Ranked! The 50 greatest feuds in modern football

We call it the beautiful game, but sometimes it gets ugly.

And with media coverage like never before, no stone is left unturned in any relationship within the footballing world. 

From spats between team-mates and coaches to fans taking aim at owners and governing bodies, we’ve put together the ultimate collection of footballing feuds from the 21st century.

50. Frank Lampard vs Marcelo Bielsa

Bielsa Lampard

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When Derby County found spies from Leeds United at their training ground in 2019, things got a little touchy between the two managers. Frank Lampard expressed his dissatisfaction in Marcelo Bielsa's methods, only for Bielsa to call a press conference.

Though some gathered in the room and waiting on social media believed the Argentinian manager was calling the media to announce his resignation over the affair, Bielsa shocked everyone with a detailed presentation on his methods, including how to beat Derby. Lampard, reacting to the slideshow, declared it was nothing out of the ordinary compared to the analysis that coaches put together.

Lampard had the last laugh in the end too, beating Leeds in the Championship play-offs later that season. 

49. Emmanuel Adebayor vs Arsenal

Emmanuel Adebayor

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The Togolese striker felt hard done when he was pushed out of Arsenal in 2009 after three-and-a-half years at the club, and his ill-feeling towards his former employers was clear to see when he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate a goal against the Gunners for Manchester City the year after leaving.

In 2018, he reflected on the incident with Turkish TV programme ‘Beyond the Game’, saying: "What was going through my head? A prisoner is out. A prisoner is free. I played for the club for three-and-a-half years, you bought me for £3m, I still have five years of my contract and you let me go for £20m more and you are telling me I am the one leaving for money and abusing me.

"I am not taking that so it was just to show them that the person you are insulting still has something in his locker."

48. Dejan Lovren vs Sergio Ramos

Dejan Loren Sergio Ramos

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An oft-criticised figure throughout his time at Anfield, Lovren has regularly provided the case for the defence. "I think people should recognise that I'm one of the best defenders in the world and not just talk nonsense,” he said during Croatia’s run to the 2018 World Cup final.

The former Southampton stopper has also taken pot-shots at some of his fellow centre-backs, including Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos. Lovren once said that the Spaniard makes more errors than him but largely avoids criticism, a barb which Ramos brushed off in a subsequent press conference.

The duo came head-to-head in the UEFA Nations League in 2018, with Croatia running out 3-2 runners over Spain. Lovren celebrated by posting a video on Instagram in which he appeared to boast about elbowing Ramos, an act which earned him a one-game international ban.

47. Juan Roman Riquelme vs Louis van Gaal

Juan Roman Riquelme

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Louis van Gaal, it might surprise you to learn, thinks rather fondly of himself. “What has Barcelona won in 100 years? How many Champions Leagues?,” he blasted after leaving the Camp Nou in 2000. “In six years at Ajax I won more than Barcelona had won in 100 years.”

Van Gaal’s belief that individual players should always be subservient to his system led to numerous clashes with gifted technicians during his career. Rivaldo is perhaps the best known example, but the Dutchman also fell out with Riquelme, the Brazilian’s replacement, during his second spell as Barcelona boss, which began in 2002.

"You're the best player when you have the ball, but when you don't we play with one less,” Van Gaal reportedly told Riquelme upon his arrival. That would have been good enough for many managers but certainly wasn’t for Van Gaal, who regularly deployed the cerebral playmaker out of position – when he was in the team at all.

46. Romario vs Edmundo

Romario Edmundo Vasco de Gama Brazil

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Fans called it the "attack of dreams" when the two Brazilian bad boys were partnered at Vasco Da Gama in 1999, but it turned out to be a gigantic clash of egos instead. Not that anyone could have seen it coming; after all, it wasn't as if Romario had once opined that “when I was born, the man in the sky pointed to me and said, ‘That's the guy’."

Neither liked the pain of training, preferring to play foot volleyball on Rio's luscious beaches instead. The duo's friendship ended in 1998, when Romario posted a cartoon of Edmundo sitting on a deflated football on the entrance to a toilet, with a similarly unflattering depiction of his ex-girlfriend on the opposite door.

