Ranked! The 50 greatest feuds in modern football
From rumbling rows to full-on fights, we count down the players, managers, clubs and governing bodies with the biggest beef in the game over the last 20 years
25. Antonio Cassano vs Fabio Capello
Even Cassano himself would admit that he wasn’t the easiest player to manage, so perhaps it was always inevitable that the maverick striker wouldn’t see eye to eye with the authoritarian Capello.
The pair had previously clashed at Roma but it was at Real Madrid that the feud exploded into life. Capello was critical of Cassano’s diet and work rate, while the younger Italian wasn’t afraid to voice his own opinions in the dressing room after being dropped by his compatriot.
The Madrid hierarchy intervened and suspended Cassano in October 2006, citing the “disrespect” he showed towards Capello.
24. Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Rafael van der Vaart
The Ajax team-mates locked horns in an international friendly between Sweden and the Netherlands in 2004, when Van der Vaart held Ibrahimovic responsible for the ankle injury he sustained.
"I didn’t injure you on purpose, and you know that," Ibra retorted. "And if you accuse me again I’ll break both your legs - and that time it will be on purpose.” Charming.
23. Joey Barton vs Dietmar Hamann
Barton and Hamann were Manchester City team-mates during the 2006/07 season, but that didn’t prevent a spectacular online bust-up a few years later.
The war of words between the two midfielders began when Hamann told Barton to “stay out of club politics” when the latter questioned why Loic Remy had signed for QPR rather than Newcastle. Barton told Hamann to get his “own life in order”, to which the German responded that he had always been respectful to his former clubs.
Barton wasn’t ready to drop the issue, though, calling Hamann a “maggot”, a “dog” and the “worst pro I’ve ever seen”.
22. Sergio Ramos vs Gerard Pique
Despite being one of the most formidable defensive partnerships ever in international football, the Barcelona/Real Madrid rivalry of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos dictates that the pair have quite a few entertaining arguments over the years.
"We already know about Pique's world, where everything's a plot against him," Ramos claimed when Pique suggested Barcelona were hard done by referees. Ramos has also responded to Pique's claims that a Real Madrid side were the "worst" he'd ever faced in El Clasico and has defended himself after Pique called out a challenge he made on Lionel Messi. The pair also fall on a different side of the Catalan independence debate.
21. Luciano Spaletti vs Francesco Totti
During his first spell in charge of Roma, Spalletti earned a reputation for tactical innovation, deploying Totti as a false nine as the capital club finished second in Serie A.
His second stint at the Stadio Olimpico was less successful. Spalletti opted against restoring Totti to the team following his return from injury, a decision which earned him the public scorn of the Roma icon. Spalletti then dropped the forward completely for a clash with Palermo, and tension between the pair remained even after Totti became an effective impact substitute.
There would only be one winner in this battle: Totti retired at the end of the season to become a club director, while Spalletti was sacked.
20. Delio Rossi vs Adem Ljajic
It’s not every day you see a manager physically assault one of his own players, so it was no surprise that Rossi’s attack on Ljajic generated headlines across Europe in May 2012.
Fiorentina were 2-0 down to lowly Novara when Rossi decided to substitute Ljajic after just half an hour. The Serbia international didn’t take kindly to the decision, sarcastically applauding his manager as he trudged off the pitch.
Most coaches would simply have ignored the act of petulance, but not Rossi. Instead he jumped into the dugout and attempted to punch the player, who was protected by other members of Fiorentina staff. Perhaps it worked: La Viola went on to draw 2-2, although Rossi was sacked in the aftermath.
19. John Terry vs Wayne Bridge
Team-mates at Stamford Bridge for five and a half years, Terry and Bridge fell out after it was reported that the former had had a four-month affair with the latter’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel.
The story only came to light after Bridge had joined Manchester City, but that wasn’t going to stop the left-back making his feelings known. Bridge refused to shake Terry’s hand before City’s 4-2 victory in west London in 2010, after which his colleague Craig Bellamy launched a scathing attack on the Chelsea captain.
“I still don't think anyone knows the full story,” Bridge said cryptically in 2017. Terry, meanwhile, has never publicly addressed the allegations.
18. Oliver Kahn vs Jens Lehmann
The two custodians were constantly sniping at each other from near and far over Germany's No.1 shirt; Kahn made fun of Lehmann when he lost his place to Manuel Almunia at Arsenal, while Lehmann retorted that the Bayern Munich shot-stopper took himself too seriously.
"I don't have a 24-year-old girlfriend. I have a different life," the Arsenal man said of Kahn's relationship with a Munich barmaid. Nothing that a bout of fisticuffs at Oktoberfest wouldn’t sort out.
17. Jose Mourinho vs Iker Casillas
Few players in world football seemed as secure in their starting spot as Casillas in the early 2010s. In the 10 seasons between 2002/03 and 2011/12, the Spanish shot-stopper missed just nine La Liga games.
Things began to change in Jose Mourinho’s third season at the Santiago Bernabeu, though. The Portuguese first dropped the Spaniard in December 2012, but relations turned sour only after Madrid signed Diego Lopez towards the end of the January transfer window.
