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Match of the Day Top 10 podcast: Lineker, Shearer & Richards rank Premier League hard men


The kind of footballers you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley, or even in the tunnel. Tough tacklers, red card specialists and those not afraid to put their head in where it hurts.

The subject of Premier League hard men has been discussed by Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards in the latest Match of The Day: Top 10 podcast, and their choices are listed below.

To hear how they made their final selections, make sure you listen to the podcast on BBC Sounds and you can rank yours at the bottom of the page too.

Diego Costa (Richards: 10th, Shearer: 10th)

Striker Diego Costa played for Chelsea from 2014 to 2017. He scored 52 Premier League goals and won two titles. He was never shown a red card during a Premier League game (although was given one retrospectively) but was booked 26 times in 89 games.

Neither of our pundits was too happy he was on the shortlist put to them by BBC Sport colleagues.

Richards: He wasn’t a tough cookie. It’s a facade. He shouldn’t be in there. I played against him with Villa and he kept niggling all game. I pulled him in the tunnel at half-time and said ‘What are you doing? If you want to scrap…’ but he didn’t want it. It was all an act. Richard Dunne was tougher than him. Sylvain Distin, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton were tougher than him. I’m not happy he’s on the list.

Shearer: He was more of a pest and a nuisance and he just irritated everyone. I wouldn’t say he was a hard man.

Julian Dicks (Richards: 9th, Shearer: 2nd)

Julian Dicks
Julian Dicks was not afraid of confrontation, squaring up to two fearsome Manchester United players in Roy Keane and Eric Cantona here

Defender Julian Dicks played for Liverpool in 1993-94 and then spent five years at West Ham – his second spell at the club. He was sent off once and booked 22 times in 134 Premier League games.

Richards: I watched some tackles. He looked quite horrible. He probably would have gone further down the list but I didn’t play against him.

Shearer: The tackles he put in were designed to hurt. They were there with intent. Some of his tackles were horrible.

David Batty (Richards: 8th, Shearer: 7th)

David Batty
David Batty was sent off for elbowing Chelsea’s Mark Hughes while at Newcastle

England midfielder David Batty played 266 Premier League games for Leeds (two spells), Blackburn and Newcastle between 1992 and 2004. He was booked 65 times and sent off on five occasions.

Shearer: He had a scrap with Graeme le Saux in Moscow. It was -10 degrees, we lost 3-0, it was a terrible night. For whatever reason Le Saux didn’t pass to him and Batty called him a name. I always got the impression with Batts he didn’t really love football. You couldn’t accuse him of not giving his all but he was last into training, first away. He was a great lad, it was great to have him in the team. I was with him at Blackburn and Newcastle. And he won the title at Leeds.

Richards: You’d hear the stories about him being a hard man. Some of his tackles were brutal.

Stuart Pearce (Richards: 7th, Shearer: 6th)

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce is pictured here tackling Steve Jones of Charlton

England left-back Stuart Pearce played 202 Premier League games for Nottingham Forest (mostly), Newcastle and West Ham, having also played nine seasons in the old First Division. He was only sent off twice in the Premier League, with 38 yellow cards. Known as a set-piece specialist, he scored 20 goals.

Richards: He gave me my debut. I’d have had him further down the list but he was so good to me. You knew he had it in him. He was quite a nice guy but when he came in and you hadn’t been running… you don’t get the nickname Psycho if you’re not a psycho.

Lineker: I felt the hard side on occasion. He was a quiet soul but he was tough. A brilliant left-back. He was very dour. I hardly ever saw him laugh or smile. One time I saw him laugh Forest had a free-kick and I was in the wall which I never enjoyed. He did a long run-up and absolutely blasted it, got me straight in the nuts. As I’m lying down he came over and looks at the crowd and starts laughing. He starts doing a Micah Richards laugh. The only time I’ve seen him smile.

Patrick Vieira (Richards: 6th, Shearer: 5th)

A true legend, Patrick Vieira won three titles with Arsenal and was named Premier League player of the year in 2000-01. In 307 Premier League appearances (including a spell at Manchester City) he was booked 76 times and sent off on eight occasions, a joint Premier League record. He scored 31 goals.

Richards: He was the nicest horrible man. He was elegant, smiling but as soon as you get on the training ground he was disgusting. It was always down your shins. I was star struck when I met him. He came to Manchester City. I’m in awe, this is Vieira. I’ve told him ‘I’ve gone from loving you to hating you within a day of meeting you’. Off the field he was such a nice person but he turned [in training] – two-footed tackles. He had more ability than people give him credit for.

