What do Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have in common?
A few things, actually. For one, they’re both at least 15 points behind Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in the Premier League. They also seem to be more concerned with trading verbal jabs than catching the league-leaders.
But you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Because the Mourinho-Conte feud, which continued Friday and Saturday, is one of the most entertaining things English football has going for it right now. Better yet, neither manager is content to let the other have the last word. So on we go.
The feud escalated on Friday when Mourinho dipped into Conte’s past and got personal. A reporter dangled Conte’s comment that Mourinho was “senile” as bait, and the Manchester United boss didn’t hold back.
“What never happened to me, and what will never happen to me, is to be suspended for match-fixing,” Mourinho said.
He was referring to a four-month ban levied against Conte while the Italian was managing Juventus in 2012. It stemmed from alleged match-fixing involving Conte’s former club, Siena, while he was in charge. Conte had originally been charged with the actual fixing. Those charges were dismissed, but he was still punished for failing to report the fix. He was initially hit with a 10-month suspension, but had it reduced to four months on appeal.
Conte has always firmly denied the accusations, and was finally acquitted of any wrongdoing by an Italian court in 2016 – two months before he arrived at Chelsea. So when those two words flew out of Mourinho’s mouth, there was no way he could let them pass without a response.
Less than 24 hours later, he fired back.
“When the target is to offend, to insult another person, you are a little man,” Conte said after a 0-0 FA Cup draw with Norwich. “We all know him very well. He’s always the same.
“This is his way. This is not a surprise for me. When you insult, offend another person, it means you’re a little man. He’s a little man.”
This all began just two days ago. Mourinho, who has gotten increasingly cranky with age, responded to a question about his passion for his job with what was perceived as a veiled dig at Conte and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. “Because I don’t behave as a clown on the touchline, it means that I lost my passion?” Mourinho asked rhetorically.
It’s not the first time Mourinho has complained about Conte’s sideline antics. He took exception to the Italian’s prancing during Chelsea’s 4-0 win over United last season.
So one day later, Conte interpreted Mourinho’s comments as others did. And he hit back by turning Mourinho’s attention to his younger self.
“I think that he has to see himself in the past,” Conte said Friday. “Maybe he was speaking about himself in the past. Maybe, sometimes, I think that someone forgets what they said in the past, his behavior.
Sometimes I think there is, I don’t know the name, demenza senile,” he continued, briefly slipping into Italian for a term that translates to senile demential. “When you are a bit … [taps his head] … when you forget what you do in the past.”
Hours later, after his FA Cup victory over Derby County, Mourinho retaliated. And now here we are. A death-match is surely the next logical step.
Conte tried to play down the feud Saturday toward the end of his interview. “Life will go on,” he said. “I’m not worried about him.”
It remains to be seen, however, if Mourinho is worried about Conte. After the “little man” comments, chances are he is. And chances are we haven’t heard the end of these two.
“There is a good opportunity, when we play against Manchester United, to clarify, in a room, me and him,” Conte said.
A room, or an octagon. Either would suffice.
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