The Premier League has seen some real fighters over the years – players who are never afraid to go steaming into a 50/50 challenge, or get in the faces of their opponents. The landscape of the modern game has changed slightly, with more of an emphasis on silky passing than on crunching tackles and intimidation tactics, but that is not to say there aren’t still some fine exponents of the game’s dark arts.
Here, we take a trip down memory lane and look at who we feel are the Premier League’s top five toughest players – in terms of both their attitude, bravery, and of course, footballing ability. All of the following are players who have made huge impacts on their teams, the kind of players who convince those who take part in online betting with Paddy Power that their team is the one to back. Read on to find out who’s made our list.
When you think of old-school, in your face centre-backs, Martin Keown is one of the first names that springs to mind. The Englishman enjoyed a long and successful career, with his best years spent at Arsenal, where he picked up multiple winners medals.
Keown was very much in the traditional mould of a centre-half, not afraid to get up in a striker’s face, or make a foul when necessary. Arguably, his most memorable moment came in 2004, when he jumped and celebrated in the face of Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Dutchman had missed a last-minute penalty.
The mercurial footballing talents of Steven Gerrard often mean that his attributes as a tough competitor get forgotten. But there are few players who were as comfortable piling into a sliding tackle as Liverpool’s former captain, and many players felt the effects of his challenged over the years.
Gerrard had just about everything you could want from a central midfielder, but his battling qualities and willingness to stand up for his club and his teammates made him a fearsome opponent. He was never afraid to have a go at an opponent if he felt they were showing Liverpool disrespect, and was always the driving force for the team when the going got tough.
Another centre-back in the classic mould of winsome competitors, Tony Adams remains one of the finest defenders to ever play in the Premier League. He was a player who could sniff fear from a mile away, and would bully attackers at every opportunity.
Adams was very much a fan of a verbal spat, and would never hesitate to get involved in a bit of handbags if he felt his team could gain a psychological advantage, and was one of Arsenal’s most successful captains.
Any conversation about battling midfielders cannot fail to mention Patrick Vieira, who became a club legend at Arsenal for his willingness to do the dirty work and get up in the grill of the opposition. Vieira was a vital cog in Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003-04, breaking up play and starting attacks from deep.
He was another player who loved a steaming sliding challenge, which often landed him in trouble with referees throughout his career. Arsenal fans still look back on him fondly as one of the club’s toughest players of all time.
For all of the talk about Roy Keane’s love of football’s dark arts, it gets forgotten that he was a fine footballer too. His role in the Manchester United team was to break up attacks, make interceptions and help set the tempo, and he did that with considerable style.
But it’s the dark side of his game that fascinated so many football fans. One of the best footballing rivalries of all time is Keane and Vieira, respective captains of United and Arsenal at a time when the two clubs were battling each other for silverware. Keane was not afraid of a fight, nor of a vicious tackle, and this often boiled over into fisticuffs. But there’s no doubt he was one of the fiercest footballers of all time.