Arsene Wenger admits intense rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson ‘turned him into a monster’ and he was ‘physically sick’ every time Arsenal lost to Man United during his 22-year tenure in charge
- Rivalry with Ferguson and Man United defined Wenger’s first decade at Arsenal
- Both teams competed for domestic honours with their meetings intense affairs
- Wenger admitted losing to United during that time made him ‘physically sick’
- French boss says the managerial lifestyle ‘turned him into a monster’ at times
Wenger’s Arsenal and Ferguson’s United competed for the Premier League title and other domestic honours for the better part of a decade following the Frenchman’s arrival in north London in 1996.
Matches between the two bitter rivals carried an intensity not seen in the Premier League until that point and usually decided the destination of the title.
The rivalry between Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (right) is one of the defining ones of the Premier League era
Wenger, speaking on The Graham Norton Show, admits to regrets about how immersed he was in the managerial life during 22 years in charge at Arsenal
Sometimes the intensity around the games boiled over, such as the infamous ‘Battle of the Buffet’ at Old Trafford in 2004 when pizza was thrown at Ferguson in the tunnel.
And Wenger, 70, who ended a 22-year tenure as Arsenal manager in 2018, confesses the rivalry brought out the worst in him.
Speaking on The Graham Norton Show, to be aired on BBC One on Friday night, he said: ‘He was my biggest rival for 10 years. Competition is real – it’s you or me.
‘Pain hurts and the biggest pain is to lose a football game. I was physically sick when I lost.
‘When I was a young manager, I thought I would not survive in the job because the tension is so high and the pain so big when you lose.’
The Frenchman admitted to feeling ‘physically sick’ every time Arsenal lost a game to United
Arsenal and United were often fighting at the top of the Premier League table at that time
Meetings between United and Arsenal were often tempestuous affairs, such as Martin Keown’s reaction to Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in September 2003
Captains Roy Keane (left) and Patrick Vieira square up during a meeting at Highbury in 1999
Wenger’s immersion in his job at Arsenal yielded three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups wins during his long spell in charge – but it did come with regrets.
He added: ‘Football was everything. In life you have to find meaning and football had meaning for me.
‘Today, when I look back – I am 70 now – I am a bit frightened of why it had such a big importance to me.
‘Why did I sacrifice so much and why did I live such a monastic life and not want to know anything else?
‘Sometimes I worry about that. It was painful to look back and realise what a monster I was and how selfish I was because I lived my football with 100 per cent intensity.’
Speaking to Graham Norton, Wenger admits he did live a ‘monastic life’ when Arsenal manager
Wenger has not returned to management since leaving Arsenal and now works for FIFA as its chief of global football development.
He has also written his autobiography, My Life in Red and White, which was released earlier this week.
Asked by Graham Norton why being a manager became his dream, Wenger said: ‘It’s not obvious to explain. I was passionate about the game and slowly I began educating players.
‘I found it interesting and I loved it. You can have an influence on the individual life of people in a positive way.’
The Graham Norton Show, BBC One, Friday 16th October 10.45pm. Also available on BBC iPlayer.