Sir Alex Ferguson autobiography: Rafael Benitez mistakenly decided to turn our sporting rivalry personal

The two managers often clashed while the Spaniard was at Liverpool

Jack de Menezes
Tuesday 22 October 2013 18:54
Rafael Benitez (left) and Sir Alex Ferguson stand on the touchline during Liverpool's 2-0 league win at Anfield in October 2009
Rafael Benitez (left) and Sir Alex Ferguson stand on the touchline during Liverpool's 2-0 league win at Anfield in October 2009

The rivalry between Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez was widely-publicised during their time at the top of English football, with the former Manchester United manager claiming that his old adversary was “unwise” to make their feud personal.

The two clashed regularly during Benitez’s first spell in England, having managed Liverpool from 2004 until he was dismissed in 2010. Such was the rivalry; comments would be made about the other even when the two weren’t going head-to-head, with each trying to get one over the other in an attempt to assert their dominance in the Premier League title race.

In his book, Ferguson has had his say on both Benitez and Liverpool as a club, choosing separate incidents to describe both.

“The mistake he [Benitez] made was to turn our rivalry personal,” explained the 13-time Premier League winner. “Once you made it personal, you had no chance, because I could wait. I had success on my side. Benitez was striving for trophies while also taking me on. That was unwise.”

Both had won the Champions League after Benitez guided the Reds to their 2005 success in Istanbul, with United having claimed the famous trophy as part of their 1998/99 treble-winning season. Ferguson would go on to win the European Cup again in 2008, beating Chelsea in Moscow, while Benitez oversaw a slow decline in the Merseyside club’s form until he was sacked.

Having seen Roy Hodgson come and go in less than a year, Kenny Dalglish returned to the role of head coach having previously guided the club between 1985 and 1991.

Dalglish was an old adversary of Ferguson’s, although the former Scotland international had taken a number of years out of management until he was tempted to return to Anfield in a managerial capacity.

However, it was an incident between Dalglish’s star striker Luis Suarez and United left-back Patrice Evra that not only soured his reign with the club, but the Premier League as whole as the racism row continued to dominate the headlines for the months after.

Upon the initial allegations from Evra that Suarez had racially abused him during their league match on 15 October. Suarez’s team-mates made the astonishing decision to wear training shirts in support of the shamed striker, and Ferguson has been hugely critical of the club for their dealings over the matter.

“Liverpool wore those T-shirts supporting Suarez, which I thought was a ridiculous thing for a club of Liverpool's stature. I felt we handled it well, mainly because we knew we were in the right.

”The FA asked us several times not to discuss it, but Liverpool would not leave the subject alone. David Gill would not have allowed any manager to handle it in that way.“

Ferguson directly criticised Dalglish for allowing the squad to wear the T-shirts, claiming that a figure such as former Liverpool chief executive Peter Robinson would’ve stopped anything like that should it have arisen.

”The problem I felt was there was no Peter Robinson at Liverpool,” said Ferguson. “He would never have allowed the situation to be handled like it was.

“The young directors there idolised Kenny and there was no-one to say: 'Hey, behave yourself, this is out of order, this is Liverpool Football Club.”

Further reading...

Sir Alex on…turning down the England job twice

Sir Alex on...the end of his relationship with David Beckham

Sir Alex on...Beckham and that flying boot

Sir Alex on... Rock Of Gibraltar 'misunderstanding'

Sir Alex’s reign in pictures

My Autobiography: the key observations

Sir Alex on...the ‘battle of the buffet’ after Arsenal victory

Sir Alex on…Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest player he worked with

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