Who are the toughest Premier League players to play in the division? Here’s Our First XI.
Ask a handful of football fans who was the toughest Premier League player in history, and it is likely you will get plenty of different answers.
Every club has their ‘hard man’, someone who doesn’t shirk a tackle and is willing to get involved in the trenches.
Of course, when we say toughest Premier League player, we could mean several things. There’s a toughness in being aggressive and unafraid, but equally there’s a toughness in coming back from set-backs and having a never-say-die attitude.
The EPL has seen plenty of evidence of both over the years.
There is also a different between being stupidly aggressive, and channelling that aggression positively.
This 11-man team of the toughest Premier League players sees players that fall into one, or even both of those categories.
The Toughest Premier League Team – XI
Goalkeeper – Jens Lehmann (Arsenal)
‘Mad Jens’ as Arsenal fans nicknamed him, certainly fit the stereotype of the crazy goalkeeper. Not content with grabbing Robbie Keane by the head, conceding a penalty from which Spurs scored, Sent off in the Champions League final, as well as four times in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund, Lehmann was well known as being an eccentric individual off the pitch, and half crazy on it.
Right Back – Lee Dixon (Arsenal)
Many assume that the Arsenal fullback was a softly spoken, unassuming right back who was part of the famous Arsenal back four under George Graham. Now a pundit on TV (and a good one) his opponents in the day tell a different story. A full back who would go through an opponent to let him know he was about. Like all Arsenal defenders in that team, he was a gifted footballer, but as hard as nails.
Left Back – Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest & Manchester City)
Unflinchingly honest, combative and hard working. Stuart Pearce was THE hardest left back in English football for a long time. He never shirked a tackle, took what others dished out and got on with things. Pearce was incredibly tough, but unlike some on this list, didn’t go to the extremes. Not only that he was a hell of a player too. He’d be the captain of this team to ensure that they stayed on the field for as long as possible.
Centre Back 1 – Jaap Stam (Manchester United)
Sir Alex Ferguson said his biggest regret at Manchester United was letting Jaap Stam leave too soon. Many players in the Premier League were glad when the big Dutchman left because not only was he built like a brick wall, he was as tough as one too. Like Pearce, his toughness came from a fierce will to win and an unflinching willingness to put himself on the line when the team needed it.
Centre Back 2 – Martin Keown (Arsenal)
Alongside Tony Adams and Sol Campbell (who could also have nabbed a place in this team) Martin Keown formed a key part of the Arsenal back line for many years. He was an awkward, angular defender who was unafraid to use his elbows, head, knees to get the job done. Especially if the referee wasn’t looking. He was surprisingly quick too which saw extra energy into some of those sliding tackles.
Midfielder 1 – Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest & Manchester United)
Of course, Roy Keane has to go on this list because not only was he an incredible footballer, but his will to win and tough attitude was plain to see. Keane dished it out, but he could also take it without crying like a baby about it. It is easy to see why he has made himself a legend at United and now is developing a nice career as an outspoken pundit. It’s his job!
Midfielder 2 – Patrick Vieira (Arsenal & Manchester City)
If Keane gets into this team then so must his adversary at Arsenal. Patrick Vieira was 6ft 4” of football poetry, wrapped up in the body of a Sherman tank. His rumbles with Roy Keane were what gave the United and Arsenal rivalry so much intensity. Like Keane, he could take it, but dish it out and he was another outstanding footballer, winning the World Cup with France.
Midfielder 3 – Vinny Jones (Wimbledon & Chelsea)
Vinny Jones often characterises himself as a hardman who could barely play football, but you don’t get to the top level in English football without ability. Unfortunately Jones seemed to care more about his ability off the ball to kick, barrack, harass, annoy, scare and intimidate opposing players. Some of the tackles he made are X-rated. Perfect to play as the anchor in midfield.
Midfielder 4 – Lee Cattermole (Sunderland)
He may not be the biggest superstar name on this list, but Lee Cattermole beats every player in this team in one key category – he picked up bookings and red cards at a rate faster than any other player in the team. 0.35 per game to be exact. Cattermole was Sunderland’s destructive force at the heart of midfield, a role he did with relish and with no respect of his opponents profile either.
Attacker 1 – Eric Cantona (Manchester United)
Many will remember Eric Cantona’s incredible skills and the legendary role he played in lifting Manchester United to Premier League greatness. However, he also had a self-destructive side. One which saw him almost booted out of French Football for good. He resurrected his career in England but was no stranger to red cards, plus he did leap into the stands to kick a Crystal Palace fan in the chest. Now an actor, director and singer, he remains as enigmatic as ever, though less fiery.
Attacker 2 – Duncan Ferguson (Everton & Newcastle United)
No player has ever been more feared in the Premier League era than Duncan Ferguson. The Scottish striker was jailed for three months for an on-field head butt of John McStay when at Dundee United and he had eight red cards in the Premier League. But it wasn’t just that Ferguson was tough on the pitch. He was a man mountain off it too. When two burglars broke into his house, he set about the pair of them and sent them scarpering. He never backed down from any player, anywhere. He is the Premier League’s toughest ever player and it isn’t even close.
Gk – Emi Martinez (Arsenal & Aston Villa)
Def – Julian Dicks (West Ham & Liverpool)
Def – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Mid – Joey Barton (Man City, Newcastle United, QPR)
Mid – Alan Smith (Man Utd, Newcastle Utd, Leeds United)
Att – Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Att – John Fashanu (Wimbledon)
Hopefully this team of 11 of the toughest Premier League stars has whetted your appetite for more action. If so, remember you can bet on the Premier League every week throughout the season and beyond with bet365 Sport.
The site offers a huge selection of bets on the Premier League, including those on the number of bookings and sending’s off in a game. Something that the players in this team of hard cases will be familiar with!
Join me in a future article where I’ll pick a team from the 1960s to 1990s to take on this Toughest Premier League team – and we’ll also give you our verdict on who would come out on top!