As we started the build-up to Saturday's massive derby against Spurs (all sorts of unbeaten streaks at stake!), I ran across this intriguing picture and tweet from Spurs' official Twitter account while doing the Q&A back-n-forth with our frenemies over at Cartilage Free Captain.
'GN Punk' had jokingly suggested that Poche might put the Stone Cold Stunner on Antonio should tempers flare to the extent they did last time these two teams met, but here instead we had the two managers looking all buddy-buddy, each sporting his stereotypical smile-on-cue smiles. Poche did have the dominant, pack-leader arm across Conte's shoulder, but there seemed to be no overt threat of physical violence.
Just what in the world was going on here?
Of course, that tweet was from a fairly long-time ago, back when Conte was just starting out as Italy boss and Pochettino was barely halfway through his first season at Spurs. The still active link in the tweet (take note, Chelsea official website whose links get 404'd regularly) led to a page, which revealed Conte was on a work trip to England.
"The reason for my visit is to study and to look at some of the situations at clubs in England — especially in London. I am meeting with some managers who I think are doing well and to discover the reasons why they are doing well."
-Antonio Conte, February 2015; source: Tottenham Hotspur FC
No further details were given (what other London clubs did he visit?), but fast-forward almost two years, and Conte filled in the gaps when asked about it in Friday's pre-match press conference ahead of his showdown with the man who was his gracious host.
"I consider Mauricio one of the best managers. And yes, I tell him thank you again in this situation because I had the possibility to visit the training ground and speak with him, to see their training session. I spoke with him and his staff, and we watched a video. I remember that day with great emotion because we spoke a lot about football. This was the first time I'd met him."
"I wanted to come in England and compare my ideas and watch the training sessions. My visit was at West Ham, three days, and Tottenham and Chelsea. It was a fantastic work trip. I watched the training sessions. I spoke with different managers: with Sam Allardyce, with Pochettino and Jose Mourinho here. And it was fantastic because when I have the possibility to compare my ideas and my work with the work of the others, for me it's a moment where I can learn a lot."
When there is a discussion between two managers, you talk about football, but not completely about your ideas. You can talk about 30/35% of your ideas. The other 65% of your ideas you keep for yourself. It's logical this, for me and the other managers. You study a lot."
-Antonio Conte; source: Independent
So neither manager gave away all their secrets, but there are plenty of similarities in style between Conte's preferred brand of football and Pochettino's that it isn't hard to imagine their discussion being a useful one.
Sadly, I've yet to find any details of how Conte's visit with Mourinho may have worked out in what was the middle of our title-winning season.