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Rediff.com  » Sports » Chelsea smile as rivals scrap

Chelsea smile as rivals scrap

January 21, 2005 17:04 IST

Jose Mourinho can afford a smile after rivals Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were told to stop squabbling.

Mourinho's Chelsea have all but wrapped up the title with 15 games to go, leaving Ferguson's Manchester United and Wenger's Arsenal to fight for the second automatic Champions league berth.

Ferguson and Wenger, who have been trading barbs for several seasons, took their rivalry to a new low with a public row over alleged pizza-throwing in the so-called 'Battle of the Buffet' in the Old Trafford changing area in October.

The two sides meet again at Highbury on February 1 with just one point separating them at present -- second-placed Arsenal are a massive 10 points behind Chelsea -- and police concerned the managerial spat will exacerbate fan hatred.

"Any activity in the build-up to the game which increases the intensity and hostility of the supporters is not responsible and should be stopped," said police chief Barry Norman of the local north London borough of Highbury and Islington.

"If there is intense rivalry between the two sets of fans, which there is, then anything which increases that is unhelpful," said Norman, who will deploy some 180 police for the United game, almost double the average for Arsenal matches.

Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein and United chief executive David Gill assured Premier League officials on Thursday the public feud between their clubs' managers would cease.

In a statement, the Premier League said Dein and Gill had "arrived at the meeting having already received assurances from their managers that public comments on recent issues between them cease".

DOMINANT CLUBS

It has become a spat unbecoming of managers at the top of one of the world's leading leagues between two intensely competitive men of markedly different backgrounds unaccustomed to fighting each other for second rather than first place.

Wenger is the urbane, French middle-class economics graduate from Strasbourg University who since his arrival in England in 1996 has become the biggest rival of Scottish working class, former Glasgow docklands union official Ferguson.

Portuguese Mourinho's huge influence on the league in his first season in England is clearly good for everyone except these two rivals who had turned the Premier League into a two-horse race.

Arsenal, under the Frenchman, have not finished outside the top two since his first full season in charge which ended with Arsenal's second Double in 1998. United have won the league four times to Arsenal's three in that period.

While Wenger and Ferguson have traded barbs off the pitch, their players have clashed on it, notably in September 2003. Four Arsenal players were fined and banned after they mobbed United opponents at the end of an ill-tempered 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. Arsenal were fined 175,000 pounds.

PIZZA THROWING

Hostilities reached a new head at Old Trafford last October when United ended Arsenal's unbeaten league run at 49 matches with a controversial 2-0 win.

Ferguson alleged that Arsenal players threw pizza and soup at him after the match, accused Wenger of confronting him with hands raised and said the Frenchman's failure to apologise for the behaviour of his players after the match was a "disgrace".

Wenger retorted by calling for Ferguson to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

"Ferguson is out of order. He has lost all sense of reality," Wenger told French television station TPS in an interview.

"He is going out looking for a confrontation, then asking the person he is confronting to apologise.

"He's pushed the cork in a bit far this time and lost a lot of credibility by saying what he said."

Wenger also added his voice to that of Mourinho in suggesting that Ferguson tried to influence referees.

"We need video replays," he said. "United would be mid-table if officials had the benefit of them."

Adding a potential large dose of spice to the mix is the appointment of Graham Poll, regarded by some as England's best referee and others as controversial, to take charge of the February 1 Highbury game.

Rex Gowar
Source:
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