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10 football rivalries within a team

  • A look at ten memorable inter-team football rivalries that threatened to steamroll into something bigger.
  • It is the nature of team sports that there is bound to be friction within the same team as well.
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Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 29 Apr 2020, 16:55 IST

England teammates Wayne Rooney and John Terry played for different Premier League clubs.
England teammates Wayne Rooney and John Terry played for different Premier League clubs.

One of the biggest reasons that any sport sells is because of rivalries. Federer-Nadal in tennis, India-Pakistan in cricket and Barcelona-Real Madrid in football are just a few examples in this regard.

Sports rivalries engage the fans and neutrals as new narratives are created. Soon enough, a match-up between two opponents becomes such that you start looking forward to the next time they face off.

The beauty of team sport is such that there are rivalries within the same team as well. Try as they might to keep a lid on it, these rivalries tend to bubble over more often than not. Arguably, they are even more interesting for the spectator. Naturally, football has had its fair share of such rivalries.

On that note, let us have a look at ten rivalries that materialised in the same football team:


#10 Oliver Kahn vs Jens Lehmann - Germany

Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann
Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann

Football squads are generally structured such that they have multiple goalkeepers, with one of them being the No. 1 and the others lower down the pecking order.

However, there have been occurrences when the deputy puts in excellent performances whenever called upon. In such cases, it is clear that one of them cedes ground to the other. Petr Cech - Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea and Marc Andre Ter Stegen - Jasper Cillessen at Barcelona are a few recent examples. Manchester United may find themselves in a similar spot with David de Gea and Dean Henderson in the future.

With national teams, it isn't so simple. You can't just 'move' a player on. Germany learned it the hard way in 2003 when Jens Lehmann spoke about his displeasure at always being the no. 2 for Germany, feeling he deserved more for how he was performing for an in-form Arsenal.

"I don't think I am given the right respect in Germany. There are a lot of people there who don't know anything about goalkeeping. My bad luck is that I am only No. 2 in the national team. I think I should be playing. I have developed in a very good way. I perform better these days than Germany's No.1 [Kahn]."
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There were personal attacks too as Lehmann brought up Kahn's 24-year-old girlfriend, Verena. The two met with German coach Rudi Voller ahead of Euro 2004 to resolve their differences. Nothing changed since Kahn had the support of goalkeeping coach Sepp Maier.

Kahn did not speak much about the issue. But when he did, it was clear that he wasn't pleased.

"Lehmann is constantly provoking and he's been doing it for years. The situation is escalating and has to be resolved. This can't continue like this. We have to resolve it internally."

In October 2004, Jurgen Klinsmann sacked Maier. Lehmann sensed that it was his time as he was the first choice for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The then Arsenal keeper was the hero in Germany's penalty shoot-out victory over Argentina in the quarter-finals.

It wouldn't be the last time Germany would witness a 'clash' between their national team goalkeepers.


#9 Neymar vs Jordi Alba - Barcelona

Jordi Alba and Neymar
Jordi Alba and Neymar

Neymar spent four fruitful seasons at Barcelona, winning the treble in 2014-15 as part of the famed MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar) trio. Jordi Alba has been a regular in Barcelona's first XI since he signed for the club in 2012. Since both Neymar and Alba were active on the left side of the pitch, they got to know each other better than most.

There were reports of a feud between the duo for a while before it was confirmed when Neymar was caught shouting expletives at Alba during a 2-1 Liga loss to Valencia in 2016.

In terms of tactics, Jordi Alba didn't have the space to run up on the left since Neymar is not your everyday left-winger. The quality that Neymar possessed, he had the freedom to roam around a bit to do maximum damage. Neymar's flexible positioning on the pitch, in turn, limited Alba's offensive impact.

After Neymar's departure, Alba all but confirmed that things weren't rosy between the two. He stated that he enjoyed playing for Barcelona even more after the Brazilian left Camp Nou.

"As I said before, I have more space to run into and honest, for me, it's much better. I have regained confidence. With more space on the left I am very comfortable and that is demonstrated in the field. I'm enjoying it in a way I haven't for a long time."

Wonder what Alba thinks about Neymar's possible return to Barcelona.


#8 Andy Cole v Teddy Sheringham - England & Manchester United

Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham
Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham

Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, along with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Dwight Yorke, are well-known for inspiring Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United to a historic treble in 1998-99.

The feat seems even more impressive if you believe Andy Cole who said he "didn't exchange a single word" with Sheringham during their time as teammates at United. It's astounding but true.

