Almost ever since Arsene Wenger arrived in England 11 years ago, his rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson has dominated the nation's football landscape. Generally rated among the greatest managers of all time, the Arsenal and Manchester United figureheads are certainly the best that the 15-year-old Premier League has seen and with Jose Mourinho gone and Liverpool still flattering to deceive, the stakes will be as high as ever when they meet for the 34th time this weekend.
Their contrasting personalities and managerial methods were always likely to result in a fraught relationship between the fiery Scotsman and his cool, taciturn French counterpart, and so it has proved. Wenger had been in the country barely a few months when he found himself labelled "aloof" by Ferguson for declining the traditional offer of a post-match drink, and their enmity reached a new level in October 2004 following a particularly stormy clash at Old Trafford.
By this time, Wenger's Arsenal had well and truly established themselves as the most significant threat to United's erstwhile domestic dominance, and when the match was followed by an infamous food-fight in which Ferguson was reportedly struck by a stray slice of pizza, the tabloids lapped it up. The Scot later described Wenger as "a disgrace" for his conduct on the day, while the Arsenal boss responded angrily by claiming that Ferguson "had lost all sense of reality."
Relations have thawed since then, however, and in truth the pair's many spats hid a mutual respect that recognised their battle of wits had come to symbolise the struggle between the two clubs every bit as much as the midfield battles between Messrs Keane and Vieira once did. "What would I do if Alex wasn't around?" Wenger once reflected. "I would have no one to keep me on my toes or to fight. I enjoy our rivalry. It is good for Arsenal, good for Manchester United and good for both of us."
The Frenchman also spoke of his respect for Ferguson when the long-serving United boss oversaw his 1000th match in charge of the club - "a fantastic achievement," observed Wenger - and last season said that he would vote for the Scot as his manager of the year. And the compliments have begun flowing in the opposite direction too. Already this season, Ferguson has praised his Arsenal counterpart for the sale of Thierry Henry, defended Wenger's youth policy and praised his young Gunners side for "laying down a marker" for the rest of the Premier League to aspire to.
The statistics reflect how evenly matched these two masterful
managers are. In 33 previous meetings between their sides, it has
been near-impossible to split them, with both holding 13 wins
apiece going into today's crucial clash at the Emirates
Stadium. The outcome in North London could, of course, go a long
way towards determining the destination of this season's league
title, but regardless of the result, we want you, the
FIFA.com users, to decide between two of the most
talented managers the game has ever produced.
So, Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger? You decide...