45. Mario Balotelli vs Jamie Carragher

Mario Balotelli

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Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool paid £16m to sign Mario Balotelli in summer 2014, and the Italian failed to prove the doubters wrong. He scored just a solitary Premier League goal during a single-season stay at Anfield, before going to AC Milan on loan a year later.

Carragher was one of several Liverpool fans to celebrate Balotelli’s permanent departure in 2016. The striker joined Nice on a free transfer, prompting the Reds legend to declare that “free is still paying over the odds.”

Balotelli opted against biting his tongue, hitting back that Carragher was a “bad player” and a “wonderful hater”.

44. Manchester City vs UEFA

Manchester City UEFA

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The two-year ban Manchester City received from UEFA recently earned a predictably prickly response from the Premier League club, whose chief executive Ferran Soriano described it as “less about justice and more about politics.”

City were also fined €30m for having seriously broken Financial Fair Play rules, but they have appealed to the court of arbitration for sport. It is the latest, and undoubtedly biggest, development in a feud that has lasted almost a decade.

In 2011, they were fined more (£30k) for coming out for the second half 30 seconds late than Porto were (£20k) for racist abuse aimed at City striker Mario Balotelli. The club was fined £49m for FFP breaches in 2014, and fans were then left furious when they travelled for a game at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, only to not be allowed into the stadium.

43. Ronald Koeman vs Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal Ronald Koeman

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Van Gaal has never been one to keep his counsel, and fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman is no shrinking violet either. Clashes between the pair weren’t inevitable, however; after all, Van Gaal and Koeman were working towards the same goals during their time together at Barcelona and Ajax.

It was in Amsterdam where the rivalry began. Koeman was Ajax manager and Van Gaal sat upstairs as director of football, although he couldn’t help but meddle in first-team affairs. Koeman struggled to accept the interference from above, and his frustration boiled over when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sold against his wishes in 2004.

The board soon fulfilled Koeman’s request to sack Van Gaal, although the former only lasted a few more months at the Amsterdam Arena.

42. Mino Raiola vs Manchester United

Mino Raiola

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Raiola was a football agent like no other. He preferred casual sportswear to business suits, and spoke to the media more often than many of his clients. He was also a notoriously tough negotiator, and his abrasive demeanour rubbed many people up the wrong way.

His criticism of Manchester United was particularly notable. Raiola had never been backward about protecting the interests of Paul Pogba, one of his headline clients, and regularly dropped hints that the midfielder’s future might lie away from Old Trafford.

That didn't go down well with key stakeholders in Manchester, but Raiola didn’t seem to mind: he hit out – sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly – at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Gary Neville, Ed Woodward, Jose Mourinho, Paul Scholes and the club as a whole.

41. Joey Barton vs Rangers

Joey Barton

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After rebuilding his reputation in England during an excellent season at Burnley, whom he helped to win promotion back to the Premier League, in 2015/16, Barton moved north of the border with Rangers ahead of the following campaign.

The midfielder exclaimed he was “delighted” to join the Scottish giants, but the move turned sour pretty quickly. Barton was suspended by the club following a training-ground bust-up with Andy Halliday in September, after which he criticised Rangers’ “strange” behaviour on national radio.

Barton’s contract was eventually terminated in November after just eight appearances and 133 days at the club.

40. Luca Toni vs Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal Luca Toni

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Toni scored 39 goals in his debut season at Bayern Munich, then followed that up with another 18 in 2008/09. The Italian was a popular figure in the dressing room and on the terraces, but that didn’t matter much to Van Gaal when he took charge at the Allianz Arena in summer 2009.

The Dutchman handed Toni just four appearances in the first half of the 2009/10 campaign, before shipping him off to Roma in January – but not before he’d brandished his testicles in front of the startled striker.

"The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls," Toni said. "He demonstrated this literally. I have never experienced anything like it.”

39. El Hadji Diouf vs Jamie Carragher

Jamie Carragher El-Hadji Diouf

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According to Carragher, Liverpool had the chance to sign either Nicolas Anelka or Diouf in summer 2002. They ultimately opted for the latter – and almost immediately regretted it. Diouf scored only three Premier League goals during two seasons at Anfield, and was involved in multiple controversial incidents.

There was no love lost between Diouf and Carragher during their time together on Merseyside, with the former striker having since labelled his erstwhile team-mate a “f**king loser” and, puzzlingly, a “turkey”.

