Chelsea: Conte alone on the high ground as Mourinho, Guardiola pull stunts

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte looks on during the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea at Amex Stadium on January 20, 2018 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte looks on during the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea at Amex Stadium on January 20, 2018 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

Antonio Conte’s class and courtesy stymie the football gossip industry. While pundits create faux drama for Chelsea FC, Conte’s peers disgrace themselves with stunts and immaturity.

Antonio Conte’s pre-match press conferences are battles of persistence vs. endurance. The assembled media push, prod and cajole the Chelsea manager into giving up a soundbite or highly clickable headline. Conte puts up with it all, giving the same answers about not commenting on other team’s players and not taking the bait over who said what.

Occasionally, Conte gives them what they want. His feud with Jose Mourinho a few weeks ago and the “bulls**t” episode around Diego Costa’s transfer were the most notable. But they are notable precisely because they are the exception.

Antonio Conte’s professionalism and class are in increasingly stark contrast to his peers atop the table. Mourinho is seemingly in a competition with himself to create the biggest self-caricature. He used Marouane Fellaini as a sub-on / sub-off prop to distract from a disastrous defensive showing and a heated argument with Paul Pogba during the midweek game against Tottenham.

After defeating Huddersfield 2-0 on Saturday, Mourinho deflected the conversation away from his team by criticizing the fans. If only the Old Trafford faithful were more like Portsmouth, he said. “I remember Portsmouth – such a small stadium, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. In here, the atmosphere is a bit quiet and there is not very (much enthusiasm).”

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Hours earlier, though, Pep Guardiola won the battle of the pouting managers before the first kick-off. Guardiola named only six players to his bench against Burnley. He was attempting to make a point about injuries, which may be part of a broader concern about match officials needing to do a better job protecting players. That is a legitimate and valid issue.

But the idea of Manchester City being short on players is somewhat risible after they spent £100 million in the January transfer window. And as Gary Neville pointed out, this was a joke at the expense of everyone involved in Manchester City’s highly successful academy.

"If you’re the Academy or reserve team manager at Manchester City you must think ‘I’m wasting my time’… I can guarantee you the youth team coach and reserve team coach at Man City will feel disheartened by him having six players on the bench. – SkySports"

Meanwhile, every time Conte stated (and restated) his limited involvement in Chelsea’s transfer activity the pundit-sphere went into overdrive proclaiming his dissatisfaction, dissension throughout the club and his imminent sack. Listicles and unsourced articles of Chelsea’s likeliest next manager (arrival date: June 1, if not sooner) overwhelmed verbatim quotes of Conte affirming his commitment to his contract.

Antonio Conte gives the gossip columns nothing. He does not weigh in on transfer rumours, citing the disrespect towards that player and his manager. He does not use his players as props. He does not manipulate the press, nor train his frustrations on them, the officials or the fans. Conte applauds the home support, even in defeat, and accepts the full weight of the responsibility for those losses.

In return, the media call for his head and imply Roman Abramovich is nodding in agreement. Meanwhile, they play their part to perfection in Jose Mourinho’s transparent manipulations and continue to praise Pep Guardiola for his genius.

Jose Mourinho routinely blames the fans for their lack of support. This from the man who said Antonio Conte was disrespectful by celebrating the fourth goal in a 4-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

Pep Guardiola denied a young Citizen the opportunity to travel with the team, be inside the first-team locker-room and take in the experience of being among the chosen 18. All to prove a point about… something. But by the end of the week, there will be several more articles about how Antonio Conte does not play – let alone support – Chelsea’s youth (Callum Hudson-Odoi will be unavailable for comment).

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Antonio Conte is standing apart from his peers among the top-of-the-table mega-managers. Chelsea’s gain is the tabloids’ loss, and all lovers of football should celebrate that.