Premier League hardmen and footballing hardmen in general are certainly a dying breed. There was a time when every team had one, or at least one, and they were a vital cog in an effective footballing machine. Today, you would do well to find one in the division itself, with the likes of Martin Skrtel, Lee Cattermole and Diego Costa about as close as you will get to a hardman in the modern game.
Some view the disappearance of that type of player as a great positive, pleased that the game is now more focused upon technical prowess, while others miss the physicality of the game, particularly the British game. Football's greatest hardmen like Nobby Stiles, Ramon Suarez and Billy Whitehirst all came in the pre-Premier League era, but the league which began in 1992, has certainly seen its fair share.
What makes a footballing hardman is not definite, but it tends to mean a physically imposing player who can give it as well as take it. Not just your typical dirty player who can only dish it out, but one who strikes fear into the hearts of the opposition, treating every game as a battle and never shirking a challenge. Here are the top 20 hardmen in Premier League history:
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20 Nemanja Vidic
A titan at the back for Manchester United alongside Rio Ferdinand for a number of years, Nemanja Vidic is one of the Premier League's most formidable defenders. The big Serb was strong, powerful and exceptional in the air. Arriving at Old Trafford from Spartak Moscow, Vidic went on to spend eight years with the club, winning five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and even captaining the team. Having developed a reputation as a hardman in the Premier League, Vidic joined Inter Milan in 2014, where he was sent off in his debut.
19 Lee Bowyer
One-time England international Lee Bowyer is the second most yellow carded player in Premier League history. A controversial figure who had trouble including racism and violence-related issues over the course of his 18-year career. Most commonly found getting stuck into the opposition, Bowyer's hard man image once boiled over to his own teammates when, in 2005, he had an on-field brawl with fellow Newcastle United midfielder Kieran Dyer, in which both players were sent off with the police having to become involved.
18 Kevin Davies
Not your archetypal Premier League hardman, Kevin Davies was a clever player, who knew what he could get away with and always played on the edge. Not the quickest, biggest or most gifted on the ball, Davies was strong, clever and carved out a very respectable career for himself, playing over 400 Premier League games and winning an England cap for himself at the age of 33. Davies is the most booked striker in Premier League history and now aged 38, is currently playing for Chesterfield in League One.
17 Steve Bould
Currently Arsene Wenger's assistant manager, Steve Bould previously spent 11 years as a center-back at Arsenal, playing 372 games and winning three league titles, two FA Cups and one League Cup. A no-nonsense defender, Bould established a reputation throughout the 1990's as the type of defender few strikers wanted to come up against. Strong in the air and formidable in the tackle, Bould was never the star of Arsenal's back four but he was ever-reliable and dependable.
16 David Batty
Former Leeds, Blackburn and Newcastle midfielder David Batty was an effective player who could break up play and launch his side on the offensive. He won 42 caps for England, featuring at both Euro '92 and the 1998 World Cup, in which he missed a decisive penalty kick which saw England knocked out by Argentina. Driven, determined and occasionally reckless, Batty developed an image as one of the division's hardmen throughout the 1990s. He spent most of his career with Leeds United, who have a rather checkered history in the disciplinary department themselves, and Batty's fiercely competitive attitude was said to by a positive influence within the dressing room.
15 Patrick Vieira
Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira was an incredibly driven man who's clashed with Manchester United and Roy Keane in particular defined the Premier League in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Despite their many comings together, the pair actually had a great deal in common, their incredible desire and will to win which led them to constant conflict. The greatest midfield enforcer of all time, Vieira spent nine years at Arsenal, captaining them for three, and was the beating heart of their famous 'invincibles' side.
14 Papa Bouba Diop
Senegalese man-mountain Papa Bouba Diop established a reputation as someone you didn't want to mess with over his eight years in English football, and not just because of his sheer size. A powerful defensive midfielder, Diop largely played as an anchor man, sweeping up any danger in front of the back line, but also capable of playing in the center of defense. He spent most of his time in the Premier League with Fulham and West Ham, where his robust challenges and physical presence helped establish both sides in the top flight.
13 Jaap Stam
Jaap Stam was a quality defender who won trophies wherever he went, and that was no different in the Premier League. He spent three seasons in England with Manchester United, in which time he won a remarkable three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one Champions League and one Intercontinental Cup. He was named in the Premier League Team of the Year in every one of his three seasons spent in the division. Big, powerful and imposing, Stam stamped his authority on every game he played in, and Premier League strikers knew they wouldn't get much joy out of the big Dutchman.
12 Thomas Gravesen
He may have looked wildly out of his depth at Real Madrid, but at Everton, Thomas Gravesen was a useful midfield enforcer and every but a Premier League hardman. The bald Dane was a big favorite at Goodison Park, where he played a pivotal role in their fantastic 2004-05 season, in which the club finished in fourth place, qualifying for the Champions League. After a torrid time in Spain, Gravesen joined Celtic and later returned to Everton on-loan, playing eight times, but by now was a shadow of his former self.
11 Marco Materazzi
Marco Materzzi may not be best remembered for his time in the Premier League, in fact he may not be best remembered for his football at all, but rather for being the man who Zinedine Zidane head butted to earn himself a red card in the 2006 World Cup final and his last ever game. Materazzi was a dirty player, who loved to antagonize opponents, winding them up at any opportunity possible. His rugged style is exemplified by his 60 career yellow cards and 25 red cards, one of the highest in the history of the game. Materazzi spent just a season in the Premier League with Everton, before going on to win five Serie A titles and a Champions League with Inter Milan and a World Cup with Italy.
