Manchester United v Chelsea tomorrow provides a managerial battle that should whet the appetite of any football fan of any persuasion, but for Chelsea supporters the sight of Jose Mourinho going head to head with Antonio Conte is the perfect game of Top Trumps.
There cannot be anyone who knows both those managers better than Chelsea fans who savoured the Special One’s glory days during two spells at Stamford Bridge but also experienced the endless controversy that came with it — and saw him sacked twice.
But how does he compare in key categories against the man who has replaced him at the Bridge and who has taken a Chelsea team which finished 10th in the Premier League last season to the brink of title glory this time?
Paul O’Brien, club secretary of the Chelsea Dublin Supporters Club, sent the message around his club’s WhatsApp group in a bid to discover the answers and came back with some interesting replies.
Perhaps it should not come as a big shock, given Chelsea’s current form, that Conte came out on top overall — his ability to achieve similar results to Mourinho but with less controversy, more decorum and more humility always gave him advantage.
The fact he has not yet had a chance to prove he can maintain that kind of heady excitement over a long period, or manage the transition of new players into an established team, means the results can only exist in a temporary bubble; but they are nevertheless insightful. It should certainly open up a debate ahead of tomorrow’s game when Mourinho has a chance to provide his own answer.
Man management: Conte 10 Mourinho 8
Antonio Conte seems to delight in bringing players on, players such as Victor Moses who has improved so much this season. Mourinho builds them up but then seems to delight in bringing them back down again at a time of his choosing. Remember the way he handled Hazard at Chelsea? And now Shaw at United?
Motivation: Conte 9 Mourinho 9
Both managers have that will to be the best and to come out on top. It’s hard to choose between two proven winners.
Tactics: Conte 9 Mourinho 8
Antonio Conte has played attacking football with a mind on defence this season. He tried out four at the back before switching to three, a switch which initiated a long winning run. The attitude of Mourinho in his Chelsea days was defend first. He was always happy to sit on a 1-0 lead and bring on John Obi Mikel as a spoiler — which often proved fatal. Not a lot seems to have changed at Old Trafford.
Press interviews: Conte 9 Mourinho 10
Conte comes across as a genuinely nice guy, honest and forthright with his opinions and has almost a humble approach. On the other side of the coin, Mourinho is box office when it comes to interviews. Positive or negative, in good mood or bad, the Special One will entertain at every opportunity. Never underestimate, either, his underlying strategy — he rarely talks without a goal in mind.
Mind games: Conte 9 Mourinho 10
This category, so far, is not so much of a contest. Conte’s message is pretty simple — we play our games, we win our matches, we don’t have to worry about anyone else. Mourinho, on the other hand, is the king of mind games. He often devotes more to them in the build-up to a match than is necessarily required. But he’s been able to get the better of most opponents.
Touchline antics: Conte 9 Mourinho 7
It won’t surprise anyone to see Antonio Conte ahead in this category. He kicks every ball, celebrates every goal and is one of the most animated managers in the game. Mourinho was less dramatic during his Chelsea time but often turned a game with a single gesture or move that makes the opposition fans go crazy.
Relationship with fans: Conte 9 Mourinho 6
Conte has been welcomed by the Chelsea faithful and chants of ‘Antonio, Antonio’ have been heard at every game this season. Mourinho too remains a massive part of Chelsea history and is welcomed by fans; but his antics, particularly last season, lost a lot of the goodwill he had built up with Chelsea supporters. Moving to a rival team like United hasn’t helped either.
Entertainment value: Conte 10 Mourinho 8
Maybe it comes down to tactics but Mourinho was always happy to sit on a 1-0 lead and defend for 70 or 80 minutes. If Chelsea went 2-0 up by half-time you could almost forget the second half. Conte is different. When he gets one goal he pushes for two, three or four and there have been some great victories at Stamford Bridge this season. The 4-0 against Manchester United on Mourinho’s return to the Bridge stands out. Worth remembering this weekend…
Loyalty: Conte 9 Mourinho 8
It’s early in Conte’s time at Chelsea to judge this category although he has shown every indication of being a loyal character. But is there much loyalty in football any more? Top managers seem to work their two-three year cycle and then move on to the next team. Let’s see what happens but there is something good building under Conte and he’s indicated he wants to stay long term.
Sartorial style: Conte 10 Mourinho 8
Conte turns out in his black suit, white shirt and black tie every game, always effortlessly immaculate. Mourinho is more hit and miss. He sometimes looks as though he’s come straight from bed to touchline. It’s a win for Conte in this category.
TOTAL: Conte 93 Mourinho 82
Chelsea Dublin Supporters Club was established in 1984 and meets once a month in The Half Way House, Ashtown, Navan Road, Dublin 7. Members also watch selected games at Murray’s Bar on O’Connell Street. For futher details: www.cfcdublin.com, @ChelseaDublin, Facebook.com/chelseadublinsc
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