Top Seven Fights with Fergie – Sir Alex’s Best Spats
Sir Alex Ferguson is a master of football psychology. On the eve of an important game or at a crucial stage in the season, up will pop Fergie with an off-the-cuff comment here or there. A question or two just to cause a few doubts in the opposing ranks. It’s not uncommon for certain other individuals to attempt to match Sir Alex at mind manipulation but how many times do they match the master manager? Here, we look at some of Fergie’s great rivalries and assess who came out on top.
7. In the Red Corner: Rafael Benitez
Rafa is the latest manager to go head-to-head with Alex. Liverpool, had begun 2008/09 with a serious challenge to the Premiership title for the first time in years. Fergie ‘just happened’ to comment that he felt the fixtures were favouring the Merseysiders. Cue a full-bloodied attack from Benitez. Rafa first disputed the fixture claim, announcing that Liverpool had been discriminated in the past stating “two years ago we were playing a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. And we didn’t say anything.”
Benitez then accused the FA of letting Sir Alex walk all over them. In particular, he claimed that Sir Alex was not being prosecuted for improper conduct against referees, when every other manager would and this in the midst of a Respect campaign. The referees were also supposedly also in cahoots with the Red Devils, ignoring controversial incidents where Man U may have been negatively impacted. The following game saw Liverpool held to a no-scoring draw against Stoke with claims that Rafa’s comments had distracted the team from the job. Sir Alex patronisingly responded that he felt pleased Liverpool had made a good start but that he does not expect them to be challenging for the title in the last month. “Chelsea have experience and have been our main rivals for the past five years.“, Alex said. Since the rant, there has been a 17 point swing between Liverpool and Man United.
Result: A good opening bout from the Spanish boy but he’s gone too soon and is fading fast. Fergie the odds on favourite to win.
6. The Defensive Rock: Jaap Stam
If you believe the hype, nothing happened here. Sir Alex just thought Staam had lost a little bit of pace after an injury. A good offer came in and the Red Devils were duty bound to accept it. Only…
Staam was a key player in the three seasons under Sir Alex. If a decline in his playing level was the main factor, then how come the ageing and, quite frankly, past it mid-30s defender of Laurent Blanc was his replacement? And how come after Manchester, this supposedly finished player then went on to play for Lazio, AC Milan and Ajax? And crucially, how come all this happened in the immediate aftermath of Jaap publishing an autobiography claiming he had been tapped up by Manchester United, whilst at PSV Eindhoven?
Result: Alex Ferguson leaves the big defender reeling after a series of punches to the solar plexus with lightning fast speed. A hands down win that Jaap, despite success elsewhere, has still expressed regret about.
5. The Right-Hand Man: Brian Kidd
Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd were an awesome duo. Having replaced his former assistant, Archie Knox, Kidd joined Fergie for an astonishing run of success, including four titles. Sir Alex deemed Brian so crucial to the club, that he persuaded Kidd not to take over as boss at his beloved Everton but to remain at Old Trafford. So it was surprising that Sir Alex made some derogatory comments about his management ability when Kidd left to take over at Blackburn, in his autobiography ‘Managing My Life’. Kidd responded that Walt Disney wanted the book for his sequel to Fantasia. Manchester United went on to win the game that relegated Kidd’s team from England’s top division. When asked how he felt, Sir Alex merely shrugged and said “Oh well“.
Result: A hammer blow early on left the young manager reeling with no clue how to mount a defence. No contest!
4. The Living Fusebox: Gordon Strachan
On the face of it WGS (Wee Gordon Strachan) and Big Alex Ferguson couldn’t be more different. One a decent, but not great, forward with a dour manner, who turned down a move to England to stay with a lower league team in his homeland. The other a fiery but mischevious world-class attacking midfielder, who has represented his country at the highest level and played for some of England’s greatest clubs as a more than integral part. And that’s where the differences end! Both will hate this, but as managers they are astoundingly similar. Ferocious tempers, disciplinarians but also highly supportive of their players and desperate for youth to succeed.
Fergie fell out with his progeny when, as Aberdeen manager, Strachan had gone behind his back to negotiate a contract with Cologne. Sir Alex wrote in his autobiography that he “decided this man could not be trusted an inch“. As it was, Strachan had had enough of Fergie’s bile and decided to move to Manchester United…and was less than pleased to be followed only months later by Sir Alex! After confronting Ferguson over his constant criticism, Gordon was transferred to Leeds United and a glittering career. But it didn’t end there. So great, Strachan felt, was Ferguson’s hatred that he accused the Manchester United manager of fielding a weakened team to get Strachan’s Coventry City relegated. Both now claim the feud is over.
Result: Without guiding him, would Strachan be the young player he was? By transferring him from Manchester United, did this not actually revitalise Gordon’s career? Would Strachan have won so many titles with Celtic without the experience of relegation with Coventry? Ferguson has landed some huge blows but the plucky ginger-nut is a master of deflection. A draw!
3. The Prodigy: David Beckham
England’s biggest star in a generation versus the Scottish general. If there’s one thing Ferguson wants, it’s to win. And that becomes even more important when it’s against Wenger’s Arsenal! When Sir Alex blamed Becks for losing a goal against Arsenal in a cup final, Fergie lost his temper and kicked a boot into Beckham’s face, making a cut. Already wound up by the criticism, David saw red and tried to physically attack his manager, only being restrained by Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The following season saw Ole Gunnar Solskjær keep Becks wide right position, apparently as a display to those above that Man Utd could progress without Beckham. A few months later, Becks joined Real Madrid in a multi-million pound deal.
Result: Becks successfully stood up to Fergie and has had a glittering career. Alex however also proved his point that no player was bigger than the team. No losers there. A draw!
2. The Young Pretender: Kevin Keegan
Now here’s a battle of unlike minds. Kevin Keegan, an overly-enthusiastic England hero with a penchant for wearing his heart on his sleeve versus the wily old fox that makes sure his comments are heard only when to his advantage. After a tough battle with Leeds United, Sir Alex suggested that Leeds didn’t try so hard against teams other than Manchester United. As the challengers at the time, Newcastle United, were still to face Leeds, this infuriated manager Keegan leading to the now famous rant that ended with “I will love it if we beat them – LOVE IT!”
Needless to say, Manchester United won the title after a very erratic end for Newcastle.
Result: A plucky challenge from the high-energy fighter but never recovered from that well-timed knockout punch. Fergie hands down!
1. The Old Rival: Arsene Wenger
Here’s about with some history! Unusually, ‘gentleman’ Wenger started it all! In his first season with Arsenal, Wenger claimed the FA and the other clubs were letting Man U win the title by extending the season. Rather dismissively, Ferguson replied that Arsene should “keep his opinions to Japanese football“. However, Wenger was laughing at the end of the season when Arsenal collected the title, even though Sir Alex maintained his were “the better team“.
The following season a spat with Ruud van Nisteltrooy saw a number of Arsenal players suspended and Ruud described as a cheat, plus “Pizzagate“, when a piece of pizza was supposedly thrown by a Gunners player at Ferguson. Sir Alex claimed that “what the Arsenal players did was the worst I have witnessed in sport“. Recently, both Fergie and Wenger have found a new respect for each other, however, it only takes one little word for it all to explode again.
Result: Two great fighters and a hugely entertaining bout. Fergie just takes it on points but the fat lady is still warming up.
Of course, these are far from the only confrontations with Sir Alex Ferguson. People like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Graeme Souness spring to mind. Over to you to decide which is the greatest battle Fergie has ever faced.