10 John Hartson
With an average of a red card every 2,000 minutes, few players in Premier League history have been sent off a frequently as John Hartson. The big Scot was not one to be bullied by center-halves, and more often than not, it was Hartson doing the bullying. Hartson's aggression extended to his own teammates, with a number of incidents plaguing his career, most notably when he kicked his then-West Ham teammate Eyal Berkovic in the face, which was filmed and Hartson subsequently punished. Legend has it Sir Alex Ferguson almost signed the Scottish international but was put off by his behavioral tendencies.
9 Alan Shearer
Since his retirement the legacy of Shearer as a hardman seems to have begun to fade, but people shouldn't forget that behind the goals, Shearer could be a very dirty, aggressive and clever footballer. He is quite possibly the greatest Premier League striker of all time, he certainly leads the scoring charts, with 260 goals, a record which could quite possibly never be beaten. However, he was still a hellishly dirty player with a very good media image which, more often than not, saw him get away with it. He even got off scot-free after kicking Neil Lennon in the face, with many believing the FA didn't ban him due to him being England captain at the time.
8 Tomas Repka
Czech hardman Tomas Repka played 167 games in the Premier League with West Ham, as well as lengthy spells with Fiorentina and Sparta Prague. Loved by the fans of every club he ever played for, supporters adored the passion and desire shown by the Czech international. However, that passion occasionally spilt over to anger, which more often than not led to an act of aggression, rashness or sheer stupidity. It is no surprise that Repka was sent off 19 times over the course of his career.
7 Stig Tofting
Stig Tofting's time in the Premier League was short and aggressive, lasting only half a season and 14 games, but he's still remembered as one of the league's toughest players. Tofting had a difficult childhood; at the age of 13 he found his parents dead at their house, after his dad had shot his mum before turning the gun on himself. Tofting himself has faced jail time. As a player, he was a tough-tackling defensive midfielder. A bald, tattoo-covered Dane who struck fear into his opponents, Tofting was renowned for his rash tackles. They didn't call him 'The Lawn Mower' for nothing.
6 Neil Ruddock
Neil 'Razor' Ruddock, as he is best known, had a 17-year career, in which he played for the likes of Southampton, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Ham. He was voted the 17th hardest footballer of all time, and is certainly one of the Premier League's best known 'hardmen'. A central defender who made the most of the skills at his disposal, Ruddock had a very respectable career for someone who's best remembered for kicking lumps out of people. Ruddock famously had on-field spats with Patrick Vieira and Eric Cantona, as well as fracturing Peter Beardsley's jaw and breaking Andy Cole's leg.
5 Vinnie Jones
The archetypal Premier League hardman, Vinnie Jones is the entry that will cause the most disagreements on this list, both with regards to his inclusion and position. Some would argue that he is the ultimate Premier League hardman and should be top, whilst others view him more as a figure of ridicule, an almost caricature of cartoon-like figure rather than a genuine hardman. Jones had a number of famous incidents including grabbing Gazza's testicles and receiving the fastest yellow card in Premier League history after just five seconds. Jones played on his hardman image following retirement to move into the world of acting, where he tends to play some kind of gangster/hardman type.
4 Stuart Pearce
You don't get nicknamed 'Psycho' for being a cool, calm and collected figure on the pitch, and Stuart Pearce certainly wasn't. The England international wasn't as rash as some on this list, but he could terrify an opponent with a stare. Psycho could also play a bit though, spending the bulk of his career at Nottingham Forest and racking up 78 caps for England, where he was always at his most passionate and determined. His no-nonsense approach and hardman image was emphasized when Pearce broke his leg but waved away a stretcher.
3 Julian Dicks
Nicknamed 'the Terminator', Julian Dicks was a tough-tackling, often reckless and often sent off defender. Dicks played for Birmingham City, West Ham United and Liverpool, with the bulk of his career being spent at the Boleyn Ground. Dicks was proud of his hardman image, but it eventually caught up with him. Opposing players liked nothing more than to leave one on him - Dennis Wise famously two-footed him in 1990 - and Dicks soon started having his career plagued by injuries. He is currently the first team coach at West Ham.
2 Roy Keane
The most famous of all footballing hardmen perhaps, Roy Keane. The Irishmen fell out with more people than you could add up over the course of his career, getting involved in both on-field and off-field incidents. Keane certainly falls into the category of hardmen who could play also. He was one of the best midfielders in the world on his day, twinning a combative style with technique and vision, he was an all-round excellent midfielder. Keane received seven Premier League red cards and famously targeted Alf-Inge Haaland with his studs in attempt to seriously hurt the Norwegian, in a tackle that is said to have contributed to Haaland's very early retirement.
1 Duncan Ferguson
When considering who should top this list, it was difficult to look past Duncan Ferguson. 'Big Dunc' or 'Duncan Disorderly' as he is sometimes known, was the last man any Premier League player wanted to see on the opposition team sheet. He spent 12 years in the Premier League, 10 with Everton and 2 with Newcastle. Ferguson is the highest scoring Scotsman in Premier League history, but also the most red carded. He received nine career red cards, eight in the Premier League - no player has more - and he also received a three-month prison sentence in 1994 following a headbutt on Raith Rovers player John McStay.
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