The feud between the two became the stuff of legend as they warred over English football’s major prizes. The immaculate pitches of the Premier League were their battlefield; Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira their generals.
In recent years, any animosity between the pair has cooled into gentle respect.
The suspicion is that the new-found friendship between Ferguson and Wenger is the consequence of the fact that Arsenal are no longer competing with United for trophies. Earlier this season, Arsene Wenger said:
Does Ferguson only respect people who are not competing with him? You will have to ask him that. The reality is we are 20 points behind United this season and that is linked to our bad start to the season, so we have to do something about that next time.
Arsenal may yet contest another Premier League title against Manchester United, but Wenger will never go toe-to-toe with Ferguson again. The United manager has announced that this triumphant season will be his last.
Arsenal fans could be forgiven for heaving a hefty sigh of relief.
Ferguson’s grip on the Premier League title has been vise-like. The Scottish manager won the prize an extraordinary 13 times—a feat unlikely to be surpassed.
Ferguson’s likely replacement, David Moyes, has not won a single trophy in his 12 years at Everton. Moreover, he has never won a single game away to Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or indeed United. Arriving at Old Trafford represents a huge step up.
Arsene Wenger will smell blood. He will know that next season could be a transitional one for United. With Chelsea also likely to appoint a new manager, Arsenal could capitalise on the lack of stability among their rivals to launch a title challenge of their own.
Ferguson’s departure in favour of Moyes could be just as important to Arsenal’s title hopes as any summer signing the Gunners could make for themselves.
However, Arsene Wenger will not be entirely overjoyed to bid adieu to his arch enemy.
Part of Wenger will be disappointed to see Ferguson go. He has long toiled to get Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League, and I suspect that the Frenchman would have loved nothing more than to have one final face-off with his old rival.
The Scotsman’s decision to retire will surely also give Wenger cause for considering his own future. With Ferguson and Moyes displaced, Wenger is now the Premier League’s longest-serving manager by a decade.
Ferguson quitting feels like it may be indicative of a changing of the guard.
If Wenger can outwit Moyes and claim the Premier League title next season, he may choose to follow Ferguson’s lead and bow out on a high.