Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies (Question)

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23 January 2018, 10:44

With Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan switching clubs between Arsenal and Man Utd yesterday, it may lead you to think of the rivalry between the two clubs over the years. The most intense period of rivalry was in the late nineties and early noughties, with both clubs consistently battling for the major honours in English football.

Both Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger epitomised this rivalry on the touchline, but it was their two midfield generals, Roy Keane and Patrick Viera that carried the battle on the pitch. Kieran from our eir Sport team has drawn up the below article based on the recent documentary between the pair and it's certainly worth the read for any football fan.

They were two of the greatest footballers ever to play in the Premier League. Both world class midfielders, their styles were very different, but both had a steely determination and never-say-die attitude that inspired their team-mates and struck fear into the hearts of their opponents.

A begrudging respect perhaps, but there was certainly no love lost between Keane and Vieira. Theirs was the Premier League’s greatest rivalry – there has never been another one like it. When these two faced off, you knew that sparks would fly and this documentary provides plenty of evidence of that. As Keane explains, his main feeling when he thought of Arsenal was hatred. “Normally, there might be one or two opposing players you might like,” he explains. “But not Arsenal. I don’t remember liking any of them.”

When asked about Vieira’s biggest weakness, the former United captain is unequivocal: “He wasn’t as tough as me,” he says. “How do you know,” asks the interviewer. “I just know from playing against him,” Keane replies.

Vieira is more generous in his praise of his opponent, calling him “a winner” and “a leader”. He keeps the trash talk to a minimum, but points to Keane’s penchant for “losing his head” as his main weakness and one that he and his team-mates were quick to exploit whenever they could.


Both players admit that they prepared differently in the days before facing each other than they did for other opponents. Both felt the need to dominate the other on the pitch, knowing that it would have a significant influence on the outcome of the match. The heightened tension between the pair resulted in several explosive moments on the pitch and, on one famous occasion, in the tunnel beforehand.

Vieira admits he started that particular one but, like Keane, refuses to own up to much else. Both claim that they couldn’t get a decision to go their way at the other’s ground with, naturally enough, each dismissing the other’s claims.

Keane admonishes the Frenchman for his behaviour which led to him being sent off in what has since been dubbed ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’ at the start of the Gunners’ record breaking unbeaten title-winning season in 2003-4.Vieira was dismissed ten minutes from time for aiming a kick at United striker Ruud van Nistleroy. With the score at 0-0, the Dutchman missed a penalty in injury time which sparked a mass confrontation between both sets of players. Keane calls Vieira’s behaviour “disgraceful”, but the 1998 World Cup winner is having none of it. It is clear that, more than a decade later, neither man is prepared to back down.


The piece also sheds light on Keane’s troubled relationship with former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. It is well known that the pair parted on bad terms when the Republic of Ireland international signed for Celtic in December 2005 after a series of rows and some explosive interviews with MUTV that were deemed too controversial to air.

When asked who was the best manager he worked under, Keane pauses for a second before answering: “Brian Clough”. “Not Sir Alex?” the interviewer asks. “You asked me a question and I answered it,” Keane replies.

The pair’s differences are further highlighted when the interviewer reads an excerpt from Ferguson’s first autobiography where he praises the player for his performance against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final knowing that he would be suspended for the final. Keane reacts with disdain, claiming to be almost insulted by Ferguson’s words. “What am I supposed to do?” he asks. “Give up, not try my best? It’s like praising the postman for delivering the post.”

It is clear that Keane still bears a grudge (although more recent reports suggest that peace has broken out at last). “What’s Alex Ferguson’s biggest weakness?” the interviewer asks at one point. “Loyalty,” Keane replies. Meowwww!

There are plenty of great documentaries to watch out for on the eir Sport pack every week. From football to golf, GAA, rugby, athletics and beyond, we’ve got something for everyone. Watch out next week for another fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the sporting world or go to for more sports news and stories or to find out more about how we're setting sport free.

Images : Getty


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