"And another thing..."
The feud between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte has escalated in recent weeks, with both managers trading jibes in an entertaining back-and-forth. Mourinho implied Conte and other Premier League bosses behaved like “clowns” on the touchline, before the Italian hit back by labelling the Manchester United manager a “little man”.
Inspired by the pair’s squabbling, we’ve picked out some of the greatest insults the game has ever seen. Now make yourselves comfortable and grab the popcorn…
Ron Atkinson vs Carlton Palmer
“He can trap a ball further than I can kick it.”
At 6ft 3in with spindly limbs which didn’t always seem to be working together toward a common goal, Carlton Palmer was always going to attraction attention - and criticism. This comment from a pre-disgraced Atkinson came when Palmer was at his first club West Bromwich Albion in the late 1980s.
The brickbats didn’t stop Palmer winning 19 England caps – all dispensed during the doomed three-year tenure of Graham Taylor, who once said that the only people who didn’t criticise Palmer were those who’d played alongside him.
Eric Cantona vs Didier Deschamps
"Deschamps gets by because he always gives 100%, but he will never be anything more than a water-carrier. You can find players like him on every street corner."
Porter d’eau may sound sexier in French, but it’s a derisory nickname that stayed with Deschamps for the remainder of his playing career. The distaste arose when Deschamps replaced Cantona as France captain while the Manchester United man served a worldwide suspension for his kung-fu at Crystal Palace.
The passage of time hasn’t soothed the pain. In 2016, with Deschamps now managing the France team, Cantona said his squad selection was biased on racist grounds. The coach replied with a thinly veiled legal threat.
Brian Clough vs David Beckham
“His wife can't sing and his barber can't cut hair.”
Many Clough insults could have made this list, but his jibes against Beckham live long in the memory. The former Nottingham Forest and Derby County manager demanded respect and made sure his players did exactly as they were told.
You can’t imagine, then, that his transfer wish-list would ever include a player like Beckham: a fashion icon with a celebrity lifestyle, seeking to make himself a brand. His follicular adventures were a particular bête noire for Clough, who described the England captain’s Mohawk do as “a downright insult to one of the most prestigious posts in sport".
Tommy Docherty vs Lorenzo Amoruso
“Somebody compared him to Billy McNeill, but I don’t remember Billy being crap.”
Long before the assembled proper football men of the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday stripe, Tommy Doc was the media’s go-to guy for an old-school quote. Before a colourful managerial meander through 13 clubs (including Chelsea and Manchester United) plus the Scottish national side, the Doc started his playing career at Celtic – so he was always on hand for an Old Firm pot-stir.
On this occasion in May 2000, the target was Rangers’ Italian import. As a ball-playing centre-back in a very successful team – they’d just won their 11th league title in 12 seasons – Amoruso had been compared to the Lisbon Lions skipper who held aloft the European Cup in 1967; what the Doc’s riposte lacked in subtlety it made up for in force.
Patrice Evra vs Lilian Thuram
“Walking around with books on slavery in glasses and a hat does not turn you into Malcolm X.”
Following France’s public implosion at the 2010 World Cup, French media and ex-players alike were extremely critical of the squad. Thuram – who felt the current crop’s petulance was tarnishing the reputation he and his teammates had so reputably built – took aim at Evra, claiming he should never be allowed to play for Les Bleus again.
There was clearly no love lost between the pair, as Evra’s ripping riposte shows. That said, challenging the intellect of one of football’s most intelligent and cultured players isn’t the smartest move.
Sir Alex Ferguson vs Real Madrid
“Do you think I’d get into a contract with that mob? Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn’t sell them a virus.”
Sir Alex was no stranger to a media tirade, and in 2008 one journalist really got his blood boiling. Asked if there was a potential deal in place to take Cristiano Ronaldo from Old Trafford to Real Madrid, his response was vintage Ferguson.
The United fans beamed as they enjoyed another year watching their Ballon d’Or-winning winger gallivant around the pitch, helping United win their third straight Premier League and second successive Champions League final… before moving to Madrid in summer 2009. Presumably smallpox was not among the clauses.
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."
It takes a brave man to voice a negative opinion about Vinnie Jones, and for that, Greaves should be commended. Commenting on the Wimbledon hardman’s belated career with the Welsh national team, the ex-England striker showed he had the guts to say what many at the time were thinking.
The counter-argument was that Jones’ brutish physicality was just one facet of a player who possessed more technique and composure than he was given credit for – but on balance, the call-up showed Wales were really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Pep Guardiola
"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.’”
