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14 of football's finest insults: featuring Keane, Cantona... and poor Carlton Palmer

Sir Alex Ferguson vs Real Madrid

In 2008, Ferguson was asked to comment on speculation that a deal had been agreed to sell Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid at the end of the season. It was an emphatic no: “Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob. Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn’t sell them a virus.”

Damning, and exactly what Manchester United supporters wanted to hear. Unfortunately, Ronaldo was then sold to Real Madrid after surprisingly swift negotiations in the summer of 2009.

Patrice Evra vs Lilian Thuram

“Walking around with books on slavery in glasses and a hat does not turn you into Malcolm X.”

France’s spectacular combustion at the 2010 World Cup drew criticism from all over the country – even from French politicians. Thuram, incensed by the tarnishing of a legacy which he and the previous generation had done so much to build, was partiuclarly vocal and demanded that Evra never be allowed to play for Les Bleus again.

Little surprise, then, that Evra - who is never short of a sarcastic dismissal - took aim at Thuram's public image. Unfairly, perhaps, given that the former full-back is among the most intelligent and socially conscientious players around. 

Diego Maradona vs Pele

"Pele should go back to the museum."

Maradona’s various insults deserve their own feature (Google his back-and-forwards with Argentine press circa 2010), but his repeated shelling of Pele has always been of greater significance.

In this instance, taking exception to the Brazilian’s questioning of his coaching credentials before the 2010 World Cup, Maradona was in a particularly scathing mood. The binary relationship between the two and the ceaseless debate over their respective greatness ensured - and continues to ensure - that their every personal exchange drips with personal animosity. 

Another classic quip came during the tournament, when the ever-eloquent Maradona mused: "He took the wrong pill. Instead of taking the pill for before bedtime, he took his morning pill. He got confused. I suggest that next time he takes the right medication and that he changes his doctor."

Bryan Roy vs Nottingham Forest

“Berlin has everything. It is a cosmopolitan city with theatres and the people are open-minded. They are not as narrow-minded like the people in Nottingham. There are no theatres, no cinemas, hardly anything. All Nottingham has is Robin Hood… and he's dead.”

Does that need any further context? The influx of television money attracted foreign players to the Premier League in droves during the 1990s (in Roy's case, post-USA '94). Evidently, the Dutchman never bothered with Center Parcs. 

Dave Jones vs Carlton Palmer

“He covers every blade of grass, but that's only because his first touch is crap.”

Jones actually signed Palmer while he was at Southampton in 1997, but sold him within two years and replaced the ex-England international with Chris Marsden. Palmer was an awkward personality and didn’t always endear himself to his team-mates, no less so than during that two-year spell at The Dell.

Ron Atkinson vs Carlton Palmer

“He can trap a ball further than I can kick it.”

Carlton again (and this one's even a suggested Google search now). Graham Taylor used to say that the only people who didn’t criticise Palmer were those who played with him. History suggests that not to be entirely true.

Roy Keane vs Mick McCarthy

"Mick, you're a liar... you're a fucking wanker. I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager, and I don't rate you as a person. You're a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you're not even Irish, you English c***. You can stick it up your bollocks."

Stick it up your bollocks. The almighty end to an epic rant from football's Mr. Smile, who vented to then-Republic of Ireland boss McCarthy during the 2002 World Cup and was duly sent home. The Irish Times described the incident as Ireland's "Princess Diana moment"; an intense outpouring of emotion on both sides of a divide between which there was no middle ground. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Pep Guardiola

The legacy of one of the most lopsided transfers in history, Ibrahimovic’s animosity towards Guardiola has its roots in the 2009 deal which brought him to Barcelona from Inter Milan for Samuel Eto’o and an awful lot of cash.

"Guardiola was staring at me and I lost it. I thought, 'There is my enemy, scratching his bald head!' I yelled: 'You haven't got any balls.’” 

Ibrahimovic didn’t really ‘fail’ at the Camp Nou: his statistics were actually very healthy, but his inability to adapt to the native style (or his determination that it should adapt to him) created a lasting animosity which survives to this day.

Brian Clough vs David Beckham

“His wife can't sing and his barber can't cut hair.”

Clough versus Sam Longson or Clough versus Peter Taylor might have been worthy additions here, but his putdowns of then-England captain Beckham probably come to mind quicker for younger fans.

Based on what came before, we can assume that Clough would have hated managing Beckham. He liked submissive players and those who remained within the figurative boxes that he himself constructed. Beckham, whose haircut du jour "was a downright insult to one of the most prestigious positions in the sport" would never have been that player.

Jose Mourinho vs Arsene Wenger

"I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea."

Mourinho, more so than any other contemporary manager, has always had difficulty knowing where the line is between competitive rivalry and personal vindictiveness. The comment above, made after Wenger had suggested that 2005 Chelsea were perhaps more vulnerable than their recent results suggested, was probably his biggest over-step and continues to represent him at his Mr Hydeian worst.

"He's a specialist in failure. If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don't come back." 

Over the top again from Mourinho, who jabbed the Frenchman in February 2014 after Wenger had suggested some managers were playing down their team's title chances because they "fear to fail". Clearly this was a step too far for Wenger: eight months later he shoved Mourinho on the touchline in Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge. 

Jimmy Greaves vs Vinnie Jones

“Just when you thought there were no surprises left in football, Vinnie Jones turns out to be an international player."

Anybody who puts himself in a “versus Vinnie Jones” scenario deserves a nod of respect and Greaves, reacting to the Wimbledon hatchetman’s burgeoning international career with Wales, was simply verbalising what most others were too afraid to say.

The line on Jones was typically that “he could actually play a bit”, but the reality was more stark: he was a blunt object of a professional who regularly put other players’ careers in jeopardy. Greaves was right: a Wales team stuck in the dark ages and starved of talent had scraped the bottom of the barrell.

Eric Cantona vs Didier Deschamps

"Deschamps gets by because he always gives 100 per cent, but he will never be anything more than a water carrier. You can find players like him on every street corner."

Porter d’eau, the derisory term used by Cantona (which would become Deschamps' enduring nickname), was part of his scathing assessment in 1996 - no doubt influenced by his loss of the French captaincy to Deschamps and eventual annexation from the national team altogether.

It's a feud which has bubbled intermittently ever since. In 2016, Cantona made some highly antagonistic remarks about Deschamps’ squad selection policy (as manager of France), claiming that some players were being ignored on racial grounds. Unsurprisingly, vague legal threats were made in response.

Tommy Docherty vs Lorenzo Amoruso

Not so much a feud as a natty one-liner. Docherty never established himself as a player at Celtic but, when asked for this thoughts on then-Rangers centre-half Lorenzo Amoruso, Old Firm passions stirred.

“Somebody compared him to Billy McNeil, but I don’t remember Billy being crap.”


Bill Shankly vs Tony Currie

Asked whether (former Leeds and Sheffield United great) Currie compared to Tom Finney, Shankly replied sharply: "Aye, he compares all right. But then, Tommy's getting on for 60."

Whether this was really aimed at Currie remains debatable. More realistically, it was simply an expression of Shankly affection for Finney. Tommy Docherty was more forceful, once claiming Lionel Messi to be little more than an “immature Tom Finney” – a measure of the esteem with which the Fulham icon was regarded by his contemporaries. 

Currie was a fine player, even if his England career spanned the 1970s decade that has been effectively redacted from history, so - while the comparison was admittedly generous - it was likely nostalgia talking than any outright malice.

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