10 unforgettable manager feuds
In the high-stakes, pressure-filled environment of professional football, it’s only natural for managers to occasionally be involved in touchline spats or handshake controversies with their opposite numbers.
Occasionally, though, competitive rivalry can turn into a full-blooded feud and personal loathing. We’ve picked out 10 sets of coaches who couldn’t stand the sight of each other.
10. Valeri Lobanovsky vs Konstantin Beskov
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. His Soviet compatriot Beskov, conversely, 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-1970s and throughout the 1980s, 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.
9. Alex Ferguson vs Kevin Keegan
It remains the most famous managerial interview in Premier League history, delivered by Keegan as his Newcastle side battled with Ferguson’s Manchester United for the title in 1995/96.
“You can tell him now, if you’re watching it, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something,” Keegan breathlessly exclaimed after a 1-0 win at Leeds. “And I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it.”
Ferguson later said he was aiming to wind up the other teams rather than Newcastle but he clearly succeeded in getting under King Kev’s skin – and the Magpies drew their remaining two games to mean the title went back to Manchester. The incident burnished Fergie's reputation for "mind games" and ensured that every press conference since has been a source of potential needle.
8. 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 former shoe salesman’s appointment was far from popular at the time.
Many Rossoneri fans would have preferred Capello to get the job, citing Sacchi's lack of playing experience (he never played professionally), to which Sacchi quipped “I didn’t realise that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”
Milan went on to win another European Cup and four Serie A titles under Capello, but attacking football devotee Sacchi 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.”
7. Stan Ternent vs Neil Warnock
“After most matches, managers slurp bottles of beer together watching the classified results filter through," former Hull, Bury and Burnley chief Ternent wrote in his autobiography. "Most enjoy these get-togethers and a chance to swap anecdotes. But I've never done that with Warnock. Our feud goes back years and I cannot abide the man."
Warnock, no shrinking violet himself (as the lengthy ‘Disputes’ section on his Wikipedia page demonstrates) felt much the same, with the hostility emanating from an incident in 2001 when Ternent accused the then-Sheffield United boss of sending his staff to eavesdrop on the Burnley manager’s half-time team talk.
“I'd rather cut my grass than talk about Warnock,” Ternent responded after the Yorkshireman called him a “deranged lunatic” in his own book.
6. Johan Cruyff vs Louis van Gaal
This longstanding feud between the two Dutch titans supposedly began in 1989: Van Gaal claims Cruyff was angry when he left a meal at the then-Barcelona boss’s home after receiving news that his sister had passed away. “I will never forgive what he did,” Van Gaal vowed, although Cruyff denies his adversary’s account of events.
As is often the case, this mutual grudge had deeper roots: whereas Cruyff gave creative freedom to individual players within the wider structure, Van Gaal believes in the primacy of the system. The rivalry came to a head in 2011, when Cruyff went to court to block the appointment of the future Manchester United manager as a director at Ajax.
5. Alex Ferguson vs Arsene Wenger
Jose Mourinho wasn't the first man Arsene Wenger has fallen out with: when the Portuguese was a little-known member of the Barcelona coaching staff in the mid-1990s, the Arsenal manager had already begun a feud on these shores with Fergie, Manchester United’s omnipotent overlord.
The ill feeling intensified as the league championship passed back and forth between Highbury and Old Trafford between 1996 and 2004, culminating in the infamous Battle of the Buffet at Old Trafford.
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’s plenty of mutual respect between the two today, this was once a truly fierce rivalry that dominated English football.
4. Cesar Luis Menotti vs Carlos Bilardo
Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are two of the 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 embodied 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. Not that either would agree.
3. Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola
Like many of the feuds covered here, Mourinho and Guardiola’s antipathy relates to ideas as well as a clash of personalities. The 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.
Their rivalry at Barcelona and Real Madrid peaked in the spring of 2011, when the two clubs met four times in 17 days. Sadly for us entertainment-seeking neutrals, there have been no fireworks between the duo since they took charge of the two Manchester clubs, although things could soon change with United and City both competing for the Premier League title.
2. Jose Mourinho vs Arsene Wenger
When Mourinho introduced himself to the Premier League in 2004 by declaring “we [Chelsea] have a top manager… I think I am a special one”, it was clear he wasn’t going to set about his business quietly. There have been flashpoints with several opposing managers over the years – Alex Ferguson, Rafael Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini – but none come close to matching the enmity Mourinho reserves for Wenger.
The Portuguese appears disdainful of the Arsenal manager’s idealism, which stands in stark contrast to his own pragmatic, win-at-all-costs outlook. When Wenger suggested the then-Chelsea boss’s unwillingness to admit his team were title challengers in 2014/15 was rooted in fear of missing out on the prize, the Portuguese spat back “He’s a specialist in failure.” Meow.
1. Brian Clough vs Don Revie
Four decades on, the famous clip of Clough and Revie debating live on Yorkshire Television following the former’s sacking from Leeds remains compelling viewing. Fielding questions from host Austin Mitchell, Clough admitted that part of his dislike for his biggest foe was based on competitiveness: after all, Revie’s Leeds were the team Old Big ’Ead’s Derby were routinely trying to topple at the top of the First Division.
A great deal of the enmity, though, stemmed from the fact the two men were very unalike. Whereas Clough encouraged good football and respect for referees, Revie’s Leeds were notorious masters of the dark arts; Clough was seen by many as abrasive and arrogant, while Revie was considered respectful and courteous.
Both were superb managers, but their approaches on and off the field could not have been more contrasting. No wonder Clough's doomed attempt to replace Revie at Elland Road lasted just 44 days.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.