Jose Mourinho seems to be at his happiest when he’s creating drama. It doesn’t matter which club he’s at, he seems to thrive off verbally sparring with people.
Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez and even Cristiano Ronaldo have been the victim of his sharp tongue before now, but a new battle has emerged since he returned to the Premier League as Manchester United manager.
While he would never admit it, you can only imagine how much it would have hurt him to see his replacement, Antonio Conte, win the Premier League with the team he built. The same players who downed tools just months after winning the title with him were suddenly rejuvenated under the Italian.
On Mourinho’s first return as United boss to Stamford Bridge, the home of the team where he is by far the most successful ever manager, he was humiliated with a 4-0 defeat.
Conte was his usual histrionic self and it got under Mourinho’s skin. He complained about the opposition manager in his post-match press conference for his over the top reactions to Chelsea’s goals. Conte distanced himself from the accusations and instead spent his time in the press conference complaining about the home fans who were “in silence” during the victory.
When Chelsea visited Old Trafford later that season, with the Premier League trophy almost in their grasp, Mourinho put on a tactical masterclass. Chelsea didn’t have a single shot on target for the first time in a decade (which ironically was also in their first game after sacking Mourinho in 2007, at Old Trafford) after Mourinho was able to totally nullify Eden Hazard.
The United manager walked off the pitch pointing to the United crest on his jacket, a dagger in the heart to the Chelsea fans who once misguidedly hung a ‘One Of Us’ banner at Stamford Bridge in honour of him.
A few months later, at the start of the 2017-18 season, Conte stressed the importance of preventing Chelsea from failing to challenge for the title, just as they had in the season after Mourinho last won the league with them. This was, of course, a less than subtle dig at Mourinho, who lost his job that season.
Mourinho was asked about Conte’s comments and without skipping a beat, with an emotionless expression on his face, he responded:
“I could answer in many different ways but I am not going to lose my hair to speak about Antonio’s comments.”
Conte lost his hair years ago and has since had a hair transplant procedure. Mourinho would never admit this is what he was referring to though, obviously.
Since then, Mourinho has largely kept his mouth shut when it comes to Conte. But the media were able to whip up a frenzy when asking him about the way he behaves on the touchline now in comparison to the past.
Ahead of the FA Cup game against Derby, Mourinho was asked at his press conference whether he was less passionate now. The days of him sprinting down the touchline at Old Trafford as he did as Porto manager, or bursting on to the Nou Camp pitch pointing to the Inter Milan fans, seem like a thing of the past.
Mourinho claimed that he behaves in a more mature way now and doesn’t need to conduct himself like a “clown” for the sake of the cameras. Thoughts immediately went to Conte and Jurgen Klopp, who celebrate every goal as though they’ve just won the World Cup, even if it is their third in a 3-0 win over a side in the bottom half of the table.
During Conte’s press conference ahead of their cup game against Norwich, a journalist asked him about Mourinho’s comments. But the United manager mentioned no names, so Conte grassed on himself by reacting the way he did.
The Chelsea manager claimed that Mourinho had “senile dementia” and tapped his temple when doing so. He’s been saved by Arsene Wenger, making light of suicide following Arsenal’s 2-2 draw against Chelsea, for being guilty of the most inappropriate comments of the week.
After United progressed to the next round of the FA Cup, Conte’s response relayed to Mourinho. Initially, he seemed united with a fellow manager against the press.
“I don’t blame him,” he said “The question that comes to him comes to him wrong and because of that he has that out-of-control reaction. But I don’t blame him at all. I was asked about my passion and you know because most of you were in my press conference I was speaking about myself. And then the question to the Chelsea manager was like I told [them] that he behaved like a clown.”
Yet Mourinho is probably acting more innocent than he actually was. While he can claim now that he was purely talking about how he had changed, it was easy to see how he might have been referring to managers like Conte, who do look daft on the touchlines in their exaggerated reactions. Still, Conte took the bait.
But Mourinho wasn’t done there.
He could have left it, but he chose not to, in a fashion that would have seen Chelsea fans fawning when he was their manager.
“Everybody knows that I don’t need the Chelsea manager to know that I made mistakes in the past and I will make mistakes in the future,” he continued. “I celebrated goals by running 50 metres. I celebrated goals by sliding on my knees. I have celebrated by jumping into the crowd. The only thing I want to say to end the story is that yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline. Yes, I will make less, but I think I will still make a few. What never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and will never happen.”
Conte and his assistant, Angelo Alessio who is now also at Chelsea, were found guilty of failing to report match-fixing at their time with Siena during the season they were promoted to Serie A. It was this success that lead to his appointment at Juventus (who had also been found guilty of match-fixing and relegated to Serie B with a 30 point deduction a few years earlier).
The Chelsea manager was initially banned for 10 months, before this was reduced to four months.
He was later exonerated.
We can all assume that Mourinho knew that Conte had been cleared of this offence years later, but he still wanted to get the dig in.
United are currently above Chelsea in the table, with a superior goal difference, and aren’t set to play each other again until the end of next month. But don’t expect this to be the end of the saga. Conte may well leave Chelsea for PSG at the end of the season, while Mourinho has claimed he will be in Manchester for as long as they want him, but you can imagine there will be a few cross words between the two managers before the season ends.