It’s summer 2009, and in his first season as Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola has won the league, cup, and Champions League. Wondering how to improve his team of tiny tiki-taka terrors, he settles on a 6ft 5in wall of trouble.
Giving Inter £59m plus Samuel Eto’o seemed a wise choice when the Swede bagged 11 in his first 13 league games, but a combustible relationship between two highly driven individuals was affected when Lionel Messi wanted to play through the middle. The pair barely spoke from February onwards, clashing angrily in the dressing-room after defeat in the Champions League semi-final, and Ibra moved back to Milan – but for Inter’s city rivals the Rossoneri.
Dave Jones vs Carlton Palmer
“He covers every blade of grass, but that's only because his first touch is crap.”
Having taken Palmer to Southampton for £1m in 1997, it’s fair to say Jones wasn’t totally impressed with the gangly grass-coverer, whom he also described as “abrasive, awkward and argumentative”. Palmer was duly sold after two seasons and replaced by Chris Marsden.
It appeared a harsh remark, but Jones was also quick to praise the midfielder as “determined, hard-working and persistent”. The marauding Midlander would never claim to be to everyone’s taste – although in 2010 he did win a footballers’ Come Dine With Me special, beating John Fashanu, Frank Worthington and Neil Ruddock.
Roy Keane vs Mick McCarthy
"Mick, you're a liar... you're a f***ing w*****. 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 f***ing w***** and you can stick your World Cup up your a***. 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 b******s."
Why not tell us what you really think, Roy?
Few tirades can have been so confusing yet unsurprising as Keane’s excoriation of Mick McCarthy shortly before the 2002 World Cup. An exceptionally, perhaps unhealthily focused Keane had used a newspaper interview to rail against Ireland’s preparations; when his manager took him to task in front of the squad, the Cork-born time-bomb exploded all over the avuncular Yorkshireman.
McCarthy had little choice but to expel his key man from the squad and the competition, although he was far from fully supported back home in what the Irish media called their ‘Diana moment’: an intense outpouring of emotion. While Keane took his dog Triggs for paparazzi-hounded walks, the rest of the squad went out in the last 16 to Spain on penalties.
Diego Maradona vs Pele
"Pele should go back to the museum."
Maradona has never been backwards in coming forwards, but his relationship with Pele is one of football’s most intriguing. There is clearly some level of respect there, yet jibes have flowed back and forth over the years as one replies to the other’s seemingly dismissive comments.
This nugget came in the build-up of the 2010 World Cup when the Brazilian chose to question Maradona’s coaching credentials. Later on in the tournament, the Argentine, as articulate as ever, would remark "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."
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."
"He's a specialist in failure. If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don't come back."
Take your pick with these ones. The first came in 2005 after Wenger claimed that Chelsea’s team were more vulnerable than their victories may suggest. Mourinho, never one to shy away from confrontation, came back with a very personal attack that started the duo’s longstanding feud.
The second came in February 2014 when the mind games continued into Mourinho’s second Chelsea spell. Wenger said that the Blues were playing down their title chances because of a “fear of failure”. Seeing red, Mourinho launched into a scathing verbal attack on his adversary, which eventually led Wenger to shove him on the touchline during Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Bryan Roy vs Nottingham
“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.”
The birth of the Premier League and its turbo-boosted TV money and saw England’s top flight welcome a gathering flood of foreign talent. Ajax academy graduate Bryan Roy joined newly-promoted Nottingham Forest for a club record £2.9m in 1994, and helped the Tricky Trees finish third in the top flight.
But the love didn’t last, and as fitness and form deserted him, so did his manners. As Forest fell from the top flight in 1997, he bolted to Berlin, where Hertha were happy to provide him with shelter and culture. Eighteen years later, UNESCO named Nottingham as a City of Literature. Read a book, Bryan.
Bill Shankly vs Tony Currie
"[Does Tony Currie compare to Tom Finney?] Aye, he compares all right. But then, Tommy's getting on for 60."
Tony Currie was one of the 1970s mavericks, an unusually skilful creator full of tricks and flicks. Winning 17 England caps despite the distaste of various managers for such fancy types, he spent the decade as a fans’ favourite at Sheffield United and Leeds.
The ever-quotable Shankly never hid his adoration for England legend Finney, a team-mate at Preston whom he said “would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age – even if he had been wearing an overcoat." Tommy Docherty, another former PNE colleague, was similarly impressed, once describing Lionel Messi as “a young Tom Finney”. High praise, whichever way you look at it.
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