Messi a straight red card for the reckless challenge.
Despite being down to 10 men, Barcelona held on to win the match 1-0. But Messi’s league debut ended early with his first career ejection.
Red Card #2 – Ligue 1 in 2022
It would take over 15 years for Messi to see red again in league play. After transferring to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, Messi received his second career red card on September 19, 2022 against Olympique Lyonnais.
In the 56th minute, with PSG up 1-0, Messi chased down Lyon’s Lucas Paqueta who was shielding the ball near the sideline. Messi swung his arm making contact with Paqueta’s chest and sending him to the ground.
After a VAR review, the referee determined Messi’s swing was an “act of violence” and brandished a straight red card. Despite playing down a man, PSG continued on to win the match 2-1.
Red Cards in Other Competitions
While Messi has collected 2 career red cards in league play, he has managed to avoid being sent off in all other major competitions.
Messi has appeared in 167 UEFA Champions League matches without a single red card. He has played 98 matches for Argentina but has not been sent off in a World Cup or Copa America game.
The Champions League and international tournaments are where Messi shines brightest. He seems to raise his game to another level, leading Barcelona to 4 Champions League titles and taking Argentina to the World Cup final in 2014.
His ability to avoid red cards in these pressure situations is an impressive achievement considering his long career at the top level of the sport.
Comparison to Other Top Players
To put Messi’s red card total into perspective, let’s see how it compares to a few other elite players of the modern era:
|Player||Total Red Cards|
As you can see, Messi’s total of 2 red cards is far fewer than his fellow superstar attackers. Ronaldo has been sent off 11 times in his career, including an astounding 4 red cards while playing for Real Madrid from 2009-2018.
Neymar and Suarez have each received 4 and 7 reds respectively in their careers. Their fiery personalities and playing style contrasts with the normally cool-headed Messi.
For all his goalscoring brilliance, Messi manages to avoid dangerous tackles or losing his temper. He leaves the fouls and cards to his teammates.
No Red Cards for Argentina
As mentioned previously, Messi has not received a single red card in 162 appearances for the Argentine national team. This is a remarkable achievement considering the rough-and-tumble nature of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and the intense rivalry of the Copa America.
Messi came close to being sent off at the 2019 Copa America in a heated bronze medal match against Chile. After being fouled repeatedly, Messi confronted the referee and could have been given his marching orders. But the referee showed leniency and Messi stayed on to help Argentina win 2-1.
Overall, Messi seems to have a cooler head and greater focus when representing his country. He wants to win major titles for Argentina so badly that he keeps his emotions in check no matter how physical the opponent gets.
To summarize, Lionel Messi has received just 2 red cards in his illustrious 20+ year career. His first came on his La Liga debut for Barcelona as an 18-year old in 2005. It took over 15 years for Messi to see red again when he was sent off playing for PSG in 2022.
Messi has managed to avoid any red cards in 167 Champions League matches and 162 games for Argentina. His total of 2 career ejections is extremely low compared to other elite attackers like Ronaldo, Suarez and Ibrahimovic.
While he plays with extreme passion and flair, Messi is not a dirty or physical player. He prefers to do his damage on the scoresheet rather than with dangerous tackles. With his focus solely on winning and lifting trophies, Messi saves his aggression for celebrations with teammates and fans.
At age 35, Messi is on the back end of his historic career. If he continues to avoid red cards, it’s likely he will finish with just 2 ejections total. For one of football’s greatest talents, that is an extraordinary show of composure under pressure and commitment to his teams.
Messi’s Accomplishments and Playing Style
Lionel Messi made his professional debut for Barcelona in 2004 at the age of 17. He soon established himself as a key member of the Barcelona lineup, helping lead the club to numerous trophies and titles.
Some of Messi’s notable accomplishments include:
- 7 Ballon d’Or awards (record)
- 4 UEFA Champions League titles
- 10 La Liga titles
- 1 Ligue 1 title
- 2008 Olympic gold medalist for Argentina
In addition to his trophy case, Messi has racked up incredible individual stats as a prolific goal scorer and creative playmaker. He holds the records for:
- Most goals in La Liga history (474)
- Most goals in a calendar year (91 in 2012)
- Most assists in La Liga history (192)
- Most Champions League hat tricks (8)
Messi’s low center of gravity, quick acceleration, dribbling skills and lethal finishing have made him nearly impossible to defend. But he uses his talents within the rules of the game. Despite frequently being fouled and roughed up by defenders, Messi does not retaliate with dirty or reckless challenges of his own.
His fair style of play and respect for officials has directly contributed to his low red card total. Where some superstars like Ronaldo or Suarez occasionally let their emotions boil over, Messi keeps his cool and continues trying to win with his skill and creativity.
Is Messi’s Record Unbreakable?
With just 2 career red cards over 20+ professional seasons, Messi’s record for fewest ejections among elite players appears nearly unbreakable.
Modern footballers simply tend to pick up more bookings and sendings off compared to generations past. Hard tackles fly in and tempers flare even among talented attackers like Messi and Ronaldo.
For a future player to maintain Messi’s composure and discipline over a long career seems unlikely. And with VAR reviews enforcing strict interpretations of the laws, red cards are more common than ever.
Of course, a future star may emerge who is so supremely skilled that they avoid tackles and rough play altogether. But even the likes of Neymar, Hazard and Mbappe have been sent off multiple times in their early careers already.
While nothing is certain, Lionel Messi’s combination of out-of-this-world talent and Zen-like calmness in the face of danger may keep his red card record safe for generations to come.
Impact on Barcelona and Argentina
Messi’s ability to avoid red cards has greatly benefited both Barcelona and Argentina over his career. Instead of missing key matches due to suspension, Messi remained available for his clubs in important competitions.
There’s no telling how different Barcelona’s Champions League campaigns may have gone had Messi been sent off multiple times. Would they have won the 2011 final vs. Manchester United or 2015 final vs. Juventus without their star man?
Similarly for Argentina, Messi’s discipline ensured La Albiceleste had their captain and talisman leading the line in every single World Cup and Copa America match. Imagine Argentina trying to break their trophy drought without Messi due to accumulated yellow and red cards.
While Barcelona has struggled since Messi’s departure, the club enjoyed nearly two decades of dominance with him as the reliable star. Argentina finally lifted a senior trophy at the 2021 Copa America, led by a calm and focused Messi.
Messi’s committingment to staying on the field has significantly shaped the successes of his teams. His two red cards pale in comparison to the trophies and memories he helped create.
Could Messi Retire Without Another Sending Off?
As Messi moves deeper into his 30s, there is a possibility he could make it to retirement without receiving another red card.
But it will not be straightforward. Despite playing in a less physical league, Messi was still sent off in Ligue 1 last season. And as veterans age, their bodies and frustrations tend to catch up with them late in their careers.
One wild lunge or moment of anger and Messi could pick up the 3rd red card of his career. And with Messi still hoping to lead Argentina at the 2026 World Cup, he will need to keep his temper in check for several more years.
On the other hand, Messi has grown more reflective and calm with age. He seems to appreciate his place in history more than ever. This attitude of maturity and perspective could help him avoid any more sendings off.
If Messi can make it to retirement with just 2 red cards while playing at an elite level into his late 30s, it would be a truly astonishing achievement. It would serve as a capstone to his magnificent career defined by otherworldly skill and unwavering class.