It’s far too early to begin calling it a love-in yet, but there’s a chance that we may be seeing the start of a thawing in the long, bitter relationship between two of the biggest rivals in the Premier League. What’s more, this welcome turn of events, which comes just weeks before the new season, is being led by some of the most influential figures at both Anfield and Old Trafford. And not before time.
It took the arrival of new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson to get the ball rolling by publicly stating that his move from Fulham will not prevent him from continuing to share a glass of wine with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, even if they have to do it in secret. The two veteran managers have had a strong friendship for many years and Ferguson responded by declaring that Liverpool had appointed the best manager in the Premier League last season.
The most decorated player in English football has now joined the mutual admiration with United’s Ryan Giggs predicting that “It is dangerous to write off a team with Liverpool’s history. They have won the same amount of leagues as us and you can’t just dismiss that really” Giggs told ESPN “they are a huge football club and a massive team. Two years ago they were close to winning the Premiership so you can never write them off. They have got a new manager, it just depends how it goes really.”
It must be music to the ears of those who have deplored the rise of bitter hatred between the rival fans in the last number of years. Healthy rivalry is one thing, there’s nothing wrong with desperately wanting to defeat an opponent who is regarded as your biggest challenger, but to wish the vilest of illnesses on a rival player’s young children, as was shamefully done by one fan just recently, is way over the bounds of decency.
Hodgson’s insists his friendship with Sir Alex will not be affected by them facing each other in the biggest rivalry in English football. Ferguson had a long running feud with former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez as their mutual loathing exploded but Hodgson has no intention of allowing the battle for a record 19th title to destroy the respect they have for each other. “I know Sir Alex is not really a Liverpool fan so I’m a bit concerned about my excellent relationship with him” he admitted “I’ve always believed you don’t have battles with other managers. Football teams have battles with football teams, clubs have battles with clubs.”
For his part, Ferguson has a huge regard for the new Anfield boss which was clearly shown at the end of last season when Hodgson was named Manager of the Year for leading Fulham to the final of the Europa League. “Roy absolutely deserves to be manager of the year” he said “he’s had a fabulous season getting Fulham to that final, well, it’s a miracle. It’s one of the best British performances of all time. His team have played with great consistency and his team selections are always consistent and sensible.”
It was obvious that British managers like Sir Alex are pleased to see the big jobs like the one at Anfield go to a local. Former Everton manager Peter Reid said that “We keep hearing about the foreign bosses but look at Ferguson. Look at the job Harry Redknapp did at Tottenham last season, finishing fourth and taking them into the Champions League. Would a foreign boss have done better?”
Now that the ice has been broken, it’s to be hoped that both sets of supporters follow the lead set by their elder statesmen and confine their fierce rivalry to simply defeating their opponents on the pitch. If there’s one thing that has been sadly lacking between them for many years, something which is now desperately needed to be shown, is simply nothing more than RESPECT.
Has the fierce rivalry between the two clubs gone too far?