EPL: The Top Ten Premier League Hard-Men

Nick DaviesCorrespondent ISeptember 28, 2010

EPL: The Top Ten Premier League Hard-Men

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    Hatchetman. Enforcer. Call them what you will, but Hard-men play a central part of the English game. They start long standing rivalries, they becomes heroes with their style of play and they raise the crowd to their feet with the contrversial incidents which follow them around. 

    This list attempts to list the top ten hard-men who graced the Premier League, some are incredibly obvious and some less so, but all have one thing in common. An absolutely iron mentality on the football pitch, to never give up and to make themselves known with their crunching tackles and steely personalities. 

    Let me know in the comments section if I've missed anyone who deserves a mention and I'll try to defend my thinking, but do remember its Premier League only. 80's hard-men need not apply. 

    Enjoy. 

10: Robbie Savage

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    In football there are few players who have polarised opinion like Robbie Savage. He tends to be loved by his fans, and hated by everyone else. 

    Either way Savage was a gifted player with good passing and excellent dead-ball delivery. Also in his locker is a furious tackle and a stamina and energy to hound players snapping at their heels. 

    Like so many hard-men they tend to be cult terrace heroes, and Savage has been that at Birmingham, Blackburn and Derby and still has the legs to keep playing. 

    Savage courted controversy in his career, especially in the fierce derbies between Aston Villa and Savage's Birmingham City, where his brawl with Dion Dublin saw him butted in the face only to continue playing. 

    Savage will have more opposition than fans, but both will agree that he is one of footballs modern hard-men. 

9: Nemanja Vidic

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    Manchester United's Serbian defender lacks too much subtlety, but absolutely makes up for it in bloody-minded determination. 

    Vidic is a victim of his own drive, and is known to simply foul players by dragging them down when they manage to get a step past him, a notable exception being Torres who seems to relish playing against the Serb. 

    Vidic has built up a reputation as a no-nonsense defensive enforcer during his time at Old Trafford and the reputation is well founded. Many a striker has found out to his detriment just how hard Vidic goes into a tackle, and presumably many more will discover it. 

    He is returning from injury and expect Manchester to stop leaking goals when he is back to top fitness. 

8: Lee Bowyer

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    One of England's reputed bad boys of football, Bowyer has calmed down in his latter years, but remains an uncompromising force on the field. 

    He is best known for his on-field fight with team-mate Keiron Dyer which resulted in both men being sent off. Bowyer has been on the receiving end of all too many red cards, but his passionate play makes him a cut-favourite of whichever club he is at. 

    Bowyer's temper can be his downfall and he has been described as able to start a fight in an empty room, and if he feels he has been fouled he has been known to overreact, but it is the aggression of his tackles which deservedly put Bowyer in this list. 

7: Joey Barton

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    Barton is probably better known for his violent conduct off the pitch, but on it he carries just as much aggression. Barton is a fairly gifted footballer with a good shot and a decent range of passing, but like so many on this list, his technical accomplishments fall behind his tenacity, work-rate and tackling ability. 

    Love him or (more likely) hate him, Barton must be acknowledged as one of the current day hard-men of the Premier League. His reputation leads to him being targeted by opponents (see Karl Henry's challenges on him) but he is tough, and tends to give at least as good as he gets. Barton relishes a midfield duel and more often then not, he emerges from them victorious.  

6: John Hartson

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    Hartson was a tough Centre-Forward who started his career at Arsenal and West Ham where he began to develop his reputation as both a decent striker, and an absolute psychopath. It was admittedly at Celtic where his reputation as the latter soared, for those interested in proof look for his training ground bust-up with his team-mate. Hartson fouls him, then receives a punch to the leg from the downed player. Hartson then quickly introduces his boot to his team-mates face.  

    Hartson has just recently recovered from aggressive cancer and has returned to football with punditry. 

5: Patrick Vieira:

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    When Arsenal fans complain that they need an enforcer, they are complaining that they never replaced this man. Vieira was the man in the middle who protected his younger and smaller team mates, players knew fouling Arsenal players would invite Vieira's attention, which was something best avoided. 

    Vieira was however a more cultured hard-man and he was a technically gifted footballer too. He scored goals and could pass, but these traits are common at Arsenal. Vieira's hard-as-nails tackling and the aura around him are not common at the Emirates and many point to this as a key reason for Arsenal's recent struggles. 

4: Stuart Pearce

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    You don't earn the nickname 'psycho' by accident. Pearce was a goal scoring left-back, taking Forest's penalties and free kicks, but its not his scoring he's remembered. Pearce is known as psycho due to the stare he exhibits and his utterly no-nonsense style of play.

    Less of a brawler than some of his peers on this list, Pearce was still known to put in uncompromising tackles and made a name for himself as England's hard-man.  

3: Duncan Ferguson

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    'Big Dunc' was hard. Those of you who class the likes of Rooney as a tough centre-forward didn't watch Duncan Ferguson. He was totally uncompromising on the pitch, and has the record to prove it, but was just as psychopathic off of it. He had four convictions of assault, including attacking a policeman and an injured supporter.

    Infamously two men broke into his house one night with the intention of burgling him. Ferguson awoke and while one ran for his life, Ferguson set about putting the other one in hospital for an extended period.

    As an old fashioned battering ram attacker Ferguson struggled with bookings throughout his career, but his struggle was minute compared to the struggle defenders faced of containing his sheer strength and bulk.

    Ferguson was a terrace hero wherever he went and absolutely deserves a place on this list.  

2: Vinnie Jones

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    People mostly associate Jones with his film hard-man portrayals, but the characters he plays are very much based on his footballing past. He will forever be remembered for 'that' picture with a surprised Paul Gascoigne. Jones was the leader of the Wimbledon "Crazy Gang" who battered and battled their way to FA Cup success over Liverpool having spooked them in the tunnel with their screaming. 

    This list has certainly challenged the idea of the placid Welshman. Savage and Hartson were both Welsh (Bellamy hasn't even made the list) and Jones was capped for Wales due to a Welsh grandmother and played nine times. 

    Jones also courted controversy off the pitch by releasing a video with archive footage of his and other hard-men's tackles and fouls as well as tips for aspiring hard-men. Unsurprisingly the FA took a dim view of this and banned him.

    There was more to Jones that just brawling, but it is definitely what he is known for, those unconvinced look up the first 3 minutes of the Liverpool Wimbledon cup final.   

1: Roy Keane

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    Is anyone surprised? The ultimate footballing hard-man. Keane epitomised the no-nonsense approach to football. Keane was a good footballer but it is his terror inducing tackling which earned him the respect of his opponents. Following his sending home from World Cup duty Keane went on a one-man crusade of vengeance against those players who he felt had let him down. 

    Aside from that, people will remember his tackles which broke legs, his stamping on players and possibly most scarily, his stare which tended to mean that you were next.

    Keane captained United to their treble winning year showing he had more than his tackling in his locker, but without his guidance both on the field and off Manchester United would have struggled more with teams hoping to simply kick them off the pitch, a tactic that Keane tended to achieve all by himself.