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# Head-to-head
Keane/Viera: there’s a little bit of rivalry there
As Patrick Vieira takes up his new coaching role at Eastlands, Paul Ring reflects on his era-defining rivalry with a legend from the other half of Manchester.

“I’LL SEE YOU out there.”

The year is 2005. The dominant Premier League duopoly of Manchester United and Arsenal are being overrun by new money from the King’s Road. It is a frosty night at Highbury and in the closed confines of the tunnel, two old foes are squaring up for the right to challenge Roman’s roubles.

Their two generals, Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane, are going mano a mano in what was, we know now to be, the denouement of their personal battle.

The infamous clip plays out like the uneasy seconds before a bar-room brawl.

Its main protagonists are separated by Graham Poll. Pascal Cygan is glaring at Keane, safe in the knowledge that he doesn’t even register a blip on the Corkman’s radar. Thierry Henry is the pacifist; he embraces Roy Carroll right in the eye of the storm.

What was striking about Keane’s tirade and what was perhaps missed initially was him railing at Vieira for “shouting his mouth off, every week you, making out you’re a nice guy.” The image of Keane brooding at Carrington picking apart every Vieira interview is perhaps a simple one but the fact he mentions every week proved the Frenchman registered on his radar, and that was a rare thing.

Ultimate warriors

For the best part of a decade, the two defined their clubs and encapsulated the great rivalry between two great teams.

Vieira was the all encompassing force at the heart of Arsene Wenger’s finest creation. Plucked from AC Milan’s reserves for the paltry sum of £3.5m, the Frenchman quickly established himself as a player moulded in steel but clouded in silk.

He was part of a side that memorably reeled in United with ten consecutive wins at the end of the 97-98 season to take the title and the notion that the power in the English game had come to rest in North London.

Of course United responded the following season with their miracle treble. Captain Keane, so missed the previous season, was to the fore in this historic one. His unyielding drive and sheer consistent brilliance was the fulcrum around which the treble was built.

Yet Keane and United owe a debt to a quite brilliant Arsenal side that pushed them all the way. It is worth remembering in the five times the teams faced each other that season, United didn’t win once in ninety minutes. It was the last of the five, that memorable FA Cup semi-final replay when a tired Vieira gave Ryan Giggs the ball, that finally saw United shake off the Gunners.

Keane described that FA cup semi-final as a war between him and Vieira and that was usually the appropriate word to sum up meetings between the two. Both were at their physical zenith, neither one liked the other and meetings between the two usually decided silverware.

United plundered two more titles to follow up the treble but Arsenal responded with an emphatic double in 01-02.

The two carved up the next two titles, with United clawing back Arsenal in 02-03 only for the Gunners to respond with their immortal, invincible season in 03-04. In any argument between Keane and Vieira, both can share points for captaining a treble and captaining an unbeaten side. Arsenal were so far ahead of United that season that a thaw developed between the two titans and a much gentler tunnel incident ensued.

Keane wasn’t present the following season when Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt at Old Trafford. The Wayne Rooney tumble that decided the game stuck in the craw of the Arsenal players, as did Gary Neville’s rough handling of Jose Reyes throughout the game.

It was this that prompted Vieira to approach Neville the night of the tunnel. Keane promptly urged Vieira to pick on him instead.

They met once more after, in Cardiff for the F.A Cup final in which United battered Arsenal but lost on penalties, the decisive spotter coming from Vieira’s bootlaces. His parting gift for Arsenal as he headed to Italy.

Keane looked on, glum in all-black, unaware his time at Old Trafford was coming to an inglorious end.

‘Til we meet again

The goals, the verbals, the tackles and the mud. These were the snapshots of two warriors that fought a great fight. Keane moved to Celtic and quickly into the whirlwind of management. Vieira continued in Italy and has now settled back in the blue half of Manchester to begin his coaching career.

Asked this week to reflect on his playing career, he was drawn to the tunnel and Keane. He spoke of his intimidation and quality.

You suspect that somewhere, these words are registering on someone’s radar.

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