Chelsea drew their fourth consecutive game on Saturday afternoon, their third 0-0 in a row, after they failed to beat the 10 men of Leicester City.
The fans inside Stamford Bridge booed their team off the pitch at the final whistle, with Antonio Conte left scratching his head and wondering where it’s all gone wrong.
If he could be this self-reflective, he may regret deciding to start a war of words with Jose Mourinho, which may have taken his eye off the ball.
On January 4th, Mourinho was asked whether he had lost his passion for the game, as he behaves differently on the touchline now than he did in the past. United fans will remember better than most his run down the touchline when his Porto side won at Old Trafford.
Reports in the papers had suggested that this change in behaviour was a sign of his unhappiness at the club and that he planned to move on in the summer, which Mourinho found insulting.
“Because I don’t behave as a clown on the touchline, it means that I lost my passion,” he 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. That passion, you see it every day. The way a person is dedicated to his work, not what you do in front of the cameras.”
Thoughts immediately jumped to managers like Jurgen Klopp and Conte, who celebrate even the most meaningless goal as if they’ve won the World Cup.
Mourinho later further clarified this comments, after Conte had accused him of having “senile dementia”, explaining that he was purely talking about himself, and not any other manager.
“I was asked about my passion and you know I was speaking about myself,” he said. “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.”
When Conte had insulted Mourinho after his “clown” comments, he made a couple of mistakes. Firstly, he allowed himself to be sucked in by the media in to believing Mourinho had been talking about him. The journalist said it “had been suggested” they were. At that stage, Conte could have asked the journalist why that was the case. “Do you think I’m a clown? No, me neither. So he wasn’t talking about me.” Instead, Conte responded by attacking Mourinho.
His second mistake was to use senile dementia as a way of having a dig at someone. Despite Chelsea’s press officer trying to cover his tracks, claiming that he meant “amnesia” when he said “demenza senile”, it was clear that nothing had been lost in translation.
So in response to Conte’s insult, Mourinho brought up the Chelsea’s manager’s past, when he had been found guilty of failing to report match-fixing when at Siena. He was later cleared of this as Italy manager, in a fast track trial, three weeks before he was due to lead the international team to Euro 2016.
“Yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline,” Mourinho said, with an expressionless face. “Yes, I will make less but I think I will still make a few. 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.”
Conte was apoplectic in response, following Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Norwich in the FA Cup, and lashed out at Mourinho.
“It’s really difficult to answer these comments, when a person has the target to offend, you are a little man,” he said. “You all know him very well in the past, he’s always the same. This is the way, it’s not a surprise. When you insult a man or another person, you are a little man and I think he is a little man. The life will go on. For sure there is a good opportunity when we play Manchester United [to meet him face to face].”
Three days later, Conte continued to speak about Mourinho. “He used serious words,” he said. “I won’t forget this.” Presumably because he doesn’t have senile dementia, like Mourinho, right?
In Mourinho’s most recent press conference, ahead of United’s Monday night game against Stoke, the manager had the final word on the fall out.
“I think when a person insults another, you can expect a response or you can expect contempt, silence,” he said. “The first time he insulted me, I had a response that I know that touched the point where he really feels hurt. Then he insulted me for a second time, but now I change. For me, contempt means end of the story.”
Conte first insulted Mourinho and spat his dummy out when Mourinho retaliated. What did he expect? The booing Chelsea supporters will likely be wishing their manager bows out of this one gracefully and starts focussing on fixing what is going wrong on the pitch instead.