Keane, Vieira, Costa: The ultimate Premier League XI of hard men


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The Premier League has played host to some of the most formidable ‘hard men’ that football has ever seen.

With the English game world-renowned for its combative and no-nonsense style, it’s no wonder that so many of its alumni have gained a fearsome reputation for going in hard on their opponents.

The Premier League’s toughest ever players

Whether it’s coming in with massive tackles, proving a tough nut to crack or simply getting the hump, you knew you were in trouble whenever you faced one of England’s footballing juggernauts.

And on the flip side, lining up alongside the likes of Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira and Vinnie Jones would leave you safe in the knowledge that you’d be fully protected if ever things got hot and heavy.

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So, here at GIVEMESPORT, we wanted to take a closer look at the Premier League colossuses that are still bounded around footballing conversations for their uncanny knack for exchanging blows.

To do so, we’ve erected the ultimate Premier League XI of hard men with each position ready to burst with the sort of warrior-like spirit that ensured that opposing teams knew they were finished.

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The Premier League’s ultimate hard men XI

On that note, hold on to your horses because we’ve got more menacing anecdotes and stories than you can shake a stick at in our hardest of hard man XIs that you can peruse down below:

GK: Peter Schmeichel

A truly terrifying presence between the sticks, Schmeichel would come barrelling out of the goal mouth with a cascade of expletives if any of his defenders dared to make a mistake on his watch.

In fact, such was Schmeichel’s fear-no-man attitude that the ‘Great Dane’ even left Keane with one of his fingers bent back after an infamous fight at Manchester United that gave him a black eye.


RB: Julian Dicks

Yes, we know that we’re playing Dicks on the wrong side of defence, but that’s the sacrifice we’re willing to make in order to include ‘The Terminator’ because he really was a force of nature.

When he wasn’t thunder-cracking penalties into the net at a gazillion miles per hour, Dicks was probably halfway through a knee-high tackle that epitomised the phrase: ‘get the ball and the man.’

CB: Jaap Stam

Arguably the most intimidating defender to ever play Premier League football, Stam has even transferred his hard-knocks style into retirement by flattening Olly Murs during a Soccer Aid match.

He might not have the stories of infamy and notoriety of some of the others players in our line-up, but rest assured that being marked by Stam from a set-piece would end in pure pain.


CB: Neil Ruddock

The one and only ‘Razor’ feared absolutely nobody with the former Liverpool colossus pulling on Eric Cantona’s collar, going head-to-head with Vieira and even deliberately injuring Andrew Cole.

“Basically, I loved kicking Andrew Cole,” Ruddock explained in comments that he later apologised for. “I know this is not big or clever but in one tackle I broke both his legs, because he annoyed me.”

LB: Stuart Pearce

You know you’re hard when your nickname is ‘Psycho’ and footage of Pearce celebrating his Euro 96 penalty vs Spain like a madman is brilliant shorthand for just how fired up he would get.

In fact, the Nottingham Forest legend was such a loveable nutter that he once played on with a fractured leg and notoriously had one of the most venomous strikes in the sport.


CM: Roy Keane

Who else? We just couldn’t create a Premier League ‘hard men’ line-up with any credibility if we left out the legendary captain who still strikes fear into people in the Sky Sports studio.

Whether it was throwing the ball and a punch at Alan Shearer or wiping out Alfe-Inge Haaland with a truly horrendous tackle, Keane has been happy to admit that he went out to hurt people on the pitch.

CM: Vinnie Jones

The commander in chief of Wimbledon’s infamous ‘Crazy Gang’, Jones’ transition into so many gangster-like film roles since his retirement should tell you a lot about his ferocious playing style.

Boasting an eye-watering record of 12 red cards, the Wimbledon warrior was once booked just five seconds into an FA Cup game and notoriously grabbed Paul Gascoigne by the crown jewels.


CM: Patrick Vieira

You’re truly deserving of a place in the ‘hard men’ XI if you’re willing to go toe-to-toe with Keane – and nobody did that better than Vieira.

With eight red cards and 76 bookings in the Premier League, Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ captain was a Rolls Royce in midfield both for his elegant playing style and ability to flatten anyone who got in his way.

FW: Diego Costa

Astonishingly, Costa has missed more than 40 games through suspension across his career, which is the equivalent of a league season, with the Spaniard’s s***housery becoming the stuff of legend.

From stamping on Emre Can to getting Gabriel sent off and boxing the Chelsea physio to seemingly biting Gareth Barry, there was never a dull moment with Costa in the Premier League.


FW: Duncan Ferguson

Ferguson was a one-man wrecking ball in the penalty area with his devastating physical presence so often leaving defenders in a pile of limbs on the turf.

The Everton legend once restrained two burglars, leaving one hospitalised, trying to steal from his home and spent 44 days in Barlinnie prison for head-butting Jock McStay during his Rangers days.

FW: Mick Harford

The hardest of hard men, Harford ‘remains the only player never to have been initiated’ into Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ with even Jones proving too nervous to mark his arrival by pranking him.

And in the words of Martin Keown: “His favourite trick was to come at you from the side and smash you, square on. He once hit me so hard, I had to have a nerve taken out of my tooth.” Ouch…


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A line-up of tough players

Not feeling so hard now, are you?

It really is telling that so many of these Premier League Spartans plied their trade in the early years of the division when it was a little simpler to play rough and ready with dirtiness going unpunished.

Besides, it’s a lot easier to see the great Manchester United and Arsenal teams of the early 2000s spaffing results up the wall in a world where Keane and Vieira were constantly stalked by VAR.

And that’s the key point of our run through of these Premier League hard men, really, because it’s no use being a player who simply dives into things without even thinking about the consequences.

The most successful hard men are those who do so with a level of foresight and smartness.

If you’re going in hard, then you better have all the bases, including fourth, covered.

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