Two great leaders, two men who would give everything to win and two captains who shared a mutual hatred of each other on the pitch, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira come face-to-face once again in a new documentary, "Keane & Vieira: Best of Enemies," which is being broadcast on British channel ITV4. The hour-long production recalls arguably the greatest individual football rivalry in Premier League history with both players sharing their views on their infamous battles, while also discussing the defining moments of their respective careers.
Locking eyes over a table in an otherwise unfurnished room, there is a clear and admirable mutual respect between the midfield duo, but that special, inimitable bite still remains. Keane is happy to remind Vieira of the Frenchman's misplaced pass that led to Ryan Giggs' spectacular solo goal in the 1999 FA Cup semifinal replay, while Vieira is particularly sententious of Arsenal's capture of the Premier League title in Keane's own back yard three years later.
The pair evoke memories of a time when the rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal was at its most hostile, recalling what was said at the notorious Highbury tunnel incident in February 2005, Ruud Van Nistelrooy's last-minute penalty miss in the so-called "Battle of Old Trafford" in September 2003, which led to four Arsenal players being banned and the club receiving a record 175,000 pound fine, and Vieira's last ever kick in the red-and-white jersey to beat Manchester United and lift the FA Cup in May 2005. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both find some common ground to agree that the two English sides are too nice to each other these days.
Laughing at photographs of their feisty clashes and their youthful appearances from their early careers, Keane and Vieira also attempt to select their ultimate Manchester United and Arsenal XI, albeit with some disagreement and comical debate.
With 21 red cards shared between them, neither Keane nor Vieira is afraid to shirk away from the controversial incidents of their playing days. Keane, who is wonderfully satirical and jestful throughout, inflames his ongoing feud with Sir Alex Ferguson with some bullish remarks and hits back at some of the much-publicised accusations levelled at him in the Scotsman's new autobiography. The recently appointed Republic of Ireland assistant manager also reflects on his frustrating international career, aptly summed up by his account of his infamous walkout at the 2002 World Cup.
While Vieira is not quite so vocal and harbours only fond memories of his time at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, the 1998 World Cup winner opens up on his poor disciplinary record and reveals his disappointment at not being able to finish his career at the North London club.
The Premier League, quite simply, misses the likes of Keane and Vieira. "Best of Enemies" is a nostalgic reminder of the passion and hunger of two of the greatest advocates of the English game, whose rivalry encompasses the ultimate desire to achieve success. As Wenger himself says, "They were two competitive animals who were ready to do anything to win. It was an extension of the rivalry of the clubs and the managers. These two guys were a symbol of that."
With a compelling selection of goals, confrontations and nasty tackles, "Best of Enemies" is a wonderful showpiece and appreciation of two of the Premier League's finest and toughest central midfielders, which is guaranteed to sate the appetite of any football lover. As for who won the battle, I'll let you decide.