Carragher, for his part, once remarked that Diouf was the “only No.9 ever to go through a whole season without scoring”, and has never been shy in aiming jibes at the Senegalese.

38. Landon Donovan vs Jurgen Klinsmann

Klinsmann Donovan

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Widely regarded as the best United States footballer of all time, Donovan was a powerful figure throughout his international career. The forward earned 157 caps at senior level, the last of which came before the 2014 World Cup.

Manager Jurgen Klinsmann included Donovan in his preliminary squad for the tournament in Brazil, only to drop him when it came to trimming the group to 23. The German described it as “one of the toughest decisions” he had ever made, although that statement was somewhat undermined when his own son posted a tweet that appeared to mock Donovan.

The two-time Everton loanee played his final game for the national team later that year, and spent the next few months hinting that Klinsmann should be fired by the US – something that finally became reality in 2016.

37. Emmanuel Frimpong vs Samir Nasri

Nasri Frimpong

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This feud began after Frimpong was sent off during a 2-0 defeat for Arsenal against Liverpool, and Nasri blamed his team-mate for the result. It sparked a row that rolled on for years.

Nasri left days later anyway, and the pair clashed during a League Cup tie between Manchester City and Arsenal in November 2011. "During the game, he told me he could buy me," Frimpong later told The Athletic. "That's how stupid this guy is. He probably could then because he had millions, but that's no respect. That's what happened. I feel like he was a bully, I feel like he didn't know his responsibilities as a senior player to be able to help younger players."

36. Marc van Bommel vs Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal Mark van Bommel

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After four and a half years at the club, Van Bommel’s Bayern Munich career came to an abrupt end in January 2011. The combative midfielder and club captain asked for his contract to be terminated after falling out with Van Gaal, who he labelled “difficult” and “not easy to work with”.

The Bayern boss had dropped his compatriot from the team towards the start of the 2010/11 season, but there was more to the feud than that. Van Bommel would routinely stick up for team-mates who Van Gaal attacked in the dressing room, which led to a particularly fierce bust-up between the two Dutchmen in December 2010.

“I had a difficult and nasty discussion with him,” Van Bommel explained. “I told him about all the things he could not do and there was some name-calling as well… I knew I had to leave there and then. I’ve not shook his hand since.”

35. Paul Pogba vs Jose Mourinho

Pogba Mourinho

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Pogba and Mourinho both arrived at Manchester United in summer 2016, ahead of a season in which the club won the Europa League and the League Cup. The pair didn’t always enjoy the smoothest of relationships, however, and the situation began to deteriorate the following campaign.

Pogba was openly critical of Mourinho’s cautious style of play, imploring the United boss to “attack and press” following a draw with Wolves. A bust-up in 2018 saw Mourinho remove the midfielder from his role as vice-captain, following a summer in which Pogba was regularly linked with a move away from Old Trafford.

Mourinho opened up on the strained relations following his departure from United, stating that he risked being sent “on vacation” if he upset “His Excellency”.

34. Adrian Mutu vs Victor Piturca

Adrian Mutu

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Mutu was never one to keep his opinions to himself, but the hot-headed striker did himself few favours when he likened Romania manager Victor Piturca to Mr Bean. This wasn’t a heat-of-the-moment remark, either: Mutu edited a picture of Piturca to look like the Rowan Atkinson character, then shared it on social media.

The former Chelsea man was angered by his boss’ decision to leave him out of the squad to face Greece in a World Cup qualifier in 2013. Mutu quickly deleted the picture but the damage had been done, with the then-34-year-old banned from international duty by the authorities.

33. Neymar vs Edinson Cavani

Neymar Edinson Cavani

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It’s hard not to feel sorry for Cavani. Forced to play second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his first three seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, the industrious Uruguayan finally took centre stage in 2016/17, scoring 49 goals after being moved from the left flank to the centre-forward spot following Ibrahimovic’s exit.

It wouldn’t last long. PSG smashed the world transfer record to sign Neymar the following summer, and Cavani was once again relegated to a secondary role. The Brazilian was immediately placed on penalty-taking duty, while there were several instances of him seemingly refusing to pass the ball to his better-positioned team-mate.

Cavani’s frustrations were evident when he recklessly fouled Neymar in an international friendly in 2018. The pair later patched things up but there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of mutual respect between them.