Things started to go downhill between Cole and Sheringham ever since the latter was subbed off for Cole who was making his England debut in front of a packed Wembley. Cole felt enraged that Sheringham ignored him completely when he was subbed off rather than providing some encouragement to the debutant.

"I replaced Teddy. I was making my debut. Maybe I was naive, but I think he should have wished me all the best. I was nervous, as anyone would be. Instead, he walked straight past me and blanked me. It’s not like I told Terry Venables to take Teddy off. So I was devastated when Teddy Sheringham signed for United because I couldn’t stand him. We played a friendly in Milan in 1997, just after he’d signed. He said something on the pitch. I didn’t like it. ‘I’m only trying to help you,’ he said. ‘I don’t need your help,’ I replied."

The animosity never went away. After bringing it up once, Sir Alex Ferguson understood and never broached the topic again. Sheringham, for his part, never went public about the feud. More importantly, the two of them didn't let it affect their relationship on the pitch as they won a host of titles together.

There was some reflection on Andy Cole's part in 2018, but the feud did last for 23 long years.


#7 Neymar v Edinson Cavani - PSG

Edinson Cavani and Neymar
Edinson Cavani and Neymar

PSG expected great things when they smashed the transfer record to bring in Neymar from Barcelona in the summer of 2017. The immediate return was not as satisfactory.

Finally the main man after the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani was banging in the goals for PSG while also being their penalty-taker. The Uruguayan saw no reason to give up his penalty-taking duties simply because Neymar arrived at the club. Neymar, on the other hand, felt it was only natural that he assumed set-piece duties as one of the main players of the PSG project.

Things came to a head against Lyon as Cavani and Neymar publicly argued over who would take a spot-kick. Reportedly, Cavani told Neymar after the game:

"Who do you think you are? Lionel Messi?"

The remark from Cavani sent the Brazilian over the edge. Thiago Silva had to intervene to stop the situation from escalating.

Unai Emery could have shown more authority in this regard than merely suggesting that the two take penalties alternately. Only later did the manager entrust penalty-taking responsibilities to Neymar.

There were even rumours that Cavani was offered a cash bonus to give up taking penalties voluntarily. It was embarrassing for the club looking to dominate Europe soon.


#6 Del Piero v Filippo Inzaghi - Juventus

Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero
Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero

Filippo 'Pippo' Inzaghi is considered as an AC Milan legend, with his battles with Raul for the Champions League top-scorer now part of European folklore.

From 1997 to 2001, Inzaghi formed a fearsome attack for Juventus, with Alessandro Del Piero and Zidane right behind the Italian striker.

Already an established player when he signed for Juventus, it was supposed to be a match made in heaven for the talisman in Del Piero. Zidane's creativity, Inzaghi's predatory instincts as a poacher and Del Piero, a mix of Zidane and Inzaghi's attributes; the combination looked perfect on paper. However, on the field, it wasn't.

The first season did go spectacularly as Inzaghi, and Del Piero scored a combined 59 goals to lead the Turin side to the Serie A title. Del Piero's knee injury in the next campaign forced him to miss the majority of the next campaign as Juventus finished a lowly 7th in the league. Inzaghi, though, still managed to score 20 goals that season.

It was the third season when things turned sour. Del Piero was struggling to score from open play after returning from his injury while Inzaghi was still prolific. The match against Venezia would prove to be a turning point as Juve were 1-0 up thanks to a penalty from Del Piero.

In the final ten minutes, Pippo managed to score a hat-trick, which was commendable. However, for each goal, Inzaghi could have passed the ball to Del Piero, who was in better positions and in need of goals to regain his confidence. Further, Inzaghi's exaggerated celebrations after each goal riled up Del Piero.

After the game, Del Piero stated that Pippo was 'lucky to score', and refused to pass the ball to the striker 'unless the moment was right'.

That was the beginning of the end of a great partnership. Inzaghi was the top-scorer in his fourth season with Juventus as well, despite the arrival of David Trezeguet. Soon after, he moved to AC Milan and made history while Del Piero became the face of Juventus.


#5 Manuel Neuer v Marc-Andre Ter Stegen - Germany

Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer
Marc Andre Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer

You'd think Germany would have some luck go their way after the expisode involving Kahn and Lehmann.

