Wenger and Ferguson were two of the best managers in the world. Without a doubt, the two best managers in the Premier League’s contemporary history. Almost every milestone has been accomplished between these two. A treble, an undefeated season, and a slew of prizes are all on the table. But you know people of this calibre won’t just smile and be buddies when they manage in the same league…
An enormous, sweeping rivalry between two great teams is desperately needed in English football. There have been several noteworthy disputes in recent years, but none compare to Arsenal and Manchester United’s epic nine-year war from 1996 to 2005.
It all began with the establishment of Barclay’s Premier League, which was quickly followed by Manchester United’s near-unrivaled dominance, with the club winning three Premier League titles prior to the 1996-97 season.
But then there was Arsene Wenger. Rumors abounded about the Frenchman’s presence at Highbury, including how he could speak five languages and why he was suggested to join Arsenal from Nagoya Grampus Eight, a very unknown Japanese club.
Ferguson was plainly alarmed by Wenger’s presence, particularly by “the Professor’s” sophistication, as seen by his disapproval of alcohol and lack of adherence to other British football traditions.
Ferguson and Wenger Most Controversial Moments
From the football field to the schoolyard, the rivalry was so intense that even a pacifist would throw the first punch.
There was a pizza brawl, as well as accusations of racism leveled by Ian Wright against Peter Schmeichel.
There was also the Battle of Old Trafford, in which Arsenal players abused Ruud van Nistelrooy after the game; Roy Keane literally offering Patrick Vieira outside during a legendary row in the Highbury tunnel, and Jaap Stam being restrained by half of Highbury as he rumbled towards Vieira with extreme prejudice.
For a decade, they defined each other, and their teams were no different. United’s treble and Arsenal’s undefeated season were only possible because a Dutchman missed a last-minute penalty against them for their biggest rivals: Dennis Bergkamp in 1999 and Van Nistelrooy in 2003.
It’s a fitting metaphor for a rivalry in which the quality and animosity of the opponent heightened every accomplishment. They would have won a lot more if they didn’t have each other, but the victories wouldn’t have been as good.