Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that his rivalry with former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger became ‘toxic’ as the pair battled for supremacy in the Premier League.
Ferguson’s Manchester United were the dominant force in England towards the end of the 20th century, but Wenger turned Arsenal into genuine competitors and snatched two league titles away from Old Trafford between 2002 and 2004.
Leading the charge for those titles was Frenchman Thierry Henry, whom Wenger turned into a striker at Highbury. That tactical tweak, which led to Henry scoring 175 Premier League goals in 258 games, changed the game in England and Ferguson admits that it saw his rivalry with Wenger hit another level.
“It became toxic for a while,’ Ferguson admitted in the Arsene Wenger: Invincible documentary (via The Mirror). “The big change that made Arsenal was reinventing 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.”
Ferguson largely managed to keep United ahead of Arsenal and the Scot retired with 13 Premier League titles to his name, but he admitted that Wenger’s accomplishment of going undefeated in the 2003/04 season was something special.
“I won 13 leagues but I was never near going through a season undefeated,” Ferguson said. “The achievement stands above everything else, and it was Arsene’s.”
As for Wenger, he confessed that he saw squaring up to Ferguson on the touchline as a way to prove to the world that he wasn’t in English football just to mess about.
“Alex Ferguson was the dominant figure in English football. Everyone was scared of him, from the press to the referees,” Wenger said. “I thought that’s a good opportunity for me to show that it’s not only in England that you know how to play football. I was ready for the fight.
“It was sometimes very aggressive, especially after the games. When you’re fighting to win, you are two lions. Your only one desire is to eat the lion who is against you. I was not scared of anybody in football.”