There were not many players that intimidated former Man Utd captain Roy Keane – but there were five “nasty” midfielders in particular who he knew would push him to his limits during every meeting
Roy Keane has named the five toughest and “nastiest” players he ever battled against.
The legendary Manchester United captain is best remembered for his leadership, energy and tough-tackling throughout his 15-year career in the top flight. He had his fair share of temper tantrums and bust-ups, most of which arose from hard-fought midfield battles against top opponents.
Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira is perhaps the best known of Keane’s rivals, with the pair famously towing the line between dominating the engine room and kicking absolute lumps out of each other each time they played. And Vieira still ranks as one of the Irishman’s most formidable opponents.
He told Sky Sports: “It was a big challenge for me when Patrick came onto the scene. He was a good player and I knew I had to be at my best when I was up against him. He was nasty, he could put his foot in and he could score a goal.
“Patrick would’ve been my toughest opponent at the time. He would challenge you in different ways. He would get around the pitch, he was good with the ball, he was strong, and he had a goal in him. I knew I had to be at my very, very best to get on top of Patrick.”
Keane went on to reserve special praise for three other Premier League icons who may not get the credit they deserve today. “He [Vieira] wasn’t the only one though,” he added.
“Back in those days, every week in the Premiership you were in for a battle: David Batty was tough; Gary Speed, God rest his soul, he was tough; Rob Lee up at Newcastle – you knew you were in a game against these fellas.”
Perhaps Keane’s most significant game in a Red Devils jersey came against another, however, by the name of Zinedine Yazid Zidane. The pair went to war against each other in the 1999 Champions League semi-final, with Keane putting in a performance for the ages as United came away with a 3-2 win away from home (4-3 aggregate) and a place in the final.
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“The greatest I faced in Europe? Undoubtedly [Zinedine] Zidane,” Keane recalled. “He had everything – but he was nasty with it too. Batty, Speed, they were nasty too, they’d give you a kick, a real battle; I just gave back as good as I got!
“But there was a respect towards Patrick. It was the same with the lads coming through. I go back to Steven Gerrard and the Frank Lampard.
“You had to be at your best. I had huge respect for him, but I knew if I could win my battle it would give us a better chance of winning the game.”