32. Lee McCulloch vs Paul Hartley

Lee McCulloch Paul Hartley

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Old Firm matches are invariably feisty affairs, and a 2008 meeting between the two Glasgow giants was no exception. Rangers winger Lee McCulloch was left with a broken foot after a robust challenge from Celtic’s Paul Hartley, something he wasn’t going to forget in a hurry.

The pair renewed hostilities in the 2009 Scottish League Cup final, which ended in a 2-0 Celtic victory. McCulloch admitted to losing his temper after again being on the receiving end of some niggly tackles from Hartley; at the end of the game, he challenged the Rangers man to a fight.

“I said, ‘Come on, right here and now. Let’s get it on. Down the tunnel, wherever you like,’” McCulloch recalled, before admitting that the “red mist” had well and truly come down.

31. James McClean vs Lamine Kone

James McClean Lamine Kone

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A hard-fought match between Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion ended in a 0-0 draw in April 2016, with the two clubs battling to retain their Premier League status. The point was enough for West Brom to reach the magical 40-mark, a fact McClean recognised on Twitter after the game.

Sunderland's centre-back Kone felt hard done by, though, insisting his side deserved the victory and adding “by the way, who is James McClean?” to the end of his own tweet.

“The guy that put you on your backside big fella,” the Republic of Ireland winger responded, but Kone dismissed him as a “benchwarmer”. McClean had the final word, posting a picture on Instagram with the caption: "That face you make when you have more Prem goals than the guy trying to mug you off has in prem appearances, wins and teeth the whole of Sunderland have combined.”

30. Gareth Bale vs Real Madrid

Gareth Bale in action for Real Madrid against Getafe in 2020.

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‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.’ The pictures of Gareth Bale’s beaming face behind a flag carrying that message after the Welsh secured Euro 2020 qualification further soured his already tetchy relationship with the Real Madrid faithful.

The winger was booed loudly at his next home game, while a banner was revealed in response that read: "Rodrygo. Vini. Lucas. Bale. In that order".

29. Michael Owen vs Alan Shearer

Owen Shearer

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Owen’s book Reboot – My Life, My Time sees him pull no punches over his lucrative and unsuccessful spell at Newcastle United. He claimed, among other things, that he felt no need to justify himself to fans who he accused of being “deluded” about their club’s stature.

Those comments sparked a Twitter row with Magpies legend Shearer and even led to a Newcastle shop refusing to stock the book. There's more left to run with this one, too…

28. Premier League fans vs VAR

Rodri handball Everton

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One of the most recent feuds to emerge has been one that has united large swathes of English football fans: the battle against VAR.

The introduction of the technology for the 2019/20 campaign has brought with it a flurry of high-profile controversies, while many accuse it of ruining the spirit of the game as players await the green light before being allowed to fully celebrate any doubtful goals.

It appears to be the future though, so we fear there is a long way to run with this particularly one-sided battle yet…

27. Joey Barton vs Ousmane Dabo

Joey Barton

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Barton was at the centre of numerous controversial episodes during his playing career, with one of the most shameful coming during his time at Manchester City.

Barton assaulted midfield team-mate Dabo following a training-ground clash in 2007, leaving the Frenchman unconscious and with a detached retina after striking him several times. Barton was charged by police and later sentenced to six months' imprisonment, of which he served 74 days.

“He says he is a man, a bad boy, but he is just a coward,” Dabo said later. “He is nasty, a traitor.”

26. Craig Bellamy vs John Arne Riise

Riise Bellamy

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“Bellamy raised the club over his head and swung as hard as he could,” Riise wrote in his 2018 autobiography, recalling the infamous incident involving the two-then Liverpool players 11 years earlier. “He tried to hit my shins, which would have ended my career, but I managed to pull my leg away in time.”

Bellamy and Riise almost came to blows during a bar-room argument in the run-up to the Reds’ Champions League clash with Barcelona. Team-mates intervened to separate the pair, but Bellamy felt he had unfinished business. Later that night, he entered Riise’s hotel room and struck his team-mate with a golf club.

Did the Welshman instantly regret his actions? Not quite. After scoring at the Camp Nou a few days later, Bellamy celebrated by imitating a golf stroke.

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.