You can’t call it two bald men fighting over a comb because that only sets Jose Mourinho up for another jibe at Antonio Conte’s hair.
It’s nothing new to us by now that the Manchester United manager and the Chelsea one don’t really get along. Ever since Mourinho’s humiliating return to Stamford Bridge in October 2016, when his side were soundly beaten 4-0, there has been a public animosity between the two.
And whether the latest installment has to do with Mourinho’s desire to take some of the pressure off the fact that his side are no longer in a title race or whether it’s down to a morbid fascination with his former club it is almost irrelevant to what’s going on here.
These things are, of course, a whole lot of fun. We’re supposed to take the moral high ground and say that this disrupts us from the actual football. Much in the same way that you might be inclined to publicly state that watching Love Island and Big Brother is a brain-rotting pursuit unworthy of your time – that might be true, but lower pleasures are pleasures nonetheless.
And indeed, if you’re of a Manchester United persuasion this season, none of the thrilling primal entertainment for which football is famous comes from the Old Trafford pitch. So there’s nothing particularly wrong with taking what we can get from what is a fairly sad managerial spat.
Yet none of that should make up for what this dose of press conference handbags really is: an utterly pointless rivalry. It is an entirely fabricated argument between two men whose teams are a full six victories behind the league leaders after just 22 games.
Footballing rivalries are usually organic. They stem from on-the-pitch drama, the pressure of a title race, a battle for regional supremacy or even some animous from a perceived wrong in a previous match: there are all sorts of reasons why two managers or two clubs would take their hatred of each other into press conferences. This is different, though. This didn’t start with any of that. This started when Jose Mourinho baited up a massive hook and threw it in the general vicinity of Antonio Conte, who wholeheartedly bit down on the prize.
There is a game on the horizon. United host Chelsea at the end of February in a game we’d all like to think will be fiery and mean-spirited in the vein of the feud we’ve witnessed over the last week. And yet, whilst the two men will undoubtedly be up for the fight, it’s hard to think that the players will be too bothered. And when it comes to game time next month, Mourinho and Conte might both have realised that all of this aggro was a mistake.
It’s one thing to manufacture a rivalry in order to get your team motivated for the rest of a season which already seems to be stagnating, but it’s another to do it to the detriment of your own ambitions. Just days before the teams take to the field at Old Trafford in the Premier League, both sides will have faced Spanish opposition in the Champions League – games which are far more important to their chances of winning silverware this season.
The Premier League is gone. Caring about it now would surely make Champions League and even FA Cup success that little bit more difficult. And yet, fighting each other for second place seems to be what the current and former Chelsea bosses are doing, and all it does is turn a game which should be secondary to a Champions League knockout round into one which will generate all the interest of a heavyweight boxing match.
Perhaps this is all one hugely calculated ploy from both managers to ensure the motivation of their teams. Maybe this is an attempt to cajole listing players into form ahead of the spring when winning cup competitions are going to be the main aim. But the personal nature of the jibes handed out suggests that this isn’t calculated.
Like two reality TV stars, Mourinho and Conte are debasing themselves in front of an entertained crowd, and at a time when the Premier League is gone, but when big competitions are still there to be won, it’s pointless, petty and really very sad to be fighting about it now. For the rest of us, though, it’s a lot of fun to watch.