Monday 16 July 2018

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Comment: Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho's spat is highlight of the season - the more personal and vindictive it gets, the better

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, pictured right, and Jose Mourinho
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, pictured right, and Jose Mourinho

Chris Bascombe

One hopes the League Managers Association has a strong message for Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho this morning. Something along the lines of: “Carry on boys, this is great.”

With respect to the excellence of Manchester City and majesty of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, Conte and Mourinho’s ongoing spat is the highlight of the season.

Those wishing to halt it ought to pipe down, turn off social media and spend the next few weeks in a darkened room overdosing on images more in tune with the sensitive disposition; just re-watch your box set of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and let the rest of us look forward to the next installment of managers at war.

Why discourage Conte and Mourinho tearing a strip off each other? Yes it is undignified. Of course it exposes the deep insecurities and ego-mania which anyone who deals with many top class managers witnesses on a daily basis.

But it is riveting too see them unable to utter each others name for fear of blistering their tongue. Instead of appealing for calm, we should demand Eddie Hearn is recruited to host their press conferences.

Better still, when Chelsea travel to Old Trafford the Premier League should follow the example of Germany where opposing managers host their post-match briefing at the same time.

Forget the game. Just hand Conte and Mourinho a microphone and turn United’s press room into a recreation of the set of ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’

Conte and Mourinho: the Bette Davies and Joan Crawford of the Premier League era.

There are some worried this feud will spiral further out of control. Splendid. The more personal and vindictive it gets, the better. Obviously there are crusaders organising the monthly pilgrimage to football’s moral high ground - pleading for peace talks and LMA chief Richard Bevan’s intervention.

Let them march upwards while we buy tickets for the cesspit and ensure a ready supply of popcorn for the next few months.

There is nothing more satisfying than the artifice of managers respecting their peers crumbling. Let the public see and hear what these folks really think of each other.

Conte and Mourinho are demonstrating what anyone covering the highest level of the game has long known but is disguised in choreographed PR pap. The most successful managers can’t stand each other.

They may issue a few platitudes from time to time, but deep down they all think they are superior and would crawl over a pitch laid with barbed wire to steal each others’ jobs. The LMA is undermined by the hypocrisy of its members, chastising the number of sackings in one breath while manoeuvring into position to secure their next job – at the expense of beleaguered fellow members - the next.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of assessing the relative qualities of the world’s leading coaches with one of Europe’s most successful managers. When discussing his rivals he sounded like James Bolam in that famous scene from ‘The Likely Lads’, contemptuously dismissing the virtues of anyone he had encountered.

“What do you think of Ferguson?”

“Not a coach. He does nothing on the training pitch.”


“An actor. He can only work with money.”

 “That Guardiola is doing well in Barcelona isn’t he?”

“Lucky. He has Messi.”

“Do you like Ranieri?”

“A disaster in Valencia”


“He’s not bad.”

Such conversations will be repeated at many clubs around Europe every season, managers studiously assessing their opponents’ squad and formation with a potent cocktail of jealously and disdain.

This is what makes them tick, at least 90 per cent of the most successful coaches possessing idiosyncrasies making it impossible for us lesser mortals to avoid the conclusion that they are very, very odd.

It is what separates the winners from the rest. Too many psychologists have published studies into the benefits of being a sociopath if you want to be a truly successful leader for it not to have merit. The greatest are so great because of their imperfections as much as their strengths. Flawed geniuses are more interesting.

As long as you’re winning a trophy on a regular basis, managers can be forgiven just about anything by their own fanbase.

So let’s have no appeals for Conte and Mourinho to kiss-and-make-up. Tell Kofi Annan to stay at home. We don’t need a stoppage. Let this one go the distance.

Online Editors

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