Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have agreed not to trade insults before next month's crucial match between their clubs at Highbury, the Premier League announced yesterday, but the two managers have stopped short of making personal pledges to behave.
In a carefully worded statement released by the Premier League's chief executive Richard Scudamore said that both sides had "received assurances" from their managers that they would end the most recent dispute that began with Ferguson calling Wenger a "disgrace" in The Independent on Saturday.
The announcement was made after a meeting of the Premier League's 20 clubs in London yesterday that was attended by Manchester United's chief executive David Gill and the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein. However, proposals for both managers to agree to mediation, or even to sign a joint statement, have been rejected.
The compromise centred on an agreement to word the statement in such a manner that it made it appear that neither club had either led the way, or conceded ground, in negotiations. The crucial element to the deal was that both managers gave their "assurances" not to insult one another to their respective chairmen rather than to each other.
Hence the Premier League said that it "welcomes the fact that both David Dein and David Gill arrived at the meeting, having already received assurances from their managers that public comments on recent issues between them would cease."
The statement added: "Both clubs also agreed that public comments would be limited to pre-match and post-match analysis of the forthcoming fixture. The [Premier League] board is keen to stress that their concern related to the personal nature of recent exchanges and would never seek to restrict the huge interest generated for one of the season's most attractive fixtures. The board is grateful for the full cooperation of both clubs in this matter."
While Ferguson and Wenger, who are both due to brief the press in Manchester and London respectively today, have so far agreed to stick to the wishes of their clubs, doubts remain over whether the deal will last much further than the game on 1 February. A similar agreement not to comment over the food-throwing by Arsenal players was struck following the match on 24 October, which United believe was broken by their rivals.
Sources at United do not feel that they have been forced to give up any ground over the dispute that was begun by Ferguson last weekend when he criticised Wenger in The Independent for not apologising following the game in October. There is also little doubt that the Scot's personal feelings towards his opposite number have not changed.
The winners from a day of diplomacy between the two clubs have been Scudamore and the Premier League chairman Dave Richards, who have stepped into a role that has been left vacant by the Football Association.
Despite belated warnings yesterday from the FA chairman Geoff Thompson that he might intervene in the feud between United and Arsenal, the governing body has failed to take any action.
The FA is still waiting for its new chief executive Brian Barwick to take up his post on 1 February, the same day United play at Highbury, and has had the initiative stolen from it by Scudamore. The Premier League chief executive met separately with Dein and Gill yesterday to discuss the matter.
The nature of the agreement meant that the two clubs were not forced to bring in a third-party mediator to speak to both Ferguson and Wenger. While the notion of bringing the two men together was rejected out of hand, it was also felt that there was not a figure in the game who commanded the individual respect of the two managers to the extent that he could bring them to agreement.
THE STATEMENT FROM THE PREMIER LEAGUE
"At their scheduled Premier League meeting today, the board met with senior representatives of Arsenal Football Club and Manchester United Football Club to discuss recent exchanges between their respective managers. This matter has generated considerable media interest, particularly as the next match between the two clubs takes place on 1 February.
The board welcomes the fact that both David Dein and David Gill arrived at the meeting, having already received assurances from their managers that public comments on recent issues between them [would] cease.
Both clubs also agreed that public comments would be limited to pre-match and post-match analysis of the forthcoming fixture.
The board is keen to stress that their concern related to the personal nature of recent exchanges and would never seek to restrict the huge interest generated for one of the season's most attractive fixtures.
The board is grateful for the full cooperation of both clubs in this matter."
The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, delivered this statement after talks between the Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, and the Manchester United chief executive, David Gill, in central London
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