1. Johan Cruyff v Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal was supposed to be the new Johan Cruyff. When he was 21 Van Gaal was signed by Ajax and became the understudy to the man four years his senior whose talents were illuminating the football world. It soon transpired that Van Gaal's skills were not as bright as hoped. To his dismay, he was released a year later without ever making a first-team appearance. After a humdrum playing career elsewhere he went on, of course, to become a highly successful manager. Too successful, some say, for the relationship between these two domineering men, who initially got on well, turned bitter. Some speculated that the root of their problem was Cruyff's anger that Van Gaal guided his beloved Ajax to Champions League glory in 1995, a feat that Cruyff had not managed to achieve during his three years at the helm in the previous decade. Van Gaal, however, claims that the enmity goes back further – specifically to an incident on 26 December 1989.
Van Gaal, along with the Koeman brothers, had taken up an invitation to have dinner at the Cruyff family home. "The phone rang, it was for me," recounted Van Gaal in his 2009 autobiography. "It was my family, ringing to tell me my sister had died. I rushed out immediately. Later I heard that Johann was angry I didn't thank him for the meal."
Cruyff rubbished this claim, countering: "Van Gaal must have Alzheimer's if he wrote something like that."
Van Gaal also followed in Cruyff's footsteps by becoming manager of Barcelona, but his reign there was short – partially, he says, because Cruyff continually criticised him in the Catalan press. "I will never forgive what he did," wrote Van Gaal. "I tried to do a good job despite his attempts to frustrate."
By now the differences in the men's footballing philosophies were clear: basically, Cruyff believes building a team means building brilliant individuals, whereas Van Gaal believes in building a collectivist system. In 2011, four of the five members of the Ajax supervisory board wanted to appointed Van Gaal as technical director; the fifth member was Cruyff, who unsurprisingly had a different candidate in mind.
Knowing they would never get Cruyff on side, the other four went ahead and hired Van Gaal while Cruyff was away. "They've gone mad!" wrote Cruyff in his newspaper column after finding out. Suggesting that the future of Ajax was at stake and that the club's cherished youth system would suffer under Van Gaal, Cruyff took Ajax to court to block the appointment. Ajax fans were split and protests were common in the stands and streets for months until, eventually, the court ruled that the board had acted improperly by "deliberately putting Cruyff offside". Van Gaal's appointment was overturned.
A rapprochement of sorts occurred earlier this year on the occasion of Cruyff's 65th birthday, when Ajax's shirt sponsors took out a newspaper advertisement featuring congratulations from Van Gaal.
Naturally, the sponsors first secured permission from Cruyff.
2. John Harkes v Eric Wynalda
Apparently love makes the world go round. It also makes it go pear-shaped. Italy was scandalised in the 1960s when the wife of Paolo Barison left him to move in with his Napoli team-mate Jose Altafini; Tommy Docherty was sacked as manager of Manchester United in 1977 when news broke of his affair with Mary Brown, the wife of the club's physiotherapist; and folks in France still wonder whether the outcome of one of the greatest matches of all time – the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany – might have been different if Les Bleus had been able to call on the rugged midfielder Jean-François Larios, who, after featuring in France's first match of the campaign, was shunned for the remainder of the tournament when a report surfaced of a dangerous liaison between him and someone dear to his Saint Etienne team-mate, Michel Platini. "Michel Platini never asked me to stop Larios from playing," the then-France manager Michel Hidalgo has since said. "It was Larios himself who called to tell me he was quitting the squad. He handled the situation well … His decision made things easier for me. But you can't say bravo to him for what he had done before that."
The USA manager Steve Sampson enjoyed no such smooth ride before the 1998 World Cup, when his decision to omit one of the country's best players, John Harkes, was loudly condemned, especially after the US lost all three matches, including a painful defeat to Iran. At the time Sampson, who was sacked after the tournament, explained that Harkes was left out because of "leadership issues". Only a decade later did he elaborate: Harkes was dropped because of an affair with his the wife of team-mate Eric Wynalda.
"I think I could have lived with everything else and kept John on the team if it had not been for the private issues," said Sampson. "It's one thing to have an affair outside the team. It's another to have one inside … There are just certain lines that one cannot cross." The twist in this tale is that Sampson dropped Harkes despite a seemingly extraordinarily magnanimous Wynalda asking him not to. "At that time, I felt that he was still a player that could help our cause and he was still one of the best 22 players in our country," said Wynalda, whose marriage, alas, ended five years later. "I'm calling it an inappropriate relationship, it was a major contributor to why I'm no longer married," said Wynalda.