Lopez became Mourinho’s new No.1, and the former Chelsea and Inter manager wasn’t shy in making his true feelings known when it became clear that he had no future in Madrid. “I should have brought in Diego Lopez after my first year,” he declared in a thinly-veiled dig at Casillas.
16. Ruud van Nistelrooy vs Patrick Kluivert
Kluivert certainly enjoyed Newcastle’s nightlife during his time on Tyneside in 2004, with the stay-at-home and sober Van Nistelrooy left unimpressed with his team-mate's attitude when the two joined forces at international level.
Kluivert was spotted at a rave in Amsterdam after the first leg of the Euro 2004 play-off against Scotland, prompting the Manchester United star to go on record with a thinly-veiled attack on his strike partner. “I can't do it all myself,” he told reporters. “I can't be the only Dutch player who closes down and leads from the front.”
Dick Advocaat did his best to make things work, but it wasn’t to be.
15. Jose Mourinho vs Antonio Conte
Mourinho endured a humiliating return to Stamford Bridge in October 2016, as his Manchester United side were thrashed 4-0 by Chelsea. The Portuguese didn’t take kindly to Conte vociferously celebrating each of his team’s goals, and made his feelings known by having a word in the Italian’s ear after Chelsea’s fourth.
The pair traded jibes throughout that campaign, with Mourinho highlighting Conte’s “defen[sive]” and “counter-attacking” tactics, and Conte arguing that United were underachieving relative to their transfer outlay.
Relations grew even nastier in 2017-18, when Mourinho aimed a dig at Conte’s four-month ban for failing to report match-fixing during his time in charge of Siena. The Italian responded by blasting his United counterpart as a “little man” who was out of step with elite coaches around the world because “now it is very difficult to do only cinema”.
14. Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Pep Guardiola
Throughout his time in charge of Barcelona, Pep Guardiola was always searching for ways to stay ahead of the competition. In his fourth and final season at the helm, for instance, he regularly set his side up in a back three.
Two years earlier he had attempted to shake things up by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an outspoken, 6ft 5in centre-forward. It didn’t work. Ibrahimovic didn’t suit Barcelona’s intricate passing style, while his personality was somewhat out of kilter with the team-first ethic Guardiola had fostered at the Camp Nou.
“I completely lost it,” Ibrahimovic later wrote of an incident following Barcelona’s defeat by Inter in the Champions League semi-finals in 2009/10. “You might have expected Guardiola to say a few words in response, but he’s a spineless coward. He just picked up the metal box [that I had kicked], like a little caretaker, and then left, never to mention it again, not a word.”
13. Luis Suarez vs Patrice Evra
In one of the ugliest spats that the Premier League had ever seen, Liverpool forward Luis Suarez was charged by the FA for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Suarez denied it. Liverpool said they would fight the claims.
Liverpool's players warming up in t-shirts supporting Suarez only added fuel to the fire. When the pair finally met again, it was Suarez who refused to shake Evra's hand - not the other way around as some may have guessed - though Evra jumped provocatively around Suarez after United beat the Reds 2-1.
"I could not believe it, I just could not believe it," Sir Alex Ferguson said in the aftermath. "He's a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again."
12. Roy Keane vs Alf-Inge Haaland
In his book The Second Half, Keane described Haaland as “an absolute prick to play against” and said he has no regrets over his horror challenge on the midfielder in a 2001 Manchester Derby, which effectively ended his career, although he insisted he “had no wish to injure him”.
The challenge was the culmination of a feud that began in 1997, when Keane tore his cruciate ligament while kicking out at Haaland in a game against Leeds. The Norwegian stood over the Irishman and accused him of play-acting – and Keane wasn’t one to forget.
11. Lee Bowyer vs Kieron Dyer
In perhaps the most infamous on-field bust-up of the Premier League era, the two Newcastle midfielders piled into each other with their side 3-0 down at home to Aston Villa.
They were separated by Gareth Barry and Stephen Carr, but Dyer was subsequently handed a three-match ban; Bowyer four. Legend has it that Graeme Souness offered to fight them both in the changing room afterwards.
10. Karim Benzema vs Didier Deschamps
Prior to playing for France at Euro 2020, Benzema won three Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups and a La Liga title in the six years he spent out of the international setup.
Yet despite his impressive exploits at club level during that period, Benzema’s international career looked almost certainly over. The former Lyon man was arrested in November 2015 for allegedly blackmailing international colleague Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape; something he was later found guilty of in 2021.
Benzema accused manager Didier Deschamps of “bow[ing] to the pressure of a racist part of France” after he was omitted from the Euro 2016 squad. Deschamps, for his part, said it was “pitiful” that Benzema had ‘liked’ an Instagram photo mocking the former midfielder. The acrimony eventually abated, though, with Deschamps selecting him for the Euros.
9. Arsenal Wenger vs Jose Mourinho
One of the great managerial rivalries of Premier League history, the ill-feeling between the French and Portuguese bosses also produced some fantastic quotes.
