LONDON: The war of words between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho escalated as the managers of Chelsea and Manchester United used their FA Cup press conference opportunities to exchange insults.
Tetchy words were exchanged after Conte took over Mourinho’s old job at Stamford Bridge in 2016. Then came another spat last summer after Mourinho persuaded Romelu Lukaku to join United instead of Chelsea.
Last Thursday Mourinho criticised coaches who “behave as a clown on the touchline,” comments interpreted as an attack on Conte and Jurgen Klopp.
Conte responded on Friday by implying that Mourinho was going senile, called Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger an “old coach” who needed to accept refereeing decisions with more grace and declared himself “ready to fight” anyone who criticised him or his squad.
He said: “There are other persons who prepare to have a cinema in the press conference, before the game and during the game. I’m not this type of person. In my one year and a half [at Chelsea], I never talk about other coaches or if I did, only to make compliments. But I am starting to be a bit annoyed. People who know me well in Italy [know] if you want to go fight with me, I am ready.”
Mourinho was also ready to fight.
After United’s 2-0 defeat of Derby on Friday night Mourinho alluded to the matchfixing charges laid against Conte at Siena during the 2010-11 Serie A season. Conte was cleared of wrongdoing in May 2016 but that did not prevent Mourinho recalling the incident.
Mourinhos said: “I made mistakes in the past on the touchline and 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.”
This sparked a further, personal and direct outburst from Conte after the 0:0 draw at Norwich.
He said: “Before you make these type of comments you must pay great attention, otherwise for sure you are a little man. I know him [Mourinho] very well from the past. He was a little man in many circumstances, he is a little man in the present and for sure he will be a little man in the future.”
Conte and Mourinho come face to face next in the Premier League on February 25 at Old Trafford.