The Premier League is renowned for its physicality, with some players having thrived during its illustrious history in the bruising nature of English football’s top flight.
The modern game has seen a steep decline in the physical competitiveness which was once so celebrated, so we’ve decided to reminisce and look back at a seemingly bygone era when hard men ruled.
Not likely to shirk a tackle or confrontation, here in a 5-3-2 formation is our all-time Premier League hard bastard XI…
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
A colossus of a man and arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the division’s history, the Danish legend was also no shrinking violet.
A man of huge presence and stature, Schmeichel once engaged in a fistfight with former Manchester United teammate Roy Keane (perhaps not the wisest of ideas), during the club’s pre-season tour in 1998.
The duo came to blows, allegedly wonderfully refereed by midfielder Nicky Butt, and Schmeichel emerged with a black eye for his troubles.
However, his decision to take on the notoriously fiery Irishman is enough to earn him his place in our side.
Right-Back: Pablo Zabaleta
A gentle presence off the field, the Argentine was a committed competitor during his successful nine-year stay at Manchester City, cementing a reputation as one of the toughest tackling full-backs of modern times.
The fiery full-back became a firm fan’s favourite at the Etihad, his whole-hearted performances during the most successful period in the club’s history endearing him to the City faithful.
Often seen taking to the field bloodied and bandaged, the South American slots into our team at right-back.
Centre-Back: Nemanja Vidic
“He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*cking murder ya!”
Is how the famous Old Trafford chant went, often heard loudly during the defender’s glittering spell at Manchester United.
Signed from relative obscurity in 2006, Vidic formed a formidable defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand, offering an uncompromising brand of football which perfectly complimented the England international’s footballing abilities.
A born leader, Vidic would go on to captain the side, the Serbian taking no prisoners with his no-nonsense brand of defending which won him admirers throughout the game.
One of the Premier League’s great defenders, he was an intimidating presence for even the very best opposition forwards.
His clattering of Kyle Walker below a reminder of Vidic at his best…
United vs Tottenham today which means it’s a perfect chance to relive Nemanja Vidic’s incredible tackle on Kyle Walker! pic.twitter.com/62GDaMuHFl
— The Man Utd Way (@TheManUtdWay) January 13, 2019
Centre-Back: Jaap Stam
Powerful and pacey, Stam was a brilliant defender who played a key role in Manchester United’s famed treble-winning team in 1999.
Not only was he undoubtedly amongst the world’s best defenders, he was also a little bit scary.
The towering Dutchman was a fearsome proposition for the opposition, and he didn’t take opposition challenges lightly, as the below video shows.
You don’t mess with Jaap Stam…
Centre-Back: Neil Ruddock
The former Liverpool and West Ham defender’s fitness and physique may have been questioned several times over the course of his career, his fearlessness and toughness were certainly not.
Nicknamed ‘Razor’, Ruddock once infamously broke Peter Beardsley’s jaw during a testimonial match in 1995 before breaking both of Andy Cole’s legs the following year.
Perhaps unwisely, Ruddock later said of the Cole incident to Talksport…
“Basically, I loved kicking Andrew Cole,
“I know this is not big and it’s not clever, but in one tackle I did break both of his legs,
“I didn’t mean to break both of his legs if I’m honest – I only meant to break one.”
Left-back: Stuart Pearce
Anyone who has been nicknamed ‘Pyscho’, probably deserves their place in our team.
The England full-back was a notoriously tough tackler, whilst he was never afraid to play through the pain barrier during a distinguished career.
A calm presence away from the pitch, Pearce was a typical case of ‘white line fever’ as his passionate and competitive nature spilled out once entering the pitch. Also lethal from free-kicks and penalties, where he predictably twacked the leather off the ball every time.
Midfield: Vinnie Jones
The Premier League tough guy who has gone on to portray the role of all-round hard b*stard in several Hollywood movies, fans of a younger generation may not realise that Jones was once one of English football’s most intimidating characters.
As part of Wimbledon’s famed ‘Crazy Gang’, Jones was never shy of confrontation, a combative presence who seemed on a one-man mission to unsettle opponents.
A famed picture of the midfielder squeezing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles remains iconic, for a player who received a huge 12 red cards over the course of his career at clubs including Leeds and Chelsea.
Midfield: Patrick Vieira
Another player who was a relatively quiet presence away from the pitch, Arsenal legend Vieira provided the bite during Arsene Wenger’s most successful years in North London.
The Frenchman’s battles with Manchester United counterpart Roy Keane are stuff of Premier League legend, the midfield duo possessing an insatiable desire to win at all costs.
Tall, strong and powerful, the midfield enforcer was part of some memorable clashes during his career in English football, Vieira holding the joint-record for most Premier League red cards.
Midfield: Roy Keane
Arguably the first name on our team sheet, former Manchester United captain Roy Keane struck fear into opposition, teammates and referees alike during a glittering career at Old Trafford.
Notorious for clashes with the likes of Alan Shearer and Patrick Vieira, Keane’s premeditated tackle on Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland remains one of the most shocking and controversial challenges in Premier League history.
Keane’s fiery character ultimately led to the end of his United career after over decade long trophy-laden spell at the club, a stinging assessment of his teammates abilities leading Sir Alex Ferguson to usher his captain to the exit door.
Forward: John Hartson
The big Welshman featured for several Premier League clubs, with Hartson being a bruising presence in the forward line for the likes of Arsenal, West Ham, and Coventry.
A towering target-man, Hartson was a regular goalscorer but developed a reputation as a hard man. Whilst at West Ham, following a disagreement with teammate Eyal Berkovic, Harrison proceeded to boot the midfielder in the head.
Forward: Duncan Ferguson
An Everton icon and hugely popular despite his controversies, ‘Big Dunc’ was an aggressive presence, both fearless and utterly unpredictable.
The giant Scottish forward collected red cards like they were going out of fashion, several for violent conduct, and also earned himself a three-month prison sentence following his headbutt of an opponent whilst in Scotland.
Nicknamed Duncan Disorderly following his four arrests, the troublesome striker shares the record for the most red cards in Premier League history.
A certainty to lead the forward line in our hard b*stard XI.