‘Too much’ - Patrick Vieira reveals what really happened in Arsenal v Man Utd tunnel clash with Roy Keane

Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane famously clashed in the Highbury tunnel in 2005.Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane famously clashed in the Highbury tunnel in 2005.
Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane famously clashed in the Highbury tunnel in 2005. | Arsenal FC via Getty Images
The former midfielders also spoke about their legendary on-field rivalry and how they brought the best out of each other.

Patrick Vieira has revealed what really happened during that infamous clash in the tunnel against Roy Keane in 2005.

The then Manchester United and Arsenal skippers had a long-running feud on the pitch and in this particular occasion the emotion spilt over into the Highbury tunnel, with the pair having to be separated by referee Graham Poll before the game had even started.

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Speaking on the latest episode of Stick to Football, which featured Vieira as a guest speaker, Gary Neville explained how the incident occurred after the Frenchman had warned him about his over-aggressive approach ahead of the game. Neville then mentioned the altercation with Keane in the dressing room before all hell broke loose.

“That was planned by me,” said Vieira. “Because of the nine years I spent at Arsenal, I didn’t like you [Neville] at all. It is true, I couldn’t stand you at all because you were kicking everybody, and especially Robert [Pires] when he was there.

“In that game I was like I must make you aware that today you are not going to touch Robert - I knew that was the plan for you because you struggled against Robert,” the Frenchman continued. “That day I had to tell you to leave him alone.

“I felt that you were over the top against him. Robert was nice, he was too nice to complain, and I felt at that time you went over the top. It was too much, and it was too obvious.

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“Obviously, because of Manchester United controlling all the referees, you had so much power you were allowed to do what you really wanted to do, so I had it planned in my mind. In the warm-up, if I saw you going into the tunnel, I would run after you. I saw you running, and I just ran behind you and wanted to make you aware that today would be different and something that wasn’t going to happen.”

Keane added: “I came out and I knew there were noises. I forgot my armband so that’s why I had to go back up the tunnel. When I came back out the second time, I knew that something had gone on, and I remember what you [Neville] told me previously.

“I was quite relaxed with it actually, I never used to get involved in stuff like that, in the tunnel. I was agitated. My annoyance was that he went after Gary – you go after one, you go after all of us.”

Vieira v Keane

Between 1998 and 2004, either Keane or Vieira ended the campaign by hoisting the Premier League trophy aloft. There was no love lost between the serial winners United and Arsenal in that period, a rivalry typified by their fiery on-field midfielders.

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Both players were sent off in this fixture during a time when it was the highlight of the English football calendar. Reflecting on those battles, Vieira said Keane and United made him a better player.

“Honestly – it was probably the best period in my career when we played against Manchester United,” the 1998 World Cup winner opined. “Every single game that we played against each other, it was like you have to be ready for it because he’s going to go for it, so I have to be prepared, I have to be ready to go into those challenges.

“It was more challenging because we had the same kind of quality. We are competitors, we are winners, we don’t like to be down on the field and of course when two people like that come together, it became really challenging.  

“At the end, it was about the respect, and I never had any kind of nastiness,” Vieira added on his personal animosity with Keane. “I never felt like doing anything from behind, everything was face to face and of course I wanted to win, he wanted to win.

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“When I was going on the field, I said to myself that if I managed to win the duel against [Keane] that would help the team to play with more confidence – so if I could get on top of you, that would help the team to believe that we can win those kind of games.” 

Keane offered a similar verdict 20 years on from those legendary encounters. “There were a few battles you’d win some and you’d lose out on a few,” the Irishman said to Vieira. “When players come along like Patrick, they would bring out the best in you. 

“That’s what the game is about – you’d have to bring your ‘A’ game or you would be found out. Who won more battles? Obviously, it’s very difficult – Patrick had his good days and I had my good days. I certainly enjoyed the clashes. 

“We used to [shake hands afterwards]. The issues I had with midfielders were [ones] who I felt were sneaky or up to no good, but with the battles I had with Patrick, they were honest battles. There was nothing sneaky about it, we’d be hitting each other but I don’t remember too much argy-bargy on the pitch, it was very much you hit me, and I hit you, and we get on with it.”

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