When ITV begin their Euro 2020 coverage this summer, the company should be on alert to make sure Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira are not left alone in anything that could resemble a tunnel leading to a football pitch.
For the last time that happened, the pair had to be separated.
The former footballers will be working together as pundits for this summer’s international tournament and these days, their relationship is built on respect and magnanimity, rather than fire and hate.
There is probably enough history between them to write a textbook.
They were the two sides in the Premier League competing for glory, with their star-studded squads desperate to be the ones crowned champions, and that would inevitably throw fuel onto the fire.
Led by their two main protagonists, Keane and Vieira, in the middle of the park, the tension was palpable every time they lined up together.
But how did it start? And why did it end?
Mirror Sport looks over some of the glorious Keane v Vieira battles over the years before they put their swords down…
How it started
“They are two competitive animals who are ready to do anything to win,” former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Keane and Vieira.
When you put two battering rams together on the stretch of turf, they are bound to lock horns. Sure enough, when Arsenal came to Old Trafford in 2003 with the title in their sights, it was the perfect opportunity to ignite a battle.
This cagey affair had been brewing for a while due to an array of niggly fouls and late challenges, with Gary Neville targeting Jose Antonio Reyes for special treatment. Vieira had seen red for kicking out at Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had been feuding with the Arsenal players all afternoon.
And when the Dutchman missed a late penalty with the deadlock yet to broken, all hell broke loose. Martin Keown ran up behind the striker and goaded him with a clip around his head, while Lauren, Ray Parlour, Ashely Cole and Kolo Toure confronted him.
Tempers boiled over as the two sides became embroiled in a 22-man brawl before the final whistle was blown.
Later on, Arsenal were fined £175,000 and warned, while four of their players — Keown, Lauren, Parlour and Vieira — all received bans.
While that game didn’t directly involve a squabble between Keane and Vieira, it set the tone for their future clashes.
It is difficult to imagine in these coronavirus times, but with both teams lining up in the same, cramped tunnel at Highbury in 2005, there was always likely to be trouble. It gained iconic status for the setting for one of the Premier League ’s most famous bust-ups.
The cameras were in the ideal position to capture the drama, almost as if they were expecting some choice words before heading into the boxing ring afterwards. Except, they couldn’t wait that long.
United skipper Keane took offence to Arsenal counterpart Vieira trying to intimidate Red Devils defender Gary Neville, before Dennis Bergkamp whispered in his ear.
Keane made sure he had the last word. As Vieira was shepherded away by teammate Pascal Cygan, the Irishman bulldozed his way through and shouted: “We’ll see you out there!”
The referee, Graham Poll, was quick to ensure it did not go beyond verbal exchanges and restrained Keane. But at this point, he was powerless to prevent any further trouble.
The game itself is often forgotten as part of the details of their famous square-up, with United winning 4-2 despite Vieira getting on the scoresheet.
Afterwards, Keane shifted the blame onto the Gunners, telling Sky Sports: “I don’t want to get into too much detail but Patrick Vieira is 6’4 and he starts having a go at Gary Neville.
“I said, ‘Come and have a go at me’, it’s as simple as that.
“If players want to intimidate some of my team-mates then let’s have a go at some of the other players. They think Gary Neville is an easy target, well I’m not having it.”
Which was your favourite moment in the Keane-Vieira rivalry? Let us know in the comments section below.
In an interview with Soccer AM in 2017, Neville corroborated the midfielder’s version of events and accused Vieira of being the catalyst behind the fracas.
“I could hear these footsteps behind me and Vieira shouting, ‘Neville! Neville! You’re not going to kick our players out on this pitch today,'” he recalled.
“Roy obviously turned back, heard him and started having a go at him. He [Vieira] sort of squirted his water bottle towards Roy, then all hell broke loose.”
Ending the feud
Despite their differences, Vieira was once linked with a shock move to Old Trafford where he could have lined up alongside Keane and jostled for the captain’s armband.
Alas, he opted to join Juventus in 2006, bringing an end to a legendary war. A permanent ceasefire.
Keane has often chipped in with a cheeky dig at his old enemy when the pair have been reunited, claiming the Frenchman “would have been a squad player” had he joined him at Old Trafford. Nowadays, they can laugh about such comments.
The two players were invited to take part in ITV’s documentary about their famous rivalry, ‘Best of Enemies’ back in 2013.
It gave a fascinating insight into why they were so riled up and what these two players were willing to do to win, and Vieira summarised his feelings towards the Manchester club.
He said: “I feel hate towards them but also love because without them my memories would not be as powerful. And that is a priceless feeling.”
With their playing careers a matter of the past, relations have eased.
They will be sitting in the studio analysing the Euro 2020 action this summer and perhaps the debates will get heated. This time, at least, they will have social distancing to separate them.