Mourinho called Wenger a “voyeur” in 2006 – “someone who likes to watch other people”, and two years later the Frenchman called his counterpart “out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful.”
Perhaps most famous was Mou’s “specialist in failure” barb in 2014, but a year later they clashed on the touchline in a game between Chelsea and Arsenal with the Gunners boss saying he was provoked. When Wenger retired in 2018, though, Mourinho ended the feud: “If he respects me even 50% of what I respect him, we can even be friends in the future. I have lots of respect for him.”
8. Newcastle fans vs Mike Ashley
“The board believes that a critical factor in improving the performance of the club on the pitch is Newcastle’s ability to invest in its squad,” Freddy Shepherd said after selling the club in 2007. “Mike Ashley will be an excellent custodian of Newcastle United’s heritage and will provide the best possible opportunity for the club to flourish in the future.”
It hasn’t turned out as planned. Ashley has been a despised figure for much of his stewardship at St James’ Park, during which time Newcastle have suffered two relegations and consistently punched below their weight.
Supporters have held regular protests against Ashley’s continued ownership, while the Sports Direct honcho hasn’t exactly soothed relations by failing to keep hold of popular managers such as Kevin Keegan and Rafael Benitez.
7. Roy Keane vs Patrick Vieira
This midfield duel symbolised the bitter rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal at the turn of the millennium, and their tussles have gone down in Premier League folklore.
Tensions peaked at Highbury in February 2005 when the Irishman took exception to comments by Vieira, who he later revealed he thought was “bullying” team-mate Gary Neville. Referee Graham Poll had to step in as Keane made a beeline for the Gunners midfielder while shouting “we’ll see out there!” He had a point; United won the game 4-2.
6. Lothar Matthaus vs Stefan Effenberg
The warring midfielders were at each other's throats for most of the 1990s, briefly at Bayern Munich but particularly with the national team. Effenberg claimed Matthaus lacked courage, citing the captain's failure to take Germany's penalty in the 1990 World Cup Final, while Matthaus wasted little time in telling Bayern to get rid of his old foe after the Bavarians lost to Hansa Rostock in 2001.
Effenberg even dedicated a chapter of his autobiography to his arch-enemy, which consisted of a blank page under the title: “What Lothar Matthaus knows about football.”
5. Nicolas Anelka vs Raymond Domenech
The sulky Frenchman’s stormy relationship with Domenech came to a head at the 2010 World Cup when he was sent home mid-tournament after reportedly aiming some unsavoury remarks at his coach during half-time of a 2-0 defeat to Mexico.
The players refused to train the next day in protest and Anelka was suspended for 18 games by the French Football Federation, effectively ending his international career.
The bad blood has continued: in 2017, Domenech snidely said French starlet Kylian Mbappe “has the choice of being Ronaldo or Anelka”, leading his nemesis to defend his own achievements before replying: “He can also follow Domenech's career; that of a small player of the French championship who has become a 15-year-old coach of teams including France, without winning any trophies and then unemployed since 2010. It's for Mbappe to choose..."
4. Roy Keane vs Mick McCarthy
The public fall-out between Ireland’s manager and captain quickly became one of the most memorable incidents of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
Keane, then 30, gave an explosive interview on the eve of the tournament in which he criticised his team’s preparation for the tournament, culminating in an infamous head-to-head with McCarthy in which the Manchester United midfielder pulled no punches, punctuated with “you can stick your World Cup up your bollocks.”
Unsurprisingly, Keane was sent home and didn’t play for Ireland, who reached the last 16, again under McCarthy.
3. Maxi Lopez vs Mauro Icardi
Icardi and Lopez used to be best buddies at Sampdoria, but the relationship turned sour when the former decided to marry the latter's ex-wife, Wanda Nara (that'll do it). Icardi joined Inter soon after, with Lopez refusing to shake his former friend's hand when Torino - who the ex-Barcelona man joined in 2015 - faced the Nerazzurri.
"Unfortunately these things happen, it depends on the ignorance of certain people," Icardi said afterwards. "I gave my hand; I am polite.” His brief attempt to take the moral high ground was quickly undone when he got a tattoo of Lopez's children on his arm. Not cool.
2. Zinedine Zidane vs Marco Materazzi
Zidane’s headbutt on Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, which earned him a red card before the Italians triumphed on penalties, is one of the most iconic moments in international football history.
Rumours swirled for years over what was said to provoke the reaction, but the Azzurri defender eventually admitted to insulting Zidane’s sister, not his mother as previously claimed by the Frenchman. As for Zidane, he said in 2010 that he would “rather die” than apologise for his actions.
1. Arsene Wenger vs Sir Alex Ferguson
A rivalry so epic, they made a documentary about it. The nine-year battle for honours between Manchester United and Arsenal between 1996 and 2005 was at times as thrilling on the touchline as it was on the pitch.
From the Battle of Old Trafford to Pizzagate, it was a time of massive confrontation between the two teams, and their managers were at the forefront, exchanging barbs in the press. They eventually simmered later on in life, but the zenith of their feud shouldn’t be forgotten.
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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.
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