Five of English football’s feistiest managerial feuds: Featuring Fergie, Clough and Mourinho

Callum Pragnell by Callum Pragnell / 21 February 2020, 09:58

This weekend sees Sheffield Wednesday visit Birmingham City in the Championship, signalling a return to the West Midlands for former Blues boss Garry Monk. With both clubs stranded in mid-table, on the face of it this clash is a pretty standard second-tier fixture, but there is plenty more than what meets the eye.

Focus will be on the two managers in the dugout at St Andrew’s, with Monk and current Birmingham manager, Pep Clotet, meeting for the first time since a frosty encounter at Hillsborough back in November, during which Monk refused to shake Clotet’s hand. He also questioned the Spaniard’s loyalty and character during a bizarre press conference ahead of the match, which resulted in a 1-1 draw.

Clearly aggrieved that his former colleague decided to remain at Birmingham and effectively take his job after he was given his marching orders, Monk evidently has little time for Clotet, making Saturday’s meeting between the pair all the more enthralling.

With this particular feud in mind, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane and assess five compelling managerial rivalries that have lit up English football over the previous 50 years.

So, in no particular order, enjoy...

Sir Alex Ferguson v Kevin Keegan

It is the rivalry which produced one of the most famous football-related rants in history. 

Back during the 1995-96 Premier League campaign, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle battled tirelessly with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd for the title. 

With only three games of the season remaining, Fergie suggested that both Leeds and Nottingham Forest - Newcastle’s two upcoming opponents - would perhaps not try as hard to beat them as they did against his United side, so to enhance the Magpies’ chances of winning the league.


The Dynamic Duo

Keegan was incensed by the Scot’s comments, completely losing his cool by launching a hilarious hate-fueled tirade at his rival from M16. 

“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,” said Keegan following a 1-0 win over Leeds. 

“And I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it.”

Ferguson’s plan worked, though, and United ended up winning the title after Newcastle drew their two remaining fixtures. Really, truly, great times.

Brian Clough v Don Revie

This one dates all the way back to the 70s, as two of the most famous managers in football history locked horns whilst they were in charge of two of England’s biggest clubs (at the time). Clough’s Derby County were constantly trying to knock Revie’s Leeds United off their perch at the top of the old First Division - and much like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola - we'll get to them later - the pair had very different beliefs about the way in which football should be played.

Clough encouraged his players to be respectful to the referee at all times and play nice, eye-pleasing football. Revie’s Leeds, on the other hand, were masters of the sport’s dark arts and had a reputation as bad boys in the game - something they are still affiliated with to this day. In a sensational turn of events, Clough actually took over from Revie at Leeds in the summer of 1974, but lasted just 44 days in the role before being dismissed. 

This is where the feud between the pair spiked. During an extremely heated debate live on TV, just hours after Clough had been sacked as manager at Elland Road, Clough and Revie went at each other like an old married couple and laid bare exactly why they had such an intense disliking for each other. Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t already seen it, it makes for great viewing.

Whatever you do, spare 26 minutes to watch this absolute classic.

Rafa Benitez v Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex is back again, but this time it’s for his long-standing, incredibly bitter rivalry with Rafa Benitez, back when the Spaniard was in charge of Liverpool and Fergie was at the height of his reign at Old Trafford. 

Much like Kevin Keegan’s “I would love it...” rant back in the mid-90s, Benitez was a whirlwind of emotions when he let loose on Sir Alex during a press conference in 2009, reeling off a list of criticisms about his Scottish counterpart, sharply rounding off each individual point with the word “Fact”.

Ferguson had invaded the mind of Benitez, just like he did with a number of managers during his 26 years in charge of United. 

In response, the ex-Rangers striker branded Rafa a “silly man” and a “control freak”, later writing in his autobiography: “Once he made it personal he had no chance, because I could wait. I had success on my side. Benitez was striving for trophies while also taking me on. That was unwise.” 

Jose Mourinho v Arsene Wenger

This one’s a beauty. 

Unlike Arsene Wenger's rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson, which was intense on the face of it but layered by respect under the surface, Wenger’s hatred of Jose Mourinho ran much, much deeper while the pair were both in control of teams in the Premier League. 

Mourinho’s win-at-all-costs mentality simply just did not sit right with Arsene, who, much like Pep Guardiola, prided himself on a unique style of football which was both enjoyable to watch and achieved success at the same time.

Mourinho’s most cutting comment about Wenger came back during the 2014-15 season, when the then-Gunners boss suggested that the reason why his opposite number was unwilling to admit that his Chelsea team were challengers for the title was because he was scared of missing out on it. 

The Portugese manager, now in charge of Arsenal’s fiercest rivals Tottenham, simply responded: “He’s a specialist in failure.” 

And who can forget that coming together on the Stamford Bridge touchline.

Now now, ladies. 

Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinho

This particular managerial feud is mainly down to a clash in tactical beliefs and the philosophy of football, rather than a personal bitterness (Spain aside), although that probably has manifested itself in recent years. 

While Guardiola’s entire game plan revolves around attaining results by playing free-flowing attractive football, Mourinho is a much more defensive coach who will happily grind out results by suffocating the opposition and forcing them to make mistakes.

The first time we saw this play out was in 2010, as Mourinho’s Inter Milan famously knocked Guardiola’s all-star Barcelona side out of the Champions League following a defensive masterclass at the Camp Nou. After leading the first-leg 3-1, Inter parked the metaphorical bus in Catalonia, riding out waves of continuous pressure from the hosts. The Italians eventually lost the game 1-0 but it was still enough to see them through to the final, which they eventually won after beating Bayern Munich.

The rivalry peaked a year later in 2011, though, during Mourinho’s first season in charge of Real Madrid. The pair would meet four times in just 17 days as Los Blancos and Barca battled for superiority in Spain, with each side recording one victory alongside two draws. Again, during those matches, it was a similar situation to what had gone before as Mourinho tried to suppress Guardiola’s style of play, mostly to good effect. 

Admittedly their duel in England hasn’t quite lived up to the heights of their Spanish feud, although with Mourinho now in charge of Tottenham there’s every chance of some future spice.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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