Mark Hughes' long-running feud with Arsène Wenger was reopened last night, the Welshman accusing his adversary of being a poor loser as Manchester City progressed to the mouth-watering prospect of their first cup semi-final in 28 years – against Manchester United.
A first-half, touchline row between the managers led Wenger to refuse Hughes' hand at the final whistle. Hughes offered an immediate ironic wave to the Frenchman and, after Wenger declared he would shake hands with "whom I choose", Hughes accused him of being an ungracious loser.
"It's his choice [whether to shake]," Hughes said. "At one point he questioned why I was over on his side of technical area. He was a bit aggrieved. I suggest he was more aggrieved to be beaten. There's a certain protocol and maybe on this occasion Arsène should have worked with that. I'm disappointed because I've got a lot of respect for him. You don't need to do that and not shake someone's hand just because you're upset."
On a night when a scintillating and full-strength City breathed new life into this season's Carling Cup, sweeping a comparatively inexperienced Arsenal aside en route to their first semi-final since they reached the last four of the FA Cup in 1981, Wenger was scornful about the value of reaching the latter stages of this tournament.
"We've not won a trophy since 2005 but I do not consider that if we win the Carling Cup you will jump around and say, 'We have won a trophy'," said Wenger, whose side now go into Saturday's match with Stoke on the back of three successive domestic defeats. "To play in the quarter-final of the Champions League is 10 times more difficult than to win the Carling Cup," he said.
The roots of Wenger's spat with Hughes lie in the FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Hughes' Blackburn Rovers side at the Millennium Stadium in April 2005, after which Wenger coined the "bully boys" phrase which Rovers struggled for years to shake off. That game was marked also by a war of words between the Welshman and Cesc Fabregas when the Spaniard questioned Hughes' achievements as a player at Barcelona. "Come and see my medal collection," was the gist of Hughes' reply.
When asked about Hughes' claims that it was more professional to shake hands, Wenger said: "Yes, it is." He then joked: "I had no professional qualities", and concluded: "I've nothing more to say about that." But after three defeats in which Arsenal have conceded 10 times at City's stadium, he was indignant about the relative cost of the sides on show. "They played their full side; we didn't and that's the difference. We play in the [European] championship; they don't," Wenger said. "You cannot say we develop the players like Ramsey and never give them a game. That's a price we have to pay. It can work. If we had played at home tonight we could have won."
Now for another potentially tempestuous tie: the two-legged confrontation with Manchester United, starting at City on 6 January and concluded at United on 20 January. Hughes said he did not expect Sir Alex Ferguson to field as young a side as Wenger had against the "noisy neighbours", as Ferguson described City after beating them 4-3 on 20 September.
"We back ourselves against anyone and we look forward to it," Hughes said. "[Ferguson] never used to play weakened sides when I played against him at Blackburn. We want to win the competition. We've picked strong sides because we thought that was important. We've treated the competition with the respect it deserves."