Germany are fortunate in a way, having two world-class goalkeepers competing for the same position. Manuel Neuer was the undisputed no. 1 in the world with his performances, especially under Pep Guardiola. Following Guardiola's departure, Neuer's confidence went a little downhill because of injuries and a slight dip in form.

Ter Stegen, on the other hand, went from strength to strength at Barcelona after his transfer from Borussia Mönchengladbach. Just as Neuer's form dipped, Ter Stegen was putting out extraordinary performances to ensure Barcelona continued their domestic dominance.

Neuer, captain and favourite of Joachim Low, retained the support of the staff for the 2018 World Cup even after he missed significant portions of the season while Ter Stegen shined.

The latter let his feelings be known after Neuer kept his spot even after conceding four goals in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands. Ter Stegen told the Spanish media that missing out on a starting spot again was a 'heavy blow'.

Neuer did not let that slide:

"I think he’s a good keeper and he is performing well, but I’m not sure if that helps us. We are a team and should present ourselves as such. We have great goalkeepers. We have Kevin Trapp, Bernd Leno… these are all great goalkeepers who also want to play and then sit on the bench.."

Before a crunch Champions League clash in Dortmund, Ter Stegen made it a point to give his response. It helped that he put in an excellent performance, later on, saving a penalty from Reus to ensure Barcelona didn't lose on the night.

"You can see how I have behaved in recent years and I don’t think that Neuer or others have to talk about my feelings or assess them. His remarks were inappropriate but I don’t want to say much more, I want to bring an end to all this controversy."

Perhaps, the most unsurprising aspect of this discussion was the subsequent intervention of Uli Hoeness (Bayern hierarchy, of course!), who childishly threatened not to send Bayern players for national duty if Neuer was replaced as No. 1.

While the debate has been put on the back-burner for now, you can be sure that it will pick up once football resumes again. What's also given is that if Ter Stegen played for Bayern instead, there wouldn't have been much of a discussion.


#4 Eric Cantona v Didier Deschamps - France

Eric Cantona and Didier Deschamps
Eric Cantona and Didier Deschamps

When you've got a character as colourful as King Eric, you know there's never a dull day in sight. This feud is no different. It went sour in 1995 as Eric Cantona, captain of the France national team, was dropped and Deschamps took his place instead. The whole saga is rumoured to have been instigated by Deschamps after Cantona's kung-fu kick to a racist Crystal Palace fan.

Not one to keep quiet over a perceived injustice, Cantona wasn't very subtle.

"Deschamps gets by because he always gives 100 per cent, but he will never be anything more than a water carrier."

Ahead of a Champions League clash against Deschamps' Juventus side, Cantona added again:

"You can find players like him (Deschamps) on every street corner. At present Didier likes to act like a monk and a moralist but he'll end up wallowing in every kind of vice."

It is clear that he hasn't let it go. The situation escalated when Cantona accused Deschamps of racism for not picking Benzema and Ben Arfa in the French squad for Euro 2016. It forced the Deschamps to respond:

"There is a line that cannot be crossed. And when you touch the family, it is unacceptable. I will go to the end."

As promised, Deschamps filed a defamation suit against Cantona in the French court. It looks like this one will play out in the legal system.


#3 Steven Gerrard v El-Hadji Diouf - Liverpool

Steven Gerrard and El Hadji Diouf
Steven Gerrard and El Hadji Diouf

The signing of El Hadji Diouf was seen as a critical reason for the eventual downfall of Gerard Houllier. The optimism from the triple-cup winning 2000-01 season and the promising 2001-02 season almost vanished in the next season.

Houllier decided against making Anelka's loan move permanent, citing character issues. He opted to sign Diouf instead, who impressed for Senegal at the World Cup.

A brace on debut for Diouf was a fantastic start. However, his next league goal would come six months later. Diouf's performances were mostly underwhelming, and his attitude was problematic. He tried to take penalty-taking duties away from Neil Mellor, an act he would go on to repeat with Danny Murphy later on in his career.

To be fair to Diouf though, he was made a scapegoat for Liverpool's general failings on the pitch. However, the Senegalese didn't help the situation either with his behaviour and form. In 2003-04, Diouf became the first No. 9 in Liverpool history to go an entire season without scoring a goal.

Former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama Pongolle, who shared a dressing room with Diouf and Gerrard, lifted the lid on an explosive bust-up between the two that happened during a pre-season game. Gerrard even sought legal advice after Diouf accused him of disliking black people.

There was no love lost between the duo as Diouf spoke out after Gerrard's retirement.

