Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira sparked debates in households up and down and the country last night, as well as on social networking sites, when for an ITV4 documentary they picked the best team from the players that they had played with at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively.
Former United captain Keane caused a shock by omitting Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs from his United side, while Vieira opted to leave out Lee Dixon and failed to mention Marc Overmars altogether.
It was a subject that has prompted Sports Mole to pick our ultimate United/Arsenal XI from the Keane and Vieira era. It's worth noting that Frenchman Vieira arrived at Arsenal in 1996 and left in 2005, a few months before Sir Alex Ferguson felt that he had no other choice but to release Keane following criticism of his teammates.
We've built the team around Keane and Vieira, which means, regrettably, there is no place for the likes of Scholes and Emmanuel Petit, but we have made some alterations elsewhere. For the record, the stars of The Best of Enemies came up with: Schmeichel; Lauren, Stam, Adams, Cole; Ronaldo, Keane, Vieira, Pires; Henry, Cantona. Below is our team:
The Dane's only realistic challenger for this spot was Arsenal's David Seaman, who was a very good goalkeeper. However, even Vieira did not argue when Keane insisted that Schmeichel had to be given the responsibility between the posts. Ferguson regards Schmeichel to be one of the best signings that he made during his 27 years at Old Trafford, which goes to highlight the impact that he made. The keeper spent eight years with United, winning five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League medal in the process.
One can only imagine that Keane has something personal against the elder Neville brother after he picked Paul Parker ahead of him. No disrespect to Parker, who was a steady right-back that represented England, but Neville was much more astute in that position. In terms of Arsenal, Vieira went for Lauren. The former Cameroon international arguably possessed more flair than Neville, but the veteran of 602 United appearances was a better defender and more consistent over the course of a season. In truth, Dixon was the only other challenger for this spot in our opinion, not Lauren.
Vieira played with some of the best centre-backs in Arsenal's history, so this was arguably going to be one of his toughest choices. He went with Tony Adams and Campbell, with the former of the two making the combined side. We've gone for Campbell, though, which may be a bit of a surprise. The Englishman was able to call upon the pace that Adams lacked during Vieira's stint with Arsenal. Campbell was also a vital component of the Gunners outfit that went the entire 2003-04 campaign unbeaten.
It takes a lot for Ferguson to admit to a mistake, but even the Scot has conceded that he should not have parted with the Dutchman. Just as with Schmeichel, it was an inclusion that Vieira couldn't disagree with. He got off to a shaky start at Old Trafford and was roasted, on debut, during the 1998 Charity Shield by Arsenal frontman Nicolas Anelka. He soon settled, though, and went on to provide the backbone as United won the Treble in 1999. Such was the impression that he made, United supporters regard Stam to be one of the club's best centre-backs of recent times.
This was the decision that split Keane and Vieira, so much so that it threatened to boil over like it used to on the pitch! It was also a tricky one for us, largely because Denis Irwin was such a consistent performer for United. The fact that he chipped in with a few goals and could play in either full-back position made it even harder. Nevertheless, Cole has been given the nod. He was the quicker of the two and during his prime years, there was arguably not a better left-back in European football - just ask Cristiano Ronaldo, who often struggled to produce his best form against the ex-Gunner.
After much persistence form Vieira, the former England captain was edged out by Robert Pires, but he wins the battle as far as we are concerned. There is little doubt that the Frenchman possessed more skill than Beckham, but there wasn't much else that he had on him. Beckham had the ability to win a match by scoring a free kick or sending over a cross that left the opposition's goalkeeper and defence little chance. What's more, he always worked hard in the opposite direction, which cannot be said for Pires, as Vieira himself admitted during the show.
Until Vieira arrived in the Premier League in 1996, there were a number of players similar to Keane, such as Rob Lee and David Batty, but they were not in the Irishman's league. It became clear early on that despite being a youngster, Vieira was going to become Keane's major competitor. Pundits salivate at the way that Yaya Toure strides around the pitch for Manchester City at this present moment in time, but even the Ivorian cannot cover the ground in the same that Vieira did. Fittingly, his final action for Arsenal was to score the winning penalty against United in the 2005 FA Cup final.
If truth be told, it would be hard for even a cigarette paper to split Keane and Vieira. The now Republic of Ireland assistant manager probably doesn't receive the credit that he deserves for his ability on the ball. Many remember the tackles (good and bad), but Keane was a clever footballer that was able to dictate play, pick out a pass and weigh in with important goals. He did just that in Champions League semi-final against Juventus in 1999, as well as scoring a brace during a 2-1 victory at Highbury later that year.
The duo gave the left flank slot to Ronaldo, but we have plumped for Giggs. That is because the Ronaldo that played when Keane and Vieira were in the Premier League was not the one that is constantly breaking records now with Real Madrid in Spain. He was an inconsistent youngster, even when the pair exited England's top flight in 2005. Step forward Giggs, who fired in 77 goals between 1996 and 2005, including the one we all remember during the 1999 FA Cup semi-final after he had been gifted possession on the halfway line by Vieira.
There are a number of strikers that could put forward a strong case to be included in this team, none more so than Henry. Arsenal's leading goalscorer of all-time could score all manner of goals. In fact, there are few in Premier League history that could boast a catalogue to match the Frenchman's in terms of quality. In the five seasons between 2001 and 2006, Henry scored at least 30 goals in each of the campaigns.
Keane went for Eric Cantona, which is understandable considering the lift that he gave United ahead of their first league title in 26 years. He did, however, find it extremely difficult to omit Van Nistelrooy, something that we ultimately couldn't do. During his first three seasons with United, the Dutch centre-forward scored a mammoth 110 goals in all competitions. Even during his injury-hit 2004-05 campaign, he still scored 16 goals in 27 outings. Add to that the fact that he often scored in the big matches and the temptation to pick him was too strong.