6 of football's best managerial rivalries ever: Battle of the Buffet, TV debates and El Clasico

Managerial feuds

Fifteen years ago today, Manchester United and Arsenal played out arguably one of the post bizzare post-match episodes in Premier League history.

On October 24, 2004, after losing at Old Trafford and letting Sir Alex Ferguson's men break their 49-game unbeaten record, Arsenal didn't react particularly well to their first Premier League defeat since May 2002. It led to some memorable handbags in the Old Trafford tunnel, which culminated in former Gunners midfielder Cesc Fabregas throwing pizza at United's Ferguson – already embroiled in a fine professional feud with his opposite number. 

On the anniversary of 'Battle of the Buffet', we remember some of the greatest managerial feuds we've ever enjoyed....

Sir Alex Ferguson vs Arsene Wenger

We might as well start with the big incident itself, and while the pizza incident stole all the headlines, the fury between Wenger and Ferguson started brewing long before that. 

“He’s a novice and should keep his opinions to Japanese football,” was Ferguson’s way of greeting Le Professeur when he joined the Gunners from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996.

The ill feeling intensified as the league championship passed back and forth between Highbury and Old Trafford over the next eight campaigns, culminating in the infamous 'Pizza-gate’ clash of October 2004 (which followed the previous season's infamous Battle of Old Trafford, and culminated in Ferguson having Italy's finest food export chucked over him in the tunnel). 

"By the time we were walking down the tunnel everyone was having a go at each other," Ashley Cole 'wrote' in his autobiography. "There were shouts of 'you cheats' and players were running into a jostling huddle... I was jammed in the middle. I heard the boss [Wenger] hammering Ferguson; incandescent French, verbally sparring with the bullish Scotsman."

Relations thawed as time went on, possibly because the duo mellowed in their older age, but more likely because, in Ferguson’s later years, Wenger’s side were no longer the same threat to United in the league. Though there is plenty of mutual respect between the two today, this was once a truly fierce rivalry.

Cesar Luis Menotti vs Carlos Bilardo

Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are arguably the two greatest players of all time, but it's Menotti and Bilardo who have had the most influence on how Argentina views the game. The pair’s conflicting views of how football should be played have provided Argentine football with a dichotomous framework for decades: Menotti, the long-haired, chain-smoking romantic who insisted on entertaining the public, versus Bilardo, the unapologetic pragmatist who believed winning was the only thing that mattered.

This was a clash based on principle more than personal loathing. The pair were the physical representatives of two antithetical schools of thought, with the fact that each won a World Cup (Menotti in 1978, Bilardo in 1986) suggesting there was no right or wrong answer. 

The duo’s shared nationality and fundamentally disparate beliefs about the game make this perhaps the biggest ideological feud in the history of football. Like the Cold War, only without nuclear weapons.

Brian Clough vs Don Revie

The clip of Clough and Revie debating live on Yorkshire Television following the former’s sacking from Leeds is now 41 years old, but it remains just as compelling viewing today as it was on the night of the broadcast. Fielding questions from host Austin Mitchell, Clough admitted that part of his dislike for his biggest foe was based on the competitiveness between their respective teams: after all, Revie’s Leeds were the side Old Big ’Ead’s Derby were routinely trying to topple at the summit of the old First Division.

A great deal of the enmity, though, stemmed from the fact the two men were so very unalike. Whereas Clough encouraged good football and respect for referees, Revie’s Leeds were notorious masters of the dark arts.

On the other hand, while Clough was seen by many as abrasive and arrogant, Revie was widely considered respectful and courteous. Both were superb managers, but their approaches on and off the field could not have been more contrasting.

“I think football can be played in a different way to the way Don plays it [while] get[ting] the same results,” Clough said, neatly encapsulating the essence of their rivalry. “That might be aiming for utopia... but that’s the way I am. I’m a little bit of an idealist. I do believe in fairies and that is my outlook.”

Valeri Lobanovsky vs Konstantin Beskov

Like Clough and Revie, Menotti and Bilardo, these two former managers of the Soviet Union could hardly have been more opposed in their methods. 

Thermal engineering graduate Lobanovsky, who had three separate spells as USSR boss, was akin to a scientist in his analytical planning and hands-on coordination. Beskov saw football as art and was more than happy to give his players the creative freedom to express themselves on the pitch. The conflict was at its fiercest in the late-'70s and throughout the ’80s, when Lobanovsky was in charge of Dynamo Kiev and Beskov was at Spartak Moscow.

Lobanovsky had the upper hand in terms of trophies – Dynamo won the Soviet Supreme League four times between 1980 and 1986, bookended by Spartak getting their hands on the championship in 1979 and 1987 – but Beskov won plenty of plaudits and admirers for his team’s entertaining style of play.

Arrigo Sacchi vs Fabio Capello

Sacchi’s superb Milan side of 1987-1991 invariably crops up in any discussion about the greatest teams ever, but the tactical mastermind’s appointment was far from popular at the time.

Many Rossoneri fans would have preferred Capello – who had been caretaker for the last few games of the 1986/87 season – to remain in charge, with former shoe salesman Sacchi famously quipping: “I didn’t realise that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first,” when his relative lack of football experience was brought up.

Capello eventually took over at San Siro when Sacchi took the Italy job in 1991, the former Parma boss leaving Milan having won two European Cups and a single scudetto.

Milan went on to win another European Cup and four Serie A titles under the guidance of the future England manager, but Sacchi, a devotee of attacking football, was unhappy with his successor’s more cautious approach. “For Capello, football is all about winning,” he lamented. “He does not see beauty in the game.”

Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola

“In this room [the Real Madrid press room], he is the chief. In here he is the f***ing man and I can’t compete with him. If Barcelona want someone who competes with that, then they should look for another manager.”

It’s safe to say that Mourinho had got well and truly under Guardiola’s skin by April 2011, days before Real Madrid and Barça locked horns in the Champions League semi-finals. It wasn't just a spectacular outburst from a man renowned for his coolness, but an insight into why the pair don't get on.

Like many of the feuds covered here, Mourinho and Guardiola’s antipathy relates to ideas as well as a clash of personalities.

The former Chelsea and Manchester United boss takes no shame in playing reactive, counter-attacking football if it brings success (such as when Mourinho’s Inter grittily defended and countered their way to victory over Guardiola’s Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League semi-finals); Guardiola, conversely, believes victory must be attained in style. 

With a combined 13 league titles and four European Cups to their names, Guardiola and Mourinho are widely considered to be the two best coaches of all time. And the fact they seemingly cannot stand one another only adds to the entertainment.

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Greg Lea

Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).