Arsene Wenger gives fresh insight into ‘toxic’ relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and why he turned down Man Utd job

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Arsene Wenger gives fresh insight into ‘toxic’ relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and why he turned down Man Utd job

Arsene Wenger has spoken out about the “toxic” relationship he had with Sir Alex Ferguson during their tense Premier League battle.

During his 22-year reign with the north London club, the Frenchman won three league titles, including two Doubles in 1997-98 and 2001-02.

Wenger, who is normally reserved and calm, was a different beast on the sidelines, frequently becoming embroiled in disagreements with his managerial counterparts.

Wenger admitted that after noticing Ferguson’s elevated status in English football, he felt compelled to take on the Scot to demonstrate that he was ready to compete with the best.

“Alex Ferguson was the dominant figure in English football. Everyone was scared of him, from the press to the referees,” the Frenchman told the Arsene Wenger: Invincible documentary.

“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.”

The documentary includes footage of a rarely seen interview in which Ferguson dismisses Wenger’s obscure reputation when he arrived, having only worked as a coach in France and Japan.

But, as it became clear that Wenger’s Arsenal would be United’s main rivals for silverware, Ferguson shed some light on how the pair’s relationship deteriorated.

It became toxic for a while,” Ferguson said.

“The big change that made Arsenal was reinventing Henry. And the goals… he was fantastic.”

Ferguson, who retired in 2013 after a remarkable 27-year reign that yielded a plethora of trophies including 13 league titles and two Champions League winners’ medals, felt he had met his match.

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

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

The pair’s rivalry was heightened when their players collided on the field, with a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in 2003 becoming famous for the events that followed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s missed penalty.

“These are the types of games that come back to haunt you,” Ferguson said.

“It was us and Arsenal, us and Arsenal. I think the intensity between both clubs meant we knew we had to beat each other.

“You can’t leave your character in the dressing room. It goes out onto the pitch with you – and Arsenal had to compete with that. And they did very well at it.”

Wenger has never been shy about revealing how he turned down interest from other clubs in order to stay with Arsenal, and one of those clubs was Manchester United.

Ferguson had planned to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season, but subsequently changed his mind.

However, it has since been revealed that Manchester United approached Wenger and discussed the possibility of succeeding Ferguson.

Wenger is hesitant to leave the club because of his devotion to chairman David Dein, who oversaw the club’s £420 million move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

Dein resigned in 2007 after new owner Stan Kroenke purchased a majority stake in the club, admitting he doubted whether he made the right decision to sign a three-year extension.

“I still today wonder if I did the right thing, because life was never exactly the same after [Dein’s departure],” he said.

“I thought I had to go to the end of this project, but I could’ve gone to the French national team, England national team twice or three times. I could’ve gone to Real Madrid twice, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, even to Manchester United.

“My fatal flaw is I loved too much where I am… where I was.”

After 22 years at the helm, Wenger finally left the club in an emotional farewell in 2018.

Arsenal finished sixth in 2018-19 under his replacement, Unai Emery, and eighth in 2019-20 and 2020-21 under current manager Mikel Arteta.


Arsene Wenger gives fresh insight into ‘toxic’ relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and why he turned down Man Utd job

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