Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger helped create one of the greatest rivalries the Premier League has ever seen, with clashes between the iconic Manchester United and Arsenal teams of their era some of the most bitter in soccer.
For much of their managerial careers, insults and mind games often dominated the back pages of the newspapers in the weeks leading up to and in the days following their matches.
The rivalry boiled over in October 2004, when Arsenal visited Old Trafford on a 49-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, a streak that included the team’s unbeaten ‘Invicibles’ title a season earlier.
United won the game 2-0 thanks to a penalty from Ruud van Nistelrooy – which many Arsenal fans believe Wayne Rooney dived to win – and a late Rooney goal.
After the match, a fight broke out between players and staff in the tunnel that resulted in Ferguson being hit by a slice of pizza, leading to two of British sport’s most famous headlines: ‘Pizzagate’ and ‘Battle of the Buffet.’
Even as the rivalry began to wane in later years due to Arsenal’s lack of competitiveness, few fans who witnessed that era would ever have imagined the friendship that Ferguson and Wenger share today.
Both managers were inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame this week – the first managers to receive the honor – and Ferguson revealed the duo are now regular dinner companions.
“I feel Arsene is a very worthy inductee as he transformed Arsenal Football Club fantastically,” the Scot said. “They became a tough team to compete with and we both wanted to win, which motivated us further.
“Through the years since retirement, we’d go for dinner together in a little restaurant he knows well in Switzerland. He is a really interesting man and I enjoy his company, but it is still my job to pick the wine!”
Ferguson managed United for 810 Premier League matches throughout his illustrious career, winning 528 and accumulating 1,752 total points.
The 81-year-old is by some distance the most successful manager in Premier League history, winning a record 13 titles, including three in a row twice, a feat never accomplished by any other manager.
Ferguson was named Manager of the Season a record 11 times.
“I’m truly delighted to be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame. It’s an honor when you receive recognition like this,” Ferguson said.
“However, it’s not just about me as a person. It’s about the job at Manchester United and the bond we had over many years, so I’m also proud for the club, the staff and my players.
“My job was to send the fans home happy. United’s history and my own expectations were the things that drove me and I then had to try and develop all my players with the same expectations and make sure we could go out and achieve them.”
Wenger’s 22 seasons and 828 matches in charge of Arsenal are Premier League records and to this day he is in the only manager to go unbeaten throughout an entire season.
He won three Premier League titles with his dedicated brand of beautiful, attacking football – dubbed ‘Wengerball’ – with some of the team goals Arsenal scored under his tenure among the most iconic in league history.
Despite years of bitterness between them – and sometimes exchanged insults – Wenger said being inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Ferguson is a “great honor.”
“It’s like two boxers, you fight like mad and go the distance together,” Wenger said.
“At the end of the day, you have respect and it will be a great opportunity to meet with him, share a good bottle of wine and memories of our old battles.”