In the final part of our feature, we recall Keano's tunnel rant and when it got tasty at OT...
The scene was set for a game which would go down in folklore – but more for what happened off the pitch than on it. United’s 2-0 victory in October 2004 stopped Arsenal from extending their unbeaten league run to 50 matches, but the visitors felt United had used excessively physical tactics to win and that Wayne Rooney had dived to get a penalty for the opening goal.
What happened next is disputed, but it is alleged that, as Ruud van Nistelrooy passed Arsène Wenger in the tunnel, the Arsenal coach had some harsh words for him which may or may not have included “cheat”, something he reported to his team-mates and manager. Ferguson angrily confronted Wenger, and in the ensuing mêlée, an Arsenal player is said to have thrown a piece of pizza at the United manager. The tabloid media gleefully dubbed this latest set-to ‘The Battle of the Buffet’.
All that went on away from the glare of the media, but four months later, at Highbury, the next episode was played out live before the Sky Sports cameras. Roy Keane was seen to confront Patrick Vieira in the players’ tunnel, allegedly reacting to an incident during the pre-game warm-up when Vieira had accosted Gary Neville about his team’s tactics back in October. Once Keane found out, he was pictured on live TV, with darkly furious eyes, telling Vieira: “I’ll see you out there...” How Neville must have felt when Keane appeared to be offering to fight his battles for him remains unclear, but the upshot was another feisty affair, where, despite Mikael Silvestre’s dismissal, United came from behind to win 4-2.
During this time, the relationship between the two managers had barely been any more civil than that between the players. Wenger had vowed not to speak Ferguson’s name, while the Frenchman was labelled “a disgrace” by Sir Alex.