3. Georges Santos and Andy Johnson
The Sheffield United goalkeeper Simon Tracey was sent off nine minutes into his team's fixture with West Bromwich Albion in March 2002 but that was not really when things began to get out of hand. No, what would become known as the Battle of Bramall Lane was not ignited until the 65th minute, moments after Georges Santos came on as a substitute for the home side.
The midfielder had suffered a fractured cheekbone and damaged eye in a match against Nottingham Forest the previous season and Andy Johnson, the player whose elbow had been central to that incident, was now playing for West Brom. Lo and behold, one minute after entering the fray Santos was sent off for a dangerous high tackle on Johnson. Grudge, what grudge? A melee broke out following Santos' expulsion, after which Patrick Suffo was shown a red card for head-butting Derek McInnes, who later in the match found himself on a collision course with Keith Curle's fists.
As time ticked away, two United players had to leave the pitch, apparently injured. That meant they no longer had enough players to continue so the referee had to abandon the game, though WBA were eventually awarded the 3-0 win. "I've been in professional football since 16 and I'm 42 now," said WBA manager Gary Megson. " I've never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that." Neither Santos nor Suffo ever played for United again.
Megson, while we're on the subject, did not have a particular happy time at WBA despite guiding the club to two promotions. His dismissal from the club in 2004 was acrimonious and his ill feeling towards the club's chairman, Jeremy Peace, festered for years afterwards. "You will never hear me mention his name," Megson vowed to the Daily Mirror in 2008. "I never have and I never will. I don't want to sully myself. I will never get over how I think he treated me and my family. I don't want to mention anything more about the bloke."
4. Edmundo v Romário
When Romário left Barcelona to play for Flamengo in Brazil, he was expected to form a deadly attacking force with Edmundo and Savio – and they did for a while, with the trio earning the not particularly inspired nickname of "The Bad Boys" due to their extravagant feats on the pitch … and in various trendy night-spots (inevitably, they then released Bad Boys Rap).
Edmundo soon left, however, to try his own luck in Europe with Fiorentina. In 1998 when Edmundo replaced his injured chum in the Brazil squad Romário gave an indication of what he thought of the decision in a bar that he owned: he decorated the men's toilet with a picture of Edmundo sitting on a burst ball. Edmundo was outraged, even though Romário insisted it was just a harmless joke.
The following year Vasco da Gama decided it would be an excellent idea to pair the duo again and that scheme went well for a couple of months, until the club decided to take the captaincy off Edmundo and hand it to Romário, prompting the former to storm out of the dressing room. Thereafter the players regularly sniped at each other in the press. When both went to take a penalty in a subsequent league match, Edmundo was aghast when the manager signalled that he should leave it to Romário – who missed. "The king decided his prince should take it," snarled Edmundo at the media, referring to the perceived favouritism shown to Romário by the club president, Eurico Miranda.
After scoring in Vasco's next match, Romário told the media: "Now, everyone in the kingdom is happy – the king, the prince and the court jester." The pair were put out of each other's misery a short time later when Edmundo left the club following a dispute over his salary. By the time their paths crossed again, at Vasco da Gama in 2004, they had apparently buried their differences. "We're not going to allow any vanity to unsettle the squad," promised Romário, by now player-coach.
5. Brian McClair v Nigel Winterburn
Manchester United v Arsenal was the rivalry that defined at least a decade of English football and perhaps the most unassuming Scot at Old Trafford played a big part in kicking it off. Brian McClair missed a penalty for United at Highbury in 1989 and copped a mouthful of mockery from Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn. So when Winterburn fouled Denis Irwin when the sides met again at Old Trafford in October 1990, McClair decided to take action.
"The United players decided it was payback time," Winterburn recalled in the Independent in 2008. "I remember being on the ground and getting a few kicks in the back – I don't know how many – and then pretty much everyone piled in except the goalkeepers. It was all because of something I'd said to Brian McClair after he missed a penalty at Highbury."
The result was a mass brawl that led to Arsenal being docked two points and United one. "I tangled with Nigel Winterburn, and all hell broke loose," explained McClair. "Within a few minutes the red mist had disappeared and I was looking round in disbelief. I couldn't believe what I'd just done. The worst thing of all was watching myself on television behaving very badly. My perceptions had been so badly distorted by rage I hadn't actually remembered what happened accurately. I was convinced that I'd only kicked Nigel once but that wasn't the case at all. Archie Knox, the coach, could hardly contain his laughter when he watched with me.
"'What the hell came over you?' he managed to gasp out when not rendered speechless with laughter. I couldn't tell him because I honestly didn't know myself."
McClair and Winterburn gnawed at each other for years afterwards before, as McClair later confided to top Piers Morgan impersonator, Rob Smyth: "We agreed to call a halt to the situation because it was just getting ridiculous over daft little things. We agreed to disagree but we shook hands on it."