Manchester United take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday with the hope of adding some silverware to their second-placed finish in the league.
Jose Mourinho’s fortunes against his former club have been mixed. He’s won every game he’s played against them at Old Trafford and lost every game he’s played against them at Stamford Bridge. On neutral soil at Wembley, who will have the advantage?
This won’t be the first time the two teams have faced each other in the FA Cup final and in the last one it was Jose Mourinho on the winning side, for Chelsea. United had just walked away with the league title, ending what had once looked like an indefinite reign of the west London club under Roman Abramovich, so Chelsea took a consolation prize.
Mourinho stood in front of the Chelsea supporters with his hand under his chin, with their fans leaving the ground chanting “chin up if you’ve won the cup!” while United fans sang about their success being hollow and how they’d “never win three in a row”. The two years preceding were the first and last time they claimed back-to-back titles.
On this occasion, Mourinho will again be hoping to be on the winning side, but this time wearing red.
His opponent, Antonio Conte, has been the latest casualty of Mourinho’s sharp tongue and it has seemingly left the Italian rattled.
Before the war of words in January, Chelsea were second in the league, one point ahead of United, following their 5-0 win against Stoke. They finished the season fifth and 11 points behind Mourinho’s team.
Conte was the victim of the press winding him up, as much as he was his own stupidity. Mourinho had been asked in his press conference about whether he was happy at United, given that he behaved differently now than he did when he first came to the Premier League in 2004.
“Because I don’t behave as a clown on the touchline, it means that I lost my passion,” Mourinho said. “I prefer to behave the way I am doing it, much more mature, better for my team and myself, I don’t think you have to behave like a crazy guy on the touchline to have that passion.”
These comments were relayed to Conte, who interpreted it as a dig at him, presumably because he views himself as a clown who behaves like a crazy guy. His response was to claim that Mourinho was suffering from senile dementia. Chelsea quickly tried to clarify this comment, suggesting that Conte meant Mourinho was suffering from amnesia, but they’re crazy if they think the manager’s words, “demenza senile”, were lost in translation. He was rattled and chose his words poorly.
Initially, it looked as though Mourinho was happy to take the high road when he was asked about Conte’s unprovoked insult. His demeanour was calm as he was asked about the Chelsea manager’s jibe.
“I was speaking about myself saying I don’t need to behave like a clown to show passion. I control my emotions in a better way. Everybody knows, I don’t need the Chelsea manager to say I made mistakes in the past,” he started.
Nothing to see here. He claimed he didn’t blame Conte for his response, who he thought had been asked an unfair question from the journalists.
But then he went in. Hard.
“The only way I want to end the story is: yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline and yes, I will make less but I’ll still make a few. What has never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and it will never happen.”
Wow. Not a change to his facial expression and no change in his tone of voice.
Conte had been found guilty of failing to report match-fixing when he was manager of Siena. In 2016, his appeal was fast tracked by Italian football federation, weeks ahead of him being due to take charge of the Italian national team at Euro 2016, and he was found not guilty.
In response, passionate Conte lost the plot, Kevin Keegan-style, as he further insulted the United manager. Not only did he have senile dementia, he was a very little man with a very low profile, according to the Italian.
“I think before you make this type of comment, to insult another person, you must pay great attention. You show you are a little man. A little man,” he said. “In the past he was a little man in many circumstances, he is a little man in the present and for sure he will be a little man in the future. Mourinho is this. The level is very low. I repeat: I think before you speak you have to know very well what happened. But this is not my problem. I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile.”
If you hadn’t picked up on it, Conte thinks Mourinho is a little man.
Having won 14 out of the first 21 games of the season, taking us to the new year, they won just seven out of 17 after that point.
Maybe that had nothing to do with Mourinho. Maybe Conte and Chelsea were ready to self-destruct before their former manager stirred the pot, but it’s likely this battle of words didn’t help.
Having made not so subtle digs about not wanting to have a “Mourinho season”, as Conte called it, back in the summer, the Chelsea manager has been left with egg on his face following the club’s downfall.
A trophy win could settle the war, with it unlikely they will face each other again any time soon. It will be no surprise if Conte is sacked on the back of Chelsea losing the final, just as it wouldn’t be a shock if he walks if they win it. He looks like he’s done. But as much as both managers want to get one over the other, they will be craving silverware to make up for their lack of title challenge and, in Chelsea’s case, their absence of Champions League football next season.
Who will have the last laugh?