Wenger vs Ferguson. Mourinho vs Benitez. Conte vs Mourinho?
Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge was always going to have as much spice as a Vindaloo, even if the on-pitch action was expected to be a little stale. The match itself had fireworks from the off, which only fired up the two men in the touchline.
Two of the league’s most openly expressive managers clashed. Mourinho, in a moment of astounding hypocrisy, did not like the way that Antonio Conte celebrated. Well, Mourinho claims this is why he made such a fuss, of course. There is a significant chance that this is a typical plot from the former Real Madrid manager to create a different discussion and minimise the public post mortem of another shoddy Manchester United showing.
Mourinho’s rocky past with Chelsea, along with being the club’s most successful manager of all-time, will always make his returns to Stamford Bridge emotive. When this is partnered with an emphatic Chelsea victory and a vibrant, hyperactive manager in the opposing dugout, it was inevitable that something, or someone, would find their place under Mourinho’s skin and on the end of some typical tabloid-aimed bullets.
Even without the Stamford Bridge backdrop or bitter, recent rivalry between their two clubs, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte are two personalities that would clash. They have distinct similarities in some aspects, high emotion being the most evident, while both adopt slightly different approaches on the touchline. As has so often been suggested, Conte is more like the mid-2000s Mourinho, excitable, energetic, flamboyant. Mourinho must not be able to help seeing his former self, whilst he has – for the most part – become a snarling, less-reactive figure on the touchline.
Managerial rivalries are, by their very definition, petty. Triggered by testosterone fuelled aggression and continued while post-game emotions are still running high, they seldom have the chance to subside. The anger, frustration and bitter taste rumbles under the surface until the two men meet again. Sometimes without the troublesome, yet meaningless, pre-game handshake, rivalries can continue for years, they can become a bookmark for a manager’s career.
Conte and Mourinho possess all the trademarks of a marathon rivalry. Two clubs who are often competing close to each other in the league standings, two clubs who will regularly face one another in additional cup matches and the overwhelming history that already makes this such a bitter contest, it is hard to see how these two stubborn, hardened competitors will resolve their differences. Once it has begun, managers rarely return to a civil relationship.
Any long-term bubbling rivalry between these two relies on one thing; that they both stay in their respective jobs. That, with Mourinho’s track record and Roman Abramovich’s historical impatience, is the greatest threat to what could be one of the Premier League’s classic battles.