Alex Ferguson on why he told Man United players not to tackle Ian Wright

Alex Ferguson Ian Wright

“I tell them not to even tackle him but to just protect the space.”

Alex Ferguson said that Ian Wright was so ‘volatile’ that he urged his players not to tackle the Arsenal legend during games.

Ferguson came up against the former England striker several times as Manchester United manager.

Ian Wright v Alex Ferguson’s Man United.

Wright scored twice for Crystal Palace against Man United in 1990 FA Cup final, a final that ended 3-3 before United won the replay.

A phenomenal goal scorer, he went on to score 185 times for Arsenal. He was the club’s record scorer until Thierry Henry overtook him to net 228 times for the Gunners.

Yet, Wright only found the net once for Arsenal against Man United – in the 1993 Charity Shield at Wembley.

As such, the former striker appeared to let his frustrations get the better of him against the Red Devils. According to Ferguson, Wright would get so wound up against his team, he urged his players to not tackle him.

However, during an infamous game in February 1997, the United players did not follow Ferguson’s advice.

Alex Ferguson on Ian Wright: “I emphasise that they should keep away from him.”

“Everything is going along fine until 20 minutes from the end, when Ian Wright loses it,” the former Man United manager writes in A Will to Win, his diary of the 1996/97 season.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t find any other words for his behaviour.

“The best that can be said for his temperament is that he’s got a short fuse, and I always instruct our players not to get involved with him.

“In fact, so volatile is Wright that I tell them not to even tackle him but to just protect the space.

“Today, our players say at half-time he’s been going bananas during the first half. So I emphasise that they should keep away from him.”

“Midway through the second half, Wright has a dig at Denis Irwin. It was the kind of thing which would probably have got him sent off if he’d been playing away from home.

“Despite the warnings, my players inevitably react.”

“There’s no question that the man is a top-quality striker, ” Ferguson continues.

“Indeed, I’ve often wondered whether I should try to get him to Old Trafford. But his temperament is another matter. He seems to attract controversy.

Ferguson speculates that Wright was “angry” in the game because Denis Bergkamp had a goal ruled out for offside, or because he had yet to score against Peter Schmeichel in a league game.

Wright v Schmeichel.

And then came the ugly incident between Wright and Schmeichel.

It was alleged that television images showed Schmeichel directing racist abuse at Wright in the aftermath of the striker’s two-footed challenge on the United goalkeeper.

The pair had to be separated at the end of the game. The Crown Prosecution Service investigated the incident, which dominated the media cycle over the coming weeks.

Police found no evidence of the goalkeeper racially abusing his opponent and the FA urged both men to put their differences aside, and they eventually did. Ferguson, Schmeichel and Man United maintained throughout that Schmeichel was innocent.

Arsenal and Man United rivalry.

There was a fierce rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United at the time. It would become more intense over the following few seasons, as both sides vied for the top spot in the Premier League.

Wright would also regularly battle with United players. Lee Dixon said his old teammate “was the most horrible, annoying player you could ever play against”.

According to the former Arsenal defender, Wright once landed a punch on former United captain Steve Bruce at half-time of a match.

“He chased him around the pitch for the second half trying to get hold of him.”

“He was like that when he was at Palace but when he came to Arsenal it was great to have him because he just used to really wind everybody up,” Dixon said on the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast.

“He wound Steve Bruce up in this Old Trafford game so much. He went, ‘I’m just going to knock you out at half-time’. Wrighty went, ‘Right, let’s have it then’.

“He just ran down the tunnel and Steve Bruce ran after him. And I can remember Wrighty going, ‘Brucey, Brucey, come on, calm down, let’s just calm down’.

“And Brucey goes, ‘Alright.’ And then bang! [Wright] threw this little right hook and dashed off into the dressing room.

“I couldn’t stop laughing. I think Brucey said something like, ‘Is that your best shot?’ And Wrighty said, ‘Have a look at your eye when you get yourself in the dressing room.’

“He chased him around the pitch for the second half trying to get hold of him.”

Wright left Arsenal for West Ham United in 1998 after winning the double with Arsenal under Arsene Wenger. After a season with the Hammers, he briefly played for Celtic before ending his career after a spell with Burnley.

Since retiring, Wright has become a popular football pundit on ITV and BBC show Match of the Day.

(Originally published on September 24, 2020).

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