RYANAIR’S Michael O’Leary isn’t known as a man his rivals could turn to in a jam, but it appears leopards really can change their spots.

Just a few weeks ago, O’Leary lashed out at the Unite union, which is representing British Airways cabin crew in a series of damaging strikes, labelling them a “bunch of dimwits” and “lions leading donkeys”.

Fast forward to yesterday’s full-year results presentations and the notoriously verbose airline mogul was still very firmly on the bandwagon in support of his one-time arch-enemy, beleaguered BA boss Willie Walsh.

O’Leary repeatedly labelled the BA strikers “grannies” and “wrinklies”, roaring: “Flying is like taking a bus with wings. BA cabin crew should, at this point, realise that the days of flying to New York, being put up by BA in a hotel for three days, then flying back and taking a week’s holiday are long gone.”

Mind you, that little tirade was tame in comparison to the stinging indictment that the Ryanair chief reserved for Unite boss Tony Woodley, whom he dubbed an “old beast with a perma-tan”.

Should we expect trolley dolly bags at dawn?

Speaking of Ryanair and the airline industry’s most colourful represen?tatives, how could activist easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou resist having a simultaneous dig at both O’Leary and the executives with whom he is clashing over dividends and aircraft purchases at his own ?airline?

Nestled in the top of Ryanair’s results announcement yesterday was the revelation that the group will be paying a one-off dividend to shareholders, the first since its float in 1997.

Stelios promptly fired off a riposte via his preferred ultra-private method of communication – RNS – quoting O’Leary from a newspaper article in 2008 as saying: “When the Queen knighted Stelios she hit him a bit hard with the sword… He is suffering concussion. Look?ing for a dividend from an airline is absurd.”

“I never thought the day would come so quickly when I would be able to say, ‘Thank you, Michael’,” Stelios taunted. “Obviously I hope (incoming easyJet chief) Carolyn McCall and (chairman) Sir Mike Rake are watching this closely. I would expect nothing less from easyJet…”

Just days to go until the Investec Derby festival this weekend at Epsom and anticipation is in the air. One chap hoping for success in particular is none other than Investec’s managing director Bernard Kantor, himself a huge horseracing fan and owner.

Last year, just weeks after his firm had announced its high-?profile sponsorship of the festival, Kantor was disappointed when his horse South Easter was pulled out of the running on the morning of the Derby after developing a nasty cough.

With any luck, though, this year may be a different story – I hear that South Easter has been entered for the Coronation Cup at the weekend (a similar race to the Derby itself but for older horses).

He may not be favourite to win the race – an accolade that goes to the part-John Magnier-owned Fame and Glory – but here’s hoping he gets the chance to give the competition a run for their money this time round.

City World Cup fever continues apace, with Gary Jenkins, the fixed income specialist at Evolution, the latest to offer his predictions for the winner of the tournament before the weekend.

Jenkins plumped for Brazil as the eventual winner, though I hear he decided to use a different prediction model this time around compared to the last time he ventured a World Cup forecast eight years ago.

Back then, he asked his dad to pick his favourite all-time team, which promptly got knocked out in the early stages and caused a flood of client complaints. This time, he saw fit to use a whole raft of economic data from the competing countries alongside footballing prowess, though his poor old man didn’t get a look in.

“No way,” Jenkins tells me, firmly. “He got me into enough trouble last time…”

While we’re on the subject of football fever, the Federation of Small Businesses has produced a handy guidance pack for firms concerned about “employment issues” during the World Cup – squabbling over time off, pulling carefully timed sickies, you know the drill.

Advice includes gran?ting employees special unpaid leave to watch England player Wayne Rooney (left), flexible working hours on match days, having the TV on in the background, demanding GP sick notes for unplanned absences, and “not favouring male employees over female employees”.

“There are 32 teams participating in the World Cup and football has a strong female following,” the FSB reminds us, sternly. Hear, hear.