War of words between Mourinho and Conte: box office viewing or a step too far?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The title race is all but over, with Manchester City running away with it, 15 points clear at the top of the table. For the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, their season will now be the race for second place, to be crowned the winner of the losers. A single point separates United and Chelsea in the Premier League - and the fight is heating up, on and off the football pitch.
Their respective bosses, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, are engaged in a spat. The managers are fighting in a war of words with Conte calling Mourinho "a little man" and saying he suffers from senile dementia. The Red Devils boss, meanwhile, says he did not need to behave like “a clown” during games to show his passion - and made a reference to the Italian's match-fixing allegations, for which he was acquitted of any wrong-doing in 2011.
How did it come to this? The Guardian's Nick Ames argues that the "unseemly spat" reflects badly on both managers, and it is simply not good enough from such high-profile ambassadors for their clubs and league. He examines the origins of the spat, noting that Conte has never appreciated Mourinho's "unnecessary interest in events at Chelsea", with the Special One feeling bruised by his second stint at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho on the other hand understands that it's not worth contesting against Pep Guardiola's supremacy at City, therefore has focused his one-upmanship on the nearest rivals in the league.
He concludes: "Those who like their football in soap opera instalments may be rapt but it would be more appropriate to see them go “face to face” – in Conte’s words – next month with a modicum of dignity and fair humour.
"Being a “little man” is one thing; such an unseemly race to the bottom will conclude only when both men make an effort to be the bigger one."
The war of the words between the managers is making "box office viewing", according to the Independent, especially with United and Chelsea set to meet on February 25. While the spat between the highly respected duo is "distasteful", there is a certain thrill to seeing them clash in public.
They write: "A lot of this may be unseemly, may be ill-advised, may be distasteful and may serve as a distraction from the football, but it is the very football that adds to the thrill.
"It is genuinely remarkable - and hilarious - that two men as respected as this, and as hugely accomplished in the game as this, will so willingly sink to such levels; to get so dirty in public.
"There is that slightly guilty joy at the prospect of what they’ll say next; where they’ll be willing to go."
Former Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea striker Chris Sutton writes in the Daily Mail that he cannot remember two managers having a row of such a personal nature. Mourinho and Conte are intent on having the last word, but the bitter row has gone too far, the TV pundit argues. He adds that they ought to concentrate on the job at hand, with neither of the managers coming out of it well.
Manchester United next face Stoke City in the Premier League, playing the Potters at Old Trafford on Monday (K.O. 8pm). Chelsea play Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg tomorrow (K.O. 8pm), and then host Leicester City in the league on Saturday (K.O. 3pm).