"I repeat. I respect the player, very big player, but the man, I do not respect. And I told him, I let him know that. With all my respect I let him know... That is why he does not like me. He knows I say what I think, that when it is not right, no problem, I am up for it."

With six goals in 80 appearances, Diouf is a blip in Liverpool's history while Gerrard is part of the fabric of the club. It made for an exciting match-up.


#2 John Terry v Wayne Bridge - England

John Terry and Wayne Bridge: The handshake that wasn
John Terry and Wayne Bridge: The handshake that wasn't

John Terry has had a distinguished career, captaining Chelsea to multiple trophies and also having the opportunity to lead the national team. He is deservedly held in high regard in the English game. Terry, however, has been part of various controversies that have tainted his legacy.

The summer of 2010 turned out to be a tumultuous one for the former Chelsea and England captain. Tabloids broke the story of his affair with close friend Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel in 2009, right around the time they were parting ways. The fact that his wife Toni was friends with her just made matters worse in the media and from a personal perspective. It was one of the many times that Terry's infidelity had been reported in the tabloids.

It proved to be a serious matter as national team coach Fabio Capello was a strict disciplinarian who wanted to gauge his teammates' reaction before deciding on a response. The 2010 FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa was on the horizon, and a decision had to be made. It turned out that even the players felt that Terry crossed the line by getting involved with a teammate's partner. Terry was subsequently stripped of the national team captaincy and came under tremendous scrutiny.

For Capello, things didn't improve since Bridge decided to retire from national team duty. It was one of the reasons why England's 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign was doomed from the beginning.

The next season, Bridge refused to shake hands with Terry when Manchester City played Chelsea. It was an image that went viral. Bridge, for his part, did not involve in mud-slinging. He did have this to say about the situation:

"The most disappointing aspect of it all is that I'm probably more famous for not shaking someone's hand than I am for playing football. I get abuse walking down the street now and I let it go in one ear and out the other. It's a handshake after all, nothing more."

It is difficult not to sympathise with Bridge who suffered a lot for something he had little control over.


#1 Mauro Icardi v Maxi Lopez - Sampdoria

Wanda, Maxi Lopez and Mauro Icardi
Wanda, Maxi Lopez and Mauro Icardi

Mauro Icardi, on loan at PSG and captain of Inter until last season, has been a prolific goal-scorer. His record is a testament to that. Despite his impressive goal-scoring record, his wife and their shared history has often overshadowed Icardi's exploits on the field. Apart from his limited ability outside the box, the off-field antics were another reason why Antonio Conte and Giuseppe Marotta did not want him as part of their new project at Inter.

It began at Sampdoria when the pair were said to be close friends. At the time, Wanda was married to Maxi Lopez, and Icardi was a friend of the couple. However, Lopez and Wanda split up. Soon after, Wanda got together with Icardi, and the two got married five months after Wanda filed for divorce with Lopez.

It led to a showdown when Sampdoria met Inter in what would be known as the 'Wanda derby'. As one can imagine, Lopez refused to shake hands with Icardi before the game.

In and itself, it may have been forgiven. Icardi has not helped himself by committing insensitive acts l constant social media posts and tattooing the name of Lopez's kids on his arm.

Wanda is a fiery personality, to put it mildly. She also acts as Icardi's agent. She has absolved Icardi and herself of any wrongdoing. Icardi also maintains that he's innocent. The Argentinian's words, though, don't exactly inspire confidence.

"I got a message from Wanda [the then Lopez’ wife], I was surprised because I usually spoke with Maxi not with her. She asked if I could buy a new Ipad for her in the US. That episode however made me think did Wanda really want that tablet or was she seeking an excuse to get in touch with me? When I came back to Milan, one of the first things I did was to get reacquainted with Wanda. The Ipad was a perfect excuse."

Lopez has not been as vocal throughout the saga. He is bothered by his changing relationship with his kids.

"When I saw the photos of my children wearing Inter and Newell's shirts, I told them that they would only understand once they became parents. It really p****s me off of seeing my children used. Then several times he hung up the phone while they were talking to me."

He did forgive Icardi for his acts, in a way:

"I don’t just forgive Mauro, I thank him for taking W away."

Another interesting aspect to this story is that Icardi and Lopez are from Argentina. It is rumoured that Icardi hasn't been called up to the national team due to Lopez's friendship with Messi.

Something else to ponder about in this saga!

Published 29 Apr 2020, 16:55 IST
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