Arsene Wenger’s “prettiest wife” jibe that caused Sir Alex Ferguson to explode with rage

Ferguson presented Wenger with a special memento in 2018 as the two became friends after a fierce rivalry
(Image: Getty Images)

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Ferguson even presented Wenger with a special memento ahead of the Frenchman’s exit in 2018, before Wenger dedicated his leaving speech at Arsenal to wish his former adversary a speedy recovery from his health complications.

But it was not always that cordial. Not only were the two fierce rivals but they had a mutual personal animosity for each other, with open attacks in the media – many of which were pointed and vicious.

When Wenger rocked up in English football from the little-known Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, he was portrayed – and not always in a positive sense – as an intellectual.

Arsenal were perhaps the most natural challenger to United at the time of the Frenchman’s arrival and Ferguson was less than impressed by Wenger’s abilities.

"They say he’s an intelligent man, right?,” quizzed Ferguson. “Speaks five languages? I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages.”

Wenger and Ferguson were frequently in open disagreement on the touchline
(Image: Getty Images)

The identity of the anonymous 15-year-old Ivorian never came to light, but his skillset was the true beginning of a series of thinly-veiled jibes between two great managers.

In the 1996/97 campaign, United could not be stopped on their way to another Premier League title but Wenger’s side were closing the gap and he was furious at the fixture scheduling.

Alleging that United were afforded favouritism from the English FA, Wenger told reporters: "It is wrong the league programme is extended so United can rest up and win everything."

Unsurprisingly, Fergie swiftly retorted in ferocious fashion: “He has no experience of English football. He has come from Japan and now he is telling us how to organise our football.

Fourth officials often had to intervene between the two
(Image: Daily Mirror)

“Unless you have been in the situation and had the experience, then he should keep his mouth shut – firmly shut.”

The following year, Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup double with verve and style as it was widely suggested that a definitive power shift in English football.

Yet United responded immediately by going one further, winning the treble the following season as they kickstarted a run of three successive Premier League titles.

The Gunners wrestled the title back in 2002 despite Ferguson’s adamant stance that United were still “the best team, playing the best football.”

The United boss added: “We’re as good as anyone.

“We have played the best football in England, scored the most goals. From Christmas, we have been the best team in the country.”

The two infamously always shook hands after their encounters despite the mutual disdain

If anyone was left in any doubt about the intended target of his comments, he later added: “They [Arsenal] are scrappers who rely on belligerence. We are the better team.”

When asked about this, Wenger coolly responded with his typical wry smile: “What do you want me to say?”

“Everyone thinks he has the prettiest wife at home.”

Yikes.

Ferguson was reportedly furious that Wenger had brought family into it, believing that it could be construed as an attack at his wife Cathy (the consensus elsewhere was that this was just a figure of speech).

That comment was followed by Ferguson venting that Wenger never came in to share the customary glass of wine between the Scot and his opposite number after games.

Relations became frayed to breaking point in 2004 when the two were in an open feud

The United boss ranted: "He never comes for a drink with the opposing manager after matches.

"He's the only manager in the Premiership not to do so. It is a tradition here. It would be good for him to accept the tradition."

Perhaps Wenger was simply following his own advice to his players not to drink alcohol.

The Frenchman did hit back, ironically: “Maybe next time I see him, I’ll buy him a bottle of whisky.”

That provided the backdrop for the fiery encounters in the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons respectively, the former when Arsenal players surrounded Ruud van Nistelrooy after a late penalty miss.

Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson shake hands before their FA Cup semi-final clash in April 2004
(Image: Michael Craig / Offside.)

Wenger observed: "I think Van Nistelrooy does not help himself frankly…he is always looking to dive."

After the ‘Pizza-gate’ clash at Old Trafford the following year, Ferguson said in the aftermath: "Their behaviour was the worst thing I have seen in this sport. They got off scot-free.”

His counterpart was not willing to let up and let the Scot have the final word.

Wenger fired back: "Ferguson does what he wants and you [the media] are all down at his feet. He doesn't interest me and doesn't matter to me at all. I will never answer to any provocation from him anymore.

"He has lost all sense of reality. He is going out looking for a confrontation, then asking the person he is confronting to apologise."

With the emergence of Chelsea and Liverpool as title contenders, the feud eventually began to settle down.

It is still unclear what happened, when it happened or why it happened but in 2007, Wenger adamantly said he would "never speak about that man [Fergie] again" before later striking a different tone.

The following year, he admitted "there is a much better understanding and mutual respect now.”

Wenger's final game against Man United as boss came in April 2018 with Ferguson deciding to mark the occasion with a memento

In 2009, the year when the two faced off in a Champions League semi-final, Ferguson reaffirmed those comments. "We have loads of situations now where new managers come in and vanish after a couple of years.

"It's just the two of us and we'll probably ride out into the sunset together!"

Well, quite.

The two provided English football with a captivating rivalry that often spilled over in scenes that nobody (but secretly, everybody) wanted to see before becoming kindred spirits.