This year marks the 25th season of the Premier League era, so what better time to assemble the greatest XI from English football’s top flight from the past quarter of a century.
Between now and Thursday 29 September we will reveal one player per day as we build up to the big reveal of the full line-up. Disagree with any of the selections? Of course, you do. Get involved with the action on social media by posting your all-time favourites using #FWPremXI.
Clubs: Nottingham Forest (1990-1993), Manchester United (1993-2006), Celtic (2006)
Honours: Premier League (1993/94, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2002/03); FA Cup (1993/94, 1995/96, 1998/99, 2003/4); FA Community Shield (1992/93, 1995/96, 1996/97, 2002/3); Champions League: (1999); FIFA Intercontinental Cup (1999/00); SPL (2005/6); Scottish League Cup (2005/6)
PL Appearances: 366
PL Goals: 39
Roy Keane was a controversial figure throughout his career. His unrelenting desire to win would often spill over into incandescent rage, and occasionally outright violence. The swing at Alan Shearer, the thigh-high challenge on Alf-Inge Håland and the 2002 World Cup debacle are obvious flash-points of a man with a hair-trigger temper.
But that same fire that burned inside was the reason Keane was able to become the driving force behind the period of absolute dominance Manchester United enjoyed from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
Signed from Nottingham Forest for a then British record fee of £3.75 million, Keane was brought in to replace the ageing Bryan Robson at the heart of United’s midfield. His energy, tenacity and fearless leadership, meant the Irishman would go on captain the Red Devils through the most successful spell in the club’s history.
When Keane signed for United, they were reigning Premier League champions, but his influence helped Alex Ferguson’s men secure their first ever league and FA Cup double in the 1993/94 campaign. Keane was also voted into the PFA Team of the Year that season; he would go on to repeat that accolade another four times in his career.
Keane won a total of seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League during his 12-year stay at Old Trafford.
Of all of his successes, the part the former Cobh Ramblers midfielder played in United’s historic Treble win in 1999 stands out. Keane was, without question, the finest box-to-box midfielder in the world at the time, and his performance away to Juventus in the Champions League semi-final – in which he inspired a comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 – remains the greatest individual display of his storied career.
The booking he picked up after 34 minutes in Turin meant he would be suspended for the final, but Keane didn’t let his disappointment affect his determination to ensure his team would be taking part in the showpiece event.
Although United were unable to retain the European Cup the following season, they did manage to hold onto the Premier League trophy. Keane was again key and his performances earned him the distinction of being named both the PFA Players Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year in 2000.
Keane’s style of play and role within the United team evolved as he aged and injuries began to take their toll, but one word that he could always be defined by was ‘combative'.
As a young player at Nottingham Forest and then with United, Keane was a traditional 4-4-2 box-to-box midfielder in every sense; strong in the tackle, adept at tracking runners and capable of carrying out his defensive duties. Keane was also a superb passer over short distances and had the ability to burst forward at speed to launch or join attacking moves.
As time wore on, Keane was less able to cover every blade of grass like he would in his pomp, and became more of a defensive midfielder, sitting in front of the back four and dictating play from deep. His titanic midfield battles with Arsenal's Patrick Vieira remain one of the endearing sights of the Premier League era.
But even as his legs began to slow, Keane's ‘football brain' remained sharp as a tack, and his leadership never wavered.
A controversial appearance as a guest analyst on MUTV saw Keane’s time at Old Trafford brought to an abrupt end, after the harsh criticism he made of his team-mates enraged Ferguson; Keane was released to join Celtic.
But despite the sour ending, United fans remain grateful for Keane’s effort and achievements on the pitch. He was the inspirational captain of arguably the greatest side in English club football history.
And it could be argued that the void left in the United midfield by Keane’s departure has never been truly filled. The Red Devils have lacked drive, athleticism and energy in the middle of the park since the former Republic of Ireland midfielder took up a more defensive role in around 2003.
Several unsuccessful attempts to replace Keane have been made via the transfer market, and this summer United spent £89 million on Paul Pogba to restore some of the urgency and dynamism that Keane used to make look so simple.
Keane's venture into coaching has not matched the heights of his playing days – his spells in the dugouts of Sunderland and Ipswich Town were eminently forgettable for both clubs. Although, now back in the ROI fold and as a pundit, Keane is passing on his passion to the next generation.
Love him or hate him, you can’t help but respect Keane and his larger than life abilities. Despite being relatively small in stature, Keane would appear to fill the entire football pitch with his personality and tenacity.
As a captain, he ruffled more than his fair share of feathers, but Roy Keane was a true leader of men, and, at his best, a world class footballer.