Saturday, January 6th is the day Jose Mourinho ran into someone who was willing to throw down and engage in bit of trench warfare through the media. The Special One has had plenty of feuds throughout his career, but this one was a bareknuckle boxing match. Conte’s never been one to suffer any fools and if Mourinho thought he could fire snarky barbs in the current Chelsea head coach’s direction, he had another think coming.
Saturday, January 6th is the day Antonio Conte said what many others had thought before but never dared say in public. That’s the day Don Conte, icy cool yet fiery hot at the same time, repeatedly called Mourinho a “little man” and a “fake.”
“You show you are a little man. A little man. You don’t know very well [what] is the situation. But I know him very well in the past. In the past he was a little man in many circumstances, is a little man in the present and for sure he will be a little man in the future.”
-Antonio Conte, January 6, 2018
Sure, it’s silly and demeaning for two grown men — let alone multi-millionaire managers who are the public face of high profile organizations — to get into media spats. But while for Mourinho it’s always been about needling for a competitive edge, for Conte it became a matter of honor. He was deadly serious and seriously angry when Mourinho implied that he had fixed a match.
Sort-of forgotten is how Conte ended that diatribe.
“It will be the opportunity in the game against United (to clarify where they stand) when we go to Old Trafford.
“Me and him face to face. I’m ready. I don’t know if he’s ready. “
-Antonio Conte, January 6, 2018
And now, here we are.
Are we ready?
In the interim (pipe down, Rafa), this match has taken on even greater importance. After a couple of disastrous results against two of the worst clubs in the Premier League, Chelsea are in a perilous fight to stay in the top four. Tottenham are fifth and with a win over Crystal Palace could elbow Chelsea out of the Champions League places.
On the other hand, a win moves Chelsea level with United, currently sitting second. With a trip to Manchester City looming next Sunday, the Blues badly need to get something from their first visit of the season to Cottonopolis (check it out, it’s a thing.)
The positive news is that the good guys (that’s us) have a pretty good recent record against the bad guys (that’s them). Last season we took two out of three against them, including in the FA Cup quarterfinals. This season the first round also turned up Blue, 1-0. Eden Hazard will play and that’s usually bad news for the Red Devils. He has seven wins, five draws and only two losses in his last 14 against them. But there’s slight catch with that stat — Eden has never been on the winning side at Old Trafford.
So a great deal is riding on the outcome of Sunday’s match. It’s more than than a macho mano-a-mano showdown. Indeed, the red tops are suggesting that Jose Mourinho wants to defuse the thing. Quite possibly he’s worried it’s out of control. Whether or not Conte sees it the same way remains to be seen.
The bout so far. Judges scores are sealed, for now.
- Round 1: October 2016: Stamford Bridge. Mourinho gets in Conte’s ear about sideline celebrations during that glorious 4-0 beatdown. The conflict then briefly becomes somewhat about football with Hazard vs. Herrera/fouling, with Hazard (and Chelsea winning) in the FA Cup and the little kicks winning at Old Trafford.
- Round 2: January 2018: Mourinho says he doesn’t have to “act like a clown” on the sideline, attacking Conte (and Klopp) with a classic sly move, after spent much of the past year talking down Conte’s tactics and accomplishments at every chance he got.
- Round 3: January 2018: Conte calls Mourinho clinically demented, later corrected to “senile”
- Round 4: January 2018: Mourinho hits below the belt.
“What never happened to me — and will never happen — is to be suspended for match-fixing.”
-Jose Mourinho, January 2018
- Round 5: January 2018: Conte unloads.
- Round 6: February 25, 2019: ????
Grab the popcorn.