Tuesday May 4 2021
‘He’s a little man’ – the tense relationship between Conte and Mourinho

José Mourinho and Antonio Conte will meet again in Serie A, but the duo had a tough relationship back in their Premier League days.

The first time they met was in 2009 when Conte was in charge of Atalanta and held Inter’s treble-winning side to a 1-1 stalemate in Bergamo.

However, the big disputes between them begun in October 2016 when the Special One slammed Conte’s humiliating celebration in the final minutes of Chelsea’s win over Manchester United.

Chelsea had beaten Manchester United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge and Mourinho’s frustration was evident when he reproached Conte for his behaviour on the touchline after the final whistle. "You don't celebrate like that at 4-0, you can do it at 1-0, otherwise it's humiliating for us,” Mourinho allegedly told Conte.

That was only the beginning of a huge rivalry that will resume in Serie A in 2021-22.

In March 2017, Chelsea and Manchester United met in an FA Cup tie. United’s Ander Herrera was controversially sent off.

"Everybody can analyse from different perspectives but we all watch the match until the red card and after the red card. So we can compare the decisions of the two yellow cards, in this case with others which were not given," Mourinho said.

The Italian’s reply came thick and fast as he attacked Mourinho’s tactics as the Red Devils had persistently fouled Eden Hazard throughout the game. "He started the game, but he couldn't play football. Everyone could see this so can judge the situation,” Conte said.

At the end of the season, Conte warned his Chelsea players: "two years ago Chelsea finished 10th. That cannot happen again. We know the difficulty and for sure we want to avoid the Mourinho season with Chelsea.”

"I don't know," Mourinho replied when asked to comment on Conte’s statements. "I could answer in many different ways but I'm not going to lose my hair to speak about Antonio Conte," impicitely referring to the Italian’s hair transplant.

In October 2017, after United had beaten Benfica in the Champions League, Mourinho once again hit out at Conte: "I never speak about injuries. Other managers, they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured, I don’t cry,” he said.

Conte told his predecessor to mind his own business when the subject was raised with him later that night.

"I think he has to think about his team and start looking at himself, not others,” he said. “I think that, a lot of times, Mourinho [likes to concentrate on] what is happening at Chelsea. A lot of times, also last season. [He has] to think about his team.

"I think he has to think about his team and start looking at himself, not others. I think that, a lot of times, Mourinho likes to concentrate on what is happening at Chelsea. A lot of times, also last season. He has to think about his team," was Conte’s answer.

It was a new year and new controversy in 2018 when the Portuguese coached referred to Conte as a ‘clown’.

“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."

Once again, Conte’s reply was harsh and used the Italian phrase ‘demenza senile’, which translates as senile dementia.

"I think he has to see himself in the past - maybe he was speaking about himself in the past. Maybe, sometimes, I think that someone forgets what's said in the past, which is his behaviour," the Italian added.

That was yet not the last chapter as Mourinho recalled Conte’s suspension for match-fixing in 2012. The FIGC had accused Conte of failing to report alleged match-fixing involving his former club Siena during the previous campaign.

"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," said Mourinho.

"I think when there are these types of comments, comments where you try to offend the person and don't know the truth, then you are a little man," Conte replied.

"In the past he was a little man in many circumstances, he's a little man in the present and for sure he will be a little man in the future. I consider him a little man and I consider him a man with a very low profile."

In that same month, Mourinho insisted the war of words with Conte was over. "When I don't start it's quite funny for me to see other people on the other side acting like victims when they're not the victims," he said. "But, really, I don't enjoy. That's why, for me, it's over."

However, he insisted Conte should have apologised, as he had done with Claudio Ranieri in the past. “When I think it's my fault and I should behave in a different way I'm the first one to apologise, like I did with Ranieri when I had the chance.

"That's when our relations went from bad to good and from good to very good, because I was man enough to apologise."

There was even a smile and a handshake between the pair at Old Trafford in February 2018. “The handshake before and after the match is an example that everything in football you have to move on and you have to respect each other,” said Mourinho.

The last time they met was in the 2018 FA Cup Final, when Antonio Conte’s Chelsea lifted the trophy over Mourinho’s United.

"I think with Jose we have clarified the situation and that is the most important thing. There is not a problem between him and I," the coach confirmed in May.

Now, it’s only a matter of time to discover whether that is true or not.