Soccer managers like to get under each others skin on a regular basis, but there’s usually no specific reason for it other than being on-pitch rivals with big clubs. However, over the years, some of the clashes have turned very personal. To say soccer managers have big egos is an understatement and that’s perhaps the igniting point of many of these feuds.
There have been numerous high-profile rivalries between managers over the years with this list featuring 10 of the most famous. Some of the managers may have been on friendly terms off the pitch, but those friendships were put on hold once the games started. In other cases, the bosses simply don’t like each other and make no secret about it.
It’s interesting to note that certain managers are able to antagonize more than one rival at a time and have become elite pains in the neck to their counterparts.
10. Valeri Lobanovsky and Konstantin Beskov
There was an iron curtain between Russian managers Valeri Lobanovsky and Konstantin Beskov back in the 1970s and 80s due to their opposing philosophies on the game. Both men managed the national team during their careers with Beskov having three stints in charge of it. But their differences were most noticeable when Lobanovsky was the top man at Dynamo Kiev and Beskov was the boss of Spartak Moscow. Lobanovsky liked his players to adhere to the physical side of the sport while Beskov believed in a non-robotic approach in which his players could utilize their creativity and imagination and had the freedom to express themselves during games. Lobanovsky’s tactics had been successful as his team was crowned league champions four times from 1979 and 1987 with Spartak winning two titles in that span. But when it came to attractive football and entertaining the fans, Beskov’s squads were miles ahead. This wasn’t a rivalry that featured barbs and insults in the press, it was one that was simply settled on the pitch.
9. Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish
These Scottish buddies didn’t always see eye to eye on the pitch and that was expected since Ferguson was in charge of Manchester United and Dalglish spent most of his days with arch enemy Liverpool. However, the roots to their rivalry can be traced back a few decades when they met as players, Ferguson with Rangers and Dalglish at Celtic. Back in 1986, Ferguson was in charge Scotland’s World Cup squad and Dalglish was player/manager at Anfield, but Ferguson naturally called him up for Scotland because of his incredible talent. Dalglish turned the offer down though, claiming that his injured knee needed to be rested. The press reported that Dalglish pulled out at the last minute because Ferguson didn’t include Liverpool’s Alan Hansen in the squad. The two began to feud in the media after that when they met as managers with Dalglish remarking that his six-week old daughter made more sense than Ferguson. The jibes also continued when Dalglish took over at Blackburn and won the Premier League title in 1995.
8. Arrigo Sacchio and Fabio Capello
Italian managers can also get on each others nerves and this was the case with Arrigo Sacchio and Fabio Capello. But what made these guys the odd couple was the fact they managed the same team, AC Milan. Capello had enjoyed a fine playing career while Sacchio never played the game at a high level and this led to a difference of opinions when it came to managing. Sacchi was quite the tactician after learning the trade in coaching clinics while Capello preferred a more direct approach. Sacchi took over at AC Milan in 1987 when Capello was let go, but not all the fans were happy about it since he’d never been a player. Sacchi lasted four years with the club, but was sacked for spending too much money on players and being too demanding on the squad. Of course, he was replaced by Capello and the former manager was quite successful in his second stint. But for some reason Sacchi and Capello started needling each other in the press about who was the better manager and it got quite nasty at times.
7. Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez
Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez both debuted in the English Premier League in the 2004/05 season. Benitez took over at Liverpool while Mourinho arrived at Chelsea and both liked to play mind games. The two teams met often and the managers quickly got on each others case. Mourinho got the upper hand when the clubs met in league action, but Benitez came out on top when they faced off in the Community Shield, Champions League and FA Cup. Benitez called Chelsea boring and Mourinho fired back by asking Benitez what he had won? Both men managed Inter Milan in their careers, but the players didn’t really take to Benitez and he didn’t last long at the club. This led Mourinho to remark to the media that Inter fans should be asked what they think of the two managers. Benitez also managed Chelsea after Mourinho left and was criticized by him for winning the Europa League while his squad had won the Champions League. Mourinho then returned to Stamford Bridge when Benitez was let go.
6. Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard
Let’s face it, there aren’t many managers Jose Mourinho did or does get along with and this includes former Dutch international star Frank Rijkaard. Mourinho didn’t have any problems with Rijkaard when he was playing, but the animosity grew once the two faced off as managers with Mourinho at Chelsea and Rijkaard at Barcelona. Mourinho dismissed his opponent’s managerial record to the media by saying the two couldn’t be compared since Rijkaard had won nothing at all while he had numerous trophies in his cabinet. Things came to a head in 2005 when Barcelona edged Chelsea 2-1 in a Champions League match. The Blues’ Didier Drogba was sent off in the second half and Mourinho claimed this was because Rijkaard went whining to referee Anders Frisk at half time. Frisk retired soon after due to death threats he received from Chelsea fans and Mourinho became public enemy number one in Barcelona. Chelsea won their home leg 4-2 and Rijkaard tried to get at his counterpart in the tunnel after the game.
5. Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez spent half a dozen years facing Sir Alex Ferguson in the Premier League and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in charge of Liverpool at the time as Ferguson would’ve had a go at them. Neither of them missed an opportunity to take a dig at the other even when their teams weren’t facing each other. Of course, things always heated up when they did square off on the pitch with Ferguson calling Liverpool unimaginative and saying Benitez’s defending tactics were ruining the game. Years later, Ferguson wrote in his autobiography that Benitez turned the rivalry into something personal rather than football related. Benitez went on a famous rant in 2009 in which he listed “facts” to back up his criticism of Ferguson. The Scotsman then hit back with his own unfavorable nouns to describe Benitez. When asked his opinion on what Ferguson wrote about him in his book, Benitez said he had nothing to say as his rival didn’t deserve the publicity.
4. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger
It didn’t take long for Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger to get into it when Wenger first arrived at Arsenal from Japan in 1996. Ferguson called him a novice and and said he should stick to Japanese football. Wenger proved to be successful in England, but Ferguson always insisted his Manchester United side was better, even after Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ squad went undefeated in 2003/04. Ferguson took pleasure in belittling Wenger in the media whenever he had the chance and Wenger responded by refusing to shake Ferguson’s hand after games on several occasions. The pair used psychological warfare against each other for years, but the rivalry cooled off a bit once Chelsea became a legitimate threat to both United and Arsenal. The rivalry’s high point came in 2004 when United ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford. Somebody threw pizza at Ferguson in the tunnel following a game and a brawl ensued between the players.
3. Don Revie and Brian Clough
The biggest rivalry in English football in the 1970s was definitely between Brian Clough and Don Revie. The two followed the same path of leading Second Division teams to Championships in the First Division. Clough achieved the feat with Nottingham Forest and Derby County while Revie did it with Leeds United. Revie’s squad was the team to beat back then, but Clough’s Derby side managed to win the title by one point in 1971/72. Clough liked to criticize Revie’s rough-house tactics and this made him a hated figure with Leeds’ fans. Ironically, he took over the team when Revie left to manage England. Clough continued to lay into Revie’s style of football even when he was at Leeds and some of the Leeds veterans didn’t appreciate it. The team didn’t play well for him and Clough was sacked after 44 days. Things came to a head shortly after during a famous heated televised debate between the two and a movie was made about their rivalry entitled The Damned United.
2. Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger
Jose Mourinho loved to call Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger a specialist in failure and the two have never been on the same page on or off the pitch. And with Mourinho back in the English Premier League, this is just one of the two rivalries on this list that still exists. They first faced each other years ago when Mourinho took over at Chelsea and Wenger criticized his defensive tactics and style, saying he was parking the bus. The Chelsea boss pointed out that Wenger’s side had won just 50 per cent of their league games under the Frenchman and Wenger responded by calling his counterpart stupid and disrespectful. The rivalry continued when Mourinho left England for Real Madrid and Mourinho labeled Wenger ‘Monsieur Polite.’ The pair often went at it on the touchline during games and have traded insults in the press for well over a decade. Perhaps the most famous one was when Mourinho called Wenger a voyeur back in 2005.
1. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola
With Pep Guardiola in charge of Barcelona in 2009 and Jose Mourinho the new Real Madrid boss you knew there was going to be a classic rivalry. The two knew each other well as Mourinho was a coach at Barca and Guardiola a player there between 1996 and 2000. This has been a one-sided rivalry on the pitch though with Guardiola’s team’s winning 10, losing four and drawing six of their 20 meetings. The good news is the rivalry’s still alive with Guardiola at Manchester City and Mourinho at Manchester United. But even though Guardiola’s teams have dominated, he resigned from Barcelona after the 2011/12 season when Real Madrid won the La Liga title. The managers enjoy antagonizing each other as much as possible on the touchline and off the pitch. Their latest meeting at Old Trafford on Dec. 10th resulted in a post-match brawl in the dressing rooms following City’s 2-1 victory. Mourinho allegedly stormed into the City dressing room to accuse them of having no class and was promptly nailed in the head with a water bottle. To follow the latest on the Mourinho vs Guardiola rivalry, you simply need to read the UK papers any day of the season.