Shearer: What a player. His touch, the range of passing, his energy was unbelievable. He was a huge driving force.

Jaap Stam (Richards: 3rd, Shearer: 9th)

Jaap Stam and Patrick Vieira
Jaap Stam and fellow top 10 hard man Patrick Vieira clashed in a 1999 Premiership meeting

Netherlands defender Jaap Stam only played three years in England – from 1998 to 2000 with Manchester United. He won the title in each of his three seasons, including the Treble. He was never sent off and only booked 11 times in 79 Premier League games.

Richards: It was the size of him. It was those eyes. You wouldn’t want to make eye contact. He was a top player.

Shearer: You got very little from him. He was strong, quick, tough as. He hardly gave anything away. I’m not sure I’d describe him as a really hard man. He was a good player.

Vinnie Jones (Richards: 2nd, Shearer: 8th)

Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones was not shy about confronting a referee

Wales midfielder Vinnie Jones played 177 Premier League games for Wimbledon from 1992 to 1998 and another seven for Chelsea at the start of the Premier League era. He was shown 36 yellow cards and seven red cards in those games.

Shearer: He was definitely a character. At one time he was a brickie or hod carrier. So to get where he did in football was remarkable and sums him up. But there were some really evil, disgusting challenges. Does it make you a hard man if you scythe someone down?

Lineker: I thought he’d be lower than that [on Shearer’s list]. He was the quintessential hard man. He didn’t have a lot else to his game. He was a hard man and had a long throw. He grabbed the odd superstar by the nuts.

Roy Keane (Richards: 5th, Shearer: 3rd)

Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane played 366 times in the Premier League – 40 for Nottingham Forest and the rest for Manchester United. He won the title seven times, the same number of red cards he picked up. He was booked 69 times and scored 39 goals.

Richards: I watched some videos. Some of these guys are before my time. The reason he slipped down to five is because I was watching Duncan Ferguson and Jaap Stam and Roy Keane walked away from a confrontation. So I wondered how hard are you really? Roy let me down. Everyone talks about him being a hard man. He’s nice with me [in their roles as Sky Sports pundits]. He sees Big Dunc in me. I can’t believe I’m not on there. You guys [Lineker and Shearer] are legends of the game and Roy is in that category. So when you have to work with him, you’ve got respect. I love working with him. I couldn’t compete with him as a player, with medals, but I can make him uncomfortable on camera.

Shearer: I had my battles with him. That challenge on Alf Inge Haaland… is that hard? All these players on this list would have put in a terrible tackle or two.

Nemanja Vidic (Richards: 4th, Shearer: 4th)

Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic won the Premier League title five times in nine years with Manchester United. He was sent off six times and booked on 39 occasions in 211 English top-flight games.

Richards: He kept it simple. He wasn’t great on the ball, he had Rio Ferdinand for that. He did his job. He did all the hard yards, like John Terry, he’d put his head where the ball was. I had a couple of tunnel bust-ups with him. I don’t like losing or having a bad game. You had more respect for him. You want to show someone you’re not afraid of that. He was playing for the Reds so you never like Reds.

Shearer: He’d never walk away from a battle or a fight because of where he’s from, how he was brought up. He had that hard look about him. He wouldn’t have shirked anything.

Duncan Ferguson (Richards: 1st, Shearer: 1st)

Duncan Ferguson
Duncan Ferguson was sent off twice in his first season in England, including here after fouling John Jensen

Scotland striker Duncan Ferguson played 269 Premier League appearances between 1994 and 2006, mostly for Everton, with 30 coming for Newcastle in between two spells at Goodison. He was sent off a joint-record eight times and booked on 40 occasions. He scored 68 goals.

Richards: From the videos and how big he is… Stam walked away, Keane walked away. He’s got to be number one. He’s got the eyes, you wouldn’t mess with him.

Shearer: I played against him and I played with him. You know when someone has an aura about them. He had a presence when he walked in, the size of him. He had this reputation and he didn’t disappoint. If looks could kill, he could kill you with a look. I don’t know anyone in the game who doesn’t think that about him. You could see the fear in defenders’ eyes in the tunnel. To go into battle with him was magnificent. Most defenders were petrified to go near him. He could fight with the best of them, tackle with the best of them. He was unplayable in the air. What a good player he was. He scored an unbelievable half-volley on the turn against Manchester United at St James’ Park. He was the hardest. He was frightened of nothing or no-one.

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