Roy Keane names five toughest and ‘nasty’ opponents who he knew he would ‘battle’ against

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 of Manchester United and Arsenal's Patrick Vieira come to blows during an FA Premiership football match at Arsenal's Highbury ground.
Roy Keane [L] recalled “nasty” Patrick Vieira as one of his toughest rivals (Image: PA Archive)

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.

13. Roy Keane vs Patrick Vieira (2004/05) - In the days of heated Arsenal and Manchester United battles, great rivals Keane and Vieira infamously clashed in the tunnel prior to a clash at Highbury in 2005
Keane and Vieira had several altercations with one another (Image: GETTY)
Roy Keane (Man Utd) is tackled by Gary Speed (Newcastle) Manchester United v Newcastle United FA Cup Final Wembley Stadium 22/5/99 Great Britain London FA Cup Final
Roy Keane also ranked Gary Speed [R] as one of his toughest midfield battles (Image: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock)

“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.

Roy Keane (Manchester) David Batty (Newcastle) Manchester United v Newcastle United 08/11/98 Football 1998/9 Great Britain Manchester
Visits up to Newcastle were difficult against the likes of David Batty [R] and Rob Lee [not pictured] (Image: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock)
MADRID - APRIL 8: Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid uses his skill to take the ball past Roy Keane of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match held on April 8, 2003 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid, Spain. Real Madrid won the match 3-1.
Zinedine Zidane [R] had it all as a player (Image: Getty Images)


“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.”

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