Football News

What turned the Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger rivalry turned “toxic”?

By Ben Green

Published: 7:00, 30 March 2023

Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and former Arsenal head coach Arsene Wenger have been inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame.

The pair once shared a tempestuous rivalry with United’s longest-serving boss citing the arrival of Thierry Henry as a catalyst in the ‘toxicity’ of their feud. During the late 90s and early noughties these two men, and their respective clubs, were involved in many heated clashes as they regularly tussled for the title.

Between 1996 and 2004 the Premier League trophy was shared between Ferguson’s Red Devils and Wenger’s Gunners, with many memorable moments occurring during that iconic eight-year period, most notably the “Battle of Old Trafford” and “Pizzagate”.

A deep admiration and respect is now shared between the two esteemed tacticians, with Ferguson even making an appearance in a documentary about Wenger titled “Arsene Wenger: Invincible”, where he references the arrival of Henry at Arsenal as a moment that changed everything.

“It became toxic for a while,” Ferguson admitted. “The big change that made Arsenal was reinventing [Thierry] Henry. And the goals… he was fantastic.

“You’re always looking in the rear-view mirror to see who’s coming up behind you, and when you see someone you accelerate.

“Arsenal were catching us up, and their team was good enough to go above us, there’s no question about that.”

Henry arrived in north London to reunite with Wenger, whom he worked under at Monaco, for £11m in 1999. A then struggling winger from Juventus, Henry was brought in to succeed Nicolas Anelka, who joined Real Madrid that summer, but endured a shaky start to his Gunners career.

Reinvented as a striker, Henry failed to net in his opening eight games, but once he got up and running, the goals flew in at an alarming rate, with the Frenchman going on to reach legendary status in the Premier League and bowing out as one of the division’s greatest ever players.

Ferguson meanwhile masterminded a record 13 Premier League titles for Manchester United during his glittering tenure, 10 more than Wenger managed for the Gunners, but even he remains in awe of the Frenchman’s “Invincible” season during the 2003/04 campaign.

“I won 13 leagues but I was never near going through a season undefeated,” Ferguson added. “The achievement stands above everything else, and it was Arsene’s.”