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Darren Lewis: Spite, spats and bad blood – welcome to the most hotly-contested title race ever

06 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Darren Lewis: Spite, spats and bad blood – welcome to the most hotly-contested title race ever

The stakes are higher, the teams are tougher and the riches more vast than they have ever been - tempers will get frayed

I’ve got a confession to make.

I have no problem whatsoever with Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger not wanting to shake hands.

I’ve got no issue at all with Wenger giving the Special One the swerve at Wembley.

I don’t think they are behaving like children.

I don’t want them to belt up and I hope over the coming season that they continue with the snide, spiteful antics that have had so many people clamouring for the moral high ground over the past five days.

There. I’ve said it.

It was the way I felt in Washington last week when Mourinho, with that extraordinary press conference jibe, told the wife of Rafa Benitez that she needed to put him on a diet. I see absolutely no reason to change my mind now.

Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho

6/4 – Chelsea to win the Premier League

Any other view would be hypocrisy. Any other opinion would be patronising two men entitled to their feelings when I work in an industry that thrives on building up sporting rivalries.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, knows it too. Which is why he has gone on record this week insisting he has no problem whatsoever with the lack of a handshake last Sunday.

It all adds to, as Mourinho likes to put it, “the salt and pepper” of the occasion.

And anyway, who am I to tell two proven masters of their craft – two of the top man-managers in world football, let alone England – how to behave?

Some of the ex-pros lambasting them were hardly paragons of virtue themselves. And as for the supporters set to entrench themselves in tribalism, myopia and mud-slinging over the next nine months, the words ‘pot’ and ‘kettle’ come to mind.

Lest we forget, it really is OK for two people going head to head in elite competition not to like each other.

The fact is, Wenger and Mourinho are awful losers. Always have been.

4/1 – Arsenal to win the Premier League

And as long as that remains the case – with the Chelsea boss more than capable of continuing to push the Frenchman’s buttons – then the bitterness between them is here to stay.

If that means more snubbed handshakes, so what? What were we expecting the Premier League to do this week? Fine them for not liking each other? Dock points for failing to show good sportsmanship?

Yes there is the example to set to youngsters influenced by the high-profile figures that they see on TV.

But Mourinho is a master in the art of winding rival bosses up while Wenger is fully entitled not to show him respect if he feels slighted. If that doesn’t meet with our satisfaction, hey, we’ll get over it.

After all, Sam Allardyce, Pep Guardiola, Jupp Heynckes, Mark Hughes, Phil Brown, Alan Pardew and Martin Jol have all managed to get on with their lives having been blanked at the final whistle by Wenger over the years.

As the most hotly-contested title race we have ever seen kicks off, it is a fair bet that there will be others. As a promo for their competition the Premier League were probably delighted.

(For me Chelsea will win it, by the way, from Arsenal with Manchester United third and City fourth. Liverpool should get a bit closer to the top four but Spurs look to be a work in progress and could even be edged out of sixth place by Southampton.)

Over the next nine months the game of thrones and all that surrounds it will be ramped up in print, online and in the broadcast media – especially when Mourinho meets Wenger, Mourinho meets Pellegrini, Van Gaal takes on Koeman, Koeman takes on Pochettino and when Mourinho meets Claudio Ranieri.

5/1 – Manchester United to win the Premier League

And theirs are just some of the simmering rivalries in the Premier League right now.

Through it all, if ANY manager sees the need to ruffle the feathers of his opposite number in their pre or post-match press conferences then who are we to stop them?

We’ve suddenly developed an aversion to the bad blood that we have lapped up in the top flight going back to Kevin Keegan’s infamous ‘I’d love it’ tirade against Sir Alex Ferguson during the nineties and beyond.

Sir Alex retired a footballing national treasure and yet he often committed the kind of footballing drive-by executed by Mourinho on Benitez last week.

Sir Alex Ferguson

The showdowns between Arsenal and United will again this season continue to be heavyweight affairs. But they will be nothing like the venomous, incendiary days when the mutual contempt between Wenger and Ferguson started off the pitch and spilled onto it through the likes of Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane.

Football, like politics, is crammed to bursting with people who say one thing in public and feel another in private. Yet there is nothing wrong an honesty that adds an extra edge.

After Hughes [then at City, now at Stoke] criticised Wenger for the lack of a handshake six years ago, the then-Ipswich boss Keane quipped: “At least Wenger wasn’t a hypocrite.

3/1 – Manchester City to win the Premier League

“I’ve had handshakes from managers who literally just grab the ends of your fingers. Sometimes it’s just for show and they don’t even look you in the eye.”

So far from being a problem, it is actually refreshing when the key figures in the game articulate their true feelings towards each other.

For decades the feuding behind the sporting scenes has played a big part in the entertainment value. That remains the case.

Brian Clough and Don Revie, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Ian Botham and Ian Chappell, Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy, the Williams Sisters and Maria Sharapova, Benn and Eubank, the Williams Sisters and Martina Hingis, Ferguson and Wenger and Mourinho and Pep Guardiola – just some of the examples of the rivalries that have been so compelling over the years.

Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira

We loved it all then and the truth is (despite so much righteous indignation) we will continue to do so.

If this Premier League season lives up to its billing it will become the most competitive since its inception over two decades ago.

The stakes are higher, the teams are tougher and the riches more vast than they have ever been, thanks to the new TV deal.

Tempers will get frayed, emotions will struggle to be kept in check and tensions will boil over.

That, however, is what makes this league the most pulsating in world football.

Bring it on.

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