Manchester United’s boxing training would have given Roy Keane the edge had Patrick Vieira taken Roy up on his offer ‘outside’, says Mikael Silvestre.
Former France defender Silvestre, who played for both United and Arsenal, has described the clubs’ simmering rivalry to The Athletic podcast Talk of the Devils.
“Arsenal was the biggest fixture in the season in those years.
“In preparation for Arsenal games, the intensity in training was higher. The tackles were flying. With Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt.
“The strikers had to jump in those weeks.”
Keane and Vieira famously confronted one another in the Highbury tunnel before a 2005 Premier League clash.
“It’s a small tunnel so players are almost like shoulder against shoulder,” Silvestre recalled.
“And I think Patrick went past Gary (Neville) and he said, ‘You stop talking. You have a big mouth, when you are with your team. So I want to take you on one v one outside, me and you, something like this.
“So Roy Keane, as a good captain, defended Gary. He said, ‘you want to take on my players, take it up to me’. But there was also some French vocabulary in the conversation."
Referee Graham Poll then intervened but had the bout gone ahead, Silvestre believes Keane would have overcome any reach disadvantage.
“Maybe because we did some boxing, Roy would have an advantage.
“We would have a fitness coach who came in my second season at United and he was good at lifting and boxing. Mike Clegg.
“With Mike, we would do some boxing and Roy was pretty good at it. Giggsy and Wayne (Rooney) too.
“A lot of the players would enjoy a one-minute round, two/three rounds after training. It’s good for our body and coordination. And if you have more steam to burn.”
Silvestre also recalled the famous ‘Battle of the Buffet’ earlier that season, when United ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run and Alex Ferguson ended up with pizza on his suit.
“It was very important for us to stop them. It would have been the 50 games unbeaten. It was extra motivation.
“I remember Phil Neville having the best game of his life. And we ended up stopping them.
“The tunnel incident was just badness. It’s different now, but you remember how tight that corridor was leading to our dressing room.
“Flying pizza on top of Sir Alex’s suit. That was just a crazy end.”
Cesc Fabregas has since admitted being the assailant, something Silvestre knew long before.
“I’d heard from the French guys, so I knew it was Cesc. So when I joined Arsenal I said ‘I know it was you, don’t lie to me’
“But I can tell you at the time that Sir Alex wasn’t laughing and we were mad as well.
“It was a foolish moment from Cesc but you remember he was 18 at the time. He was an 18 year old throwing pizza.”.
Silvestre was also aware of Arsenal’s animosity towards United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, which spilled over the previous season after the Dutchman missed a last-minute penalty in the scoreless draw between the sides at Old Trafford.
“I don’t really know why. I think they called him a cheat.
“But it’s really something that in England as a striker you can’t fake or cheat. Ruud had to learn that the hard way with Arsenal to be sure.”