Managers renew their bitter rivalry

Ferguson claims Wenger 'lets himself down' with criticisms of United players

So much for the well-chronicled thaw in that relationship: weekends like this still leave Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson barely above freezing point.

They both niggled away yesterday ahead of tomorrow's latest Emirates encounter, Wenger first observing "there is no angel" among strikers in the course of a discussion about the penalties Wayne Rooney has won against his side. Then Ferguson was less discreet, suggesting that his old adversary Wenger "lets himself down" with comments like those at Old Trafford last August in which he implied that Darren Fletcher set out deliberately to harm opponents.

The United manager's snap was sharpest, suggesting that Wenger was wrong-headed and guilty of double standards in his assertion after Arsenal's incendiary 2-1 Premier League defeat, that Fletcher was guilty of "anti-football". "I think that's where Arsène lets himself down with his own view of the Arsenal players," Ferguson said. "Everyone knows that Darren Fletcher is not a dirty player, not a physical player, not built that way. But he can win the ball because his timing and energy to get to the ball is fantastic. You can't call that a fault. It's disappointing. I don't think he [Wenger] really believes that. Sometimes it happens that way." Ferguson moved the conversation on before suggestions could be posited that William Gallas's challenge on Bolton's Mark Davies was contributing to his viewpoint.

Professional rivalry has its limits, of course, and Ferguson, following up on representations made to fans' groups by his club's chief executive, David Gill, last season, insisted that the vile "paedophile" chants aimed at Wenger over the past few years must stop. "I know there's been some terrible abuse from our fans to Arsène Wenger and there must be a line drawn. I think that they must know that themselves." Ferguson has also been on the receiving end. "Sometimes I can't hear these chants and I can't make them out," he reflected, though he did make an official complaint about fans near his Emirates dugout two seasons back.

Not for nothing does the Scot label an encounter "the biggest game of the season." Fletcher carries into it the personal injustice of his own dismissal in last season's Champions League semi-final at the Emirates. "That won't bother Darren," Ferguson said.

All does not appear well with his midfield, though. The manager was hardly gushing yesterday when Nani's unexpected resurgence was put to him. The Portuguese will need longer than a fortnight to prove his future after two such poor years in Manchester. Anderson's future looks doubtful, too. Wenger has his own worries, not least facing the threat of the country's most in-form striker with a 35-year-old centre-half who has played in League Two this season. Sol Campbell is by no means certain to start tomorrow.

The Arsenal manager was also persuaded to reminisce about the occasions when Rooney's cunning has won important penalties against Arsenal. The most infamous was in October 2004 when Campbell was wrongly judged to have fouled Rooney in the game at Old Trafford that ended Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten run.

In August, Rooney also won a penalty against Manuel Almunia, a less debatable award but certainly one that raised the question as to whether he hit the ground before contact was made, prompting Wenger to point out that "there is no angel" when it comes to strikers. With Eduardo's tumble against Celtic the same month he was careful not to take the moral high ground. Wenger said: "You know how strikers are. There is no angel. They play a game. If you look at the penalty [Rooney won] at Old Trafford this season you cannot say it is not a penalty because Almunia really goes for it. The ball was already out and Rooney took advantage of the fact Almunia had already dived. You can say that it is intelligent. But the border between intelligence and starting to cheat, every striker plays with that.

"You have two games, one with the opponent and one with the rules and the referee and you try and extend that to your advantage. Sometimes you go a little bit over the limit but that is part of the game of a striker."

For the record, Wenger felt that the penalty in August was just, although not the one in 2004. Whether Campbell will play is another matter because Thomas Vermaelen has made a rapid recovery from what was a suspected broken leg against Aston Villa and will be back, Wenger said, "against Chelsea [on 7 February] at the latest".

Nevertheless, Wenger said that he trusted Campbell was capable of playing at such a high level, despite his initial fears over the defender's fitness.

Sky Sports defy ban: United to back down

*The dispute between Manchester United and Sky Sports briefly escalated yesterday, with United demanding to know how Sir Alex Ferguson's weekly press conference at Carrington was broadcast on Sky Sports News, despite the broadcaster being banned from the event. United, who received £40m in TV rights last year, have decided there is no value in pursuing the issue further. Sky hope to be officially reinstated next Friday. Ferguson's irritation with the "divisive" content broadcast about the club has led to Sky's ban.

Ian Herbert

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'