Mind Game Mania: Jose Mourinho vs Antonio Conte

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 08 January 2018, 17:47

SO MUCH for the yoga then.

Antonio Conte’s mission to embrace 2018 in a cool, calm and collected way included reading up on meditation and stretching exercises to pacify the mind and body.

But that’s gone out of the window just a week into the new year as Chelsea’s Italian boss becomes the latest victim to fall for the classic Jose Mourinho sideshow.

Up until now, a year and a half into the job, Conte has been pretty much dignified and diplomatic when it comes to rival managers and rival players.

But he is finding out that there is one irritant that in football that is like a nettle sting - the more you try to scratch it the worse it gets.

Manchester United boss Mourinho just has this way to get under the skin of his peers like nobody else can. Sure, Conte has had a bit of a pop at Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger in recent days.

Conte has even declared he will ‘fight anyone’ on behalf of his club and himself and his players.

But no cross words with Wenger comes close to the genuine dislike that now exists between Chelsea’s most recent full time managers - but while Conte is up for a ruck, he’s taking on the undisputed champion of vitriol in Mourinho.

The simmering feud, and it was only that, between these two men, goes back to 2010 when they were both working in Italy: Mourinho at Inter, Conte at Juventus.

The professional rivalry alone between those two clubs is enough to make relations tetchy. But Mourinho couldn’t resist lobbing a grenade at Conte with the claims about match-fixing which have recently resurfaced.

Conte was suspended for four months at Juve for failing to report match fixing at his previous club Siena. The infamous ‘Calciopoli’ scandal. Conte has stringently denied any wrongdoing.

But Mourinho adopted his best form of attack by not naming names when he told the Italian football media: “With your silence you built Calciopoli’ - no prizes for guessing who that was aimed at.

It’s been the same since. Last October Mourinho pointed out that he doesn’t complain about injuries while some others do - a clear reference to Conte.

Thus the slanging match resumed with seven years of festering resentment making the mutual dislike boil over into all out war, while we all look on from ringside and love every minute of it. 

Notice how Conte uses the same stance: rarely a direct reference to Mourinho but instead pointed remarks that leave nobody in any doubt who is the target.

Now we have another mention of ‘match fixing’ and rebuttals in the form of ‘little man’. It’s all going off again and nobody will be more surprised at this than Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

There is a reason why Chelsea took their time and appointed Conte as Mourinho’s permanent successor in the summer of 2016.

Chelsea’s squad was in meltdown the season before, poor results amid accusations of dissention in the dressing room and in the boardroom all revolving around attention seeker Mourinho’s abrasive personality.

Conte until now has been seen as the arch diplomat. He never talks about opposition coaches and only ever in complementary terms.

He won’t discuss players from other teams, particularly when it comes to the transfer market. That would show a lack of respect he says.

For 18 months he stuck to that mantra until Mourinho called it on again.

Conte is now at the front of a long list of managers who have a grudge against the Portuguese and the eyes will be on them on February 25 to see if they shake hands or even combust in each other’s company when Manchester United play Chelsea next.

Abramovich was hoping Conte would keep a lid on his emotions but now is probably quite amused to see his current manager face off against the man who is damaging his legacy at Stamford Bridge with his childish insults.

Conte too was planning to get through his career at Chelsea without offending anybody too much. But like the yoga that has gone out of the window and that means advantage Mourinho.

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