Probably mind games have existed in football for as long as the game itself started, but the man who made it fashionable was former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Who can forget his numerous battles with Arsene Wenger? If you can’t remember all, can you ever forget how he goaded then Newcastle United manager, Kevin Keegan during the 1995 -96 season into making that oh so unflattering rant of “I will love, love it….”? Keegan lost the plot and Newcastle United lost the title to Manchester United.
Former Liverpool manager, now, oh dear, Newcastle United boss, Rafa Benitez also had a taste of the Alex Ferguson’s magical mind games.
During the 2008-09 season, Liverpool appeared to be running away with the premier league title until Sir Alex found his way into Rafa’s head. Benitez came up with the “Fact,fact, fact…” rant. He lost the plot and United won the league.
Perhaps, the only managerial rivalry that was more bitter than the one between Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger was the one between Jose Mourinho and…er Arsene Wenger.
However, a new rivalry is fast developing. In a sense you could call it a sibling rivalry because it stems from the fact that both managers are seeking the attention of big daddy Abrahmovic. This is the rivalry between former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho who is now with Manchester United and his replacement at Stamford Bridge Antonio Conte.
While Conte wants to convince Red Rom and Chelsea fans that they made the right decision by giving Mourinho’s job to him, Mourinho seems hell-bent in proving they made a big mistake by sacking him.
It is safe to say first blood went to Conte because he won the league quite easily in his first season in charge, however it doesn’t seem enough for bragging rights because Mourinho did the same during his first term at the Bridge . On the pitch too it is advantage Conte. The two sides met three times last season, Conte’s Chelsea won two and lost one.
Off the pitch and in the mind, Conte had the upper hand too because he had more to brag about and more importantly, results to back him up.
For instance his jibe about Mourinho not rating Victor Moses and always sending him out on loan whereas Moses became one of the most influential players in the Chelsea’s success story under Conte.
Mourinho kept quiet mainly because it was his first season at Old Trafford and he was still trying to find his feet and weave his way into the hearts of the Theatre of Dreams faithfuls.
Once he got the club into Champions League, his confidence grew and project “Conte Out “ began. Firstly, Mourinho waited until Conte was already singing about his number one target, Lukaku. I am sure he probably already chose his shirt number and locker for him, then the mind games player struck and hijacked the deal leaving Conte and the rest of the big boys in Stamford Bridge with egg on their faces.
Secondly, Mourinho wanted a second reunion with Matic but because of the Lukaku embarrassment, Chelsea were still sulking and didn’t want to sell to him. What did Mourinho do? He went after Bakayoko the Chelsea target. The Chelsea hierarchy could not afford the embarrassment of Mourinho hijacking another of their cherished deals so pronto they were forced to buy the player though he was still recovering from a knee operation.
The third win for Mourinho in the coming season was initiated by Conte. Wanting to score a cheap point at the expense of Mourinho Conte said “ let’s not have a Jose Mourinho season.” He was of course referring to the fact that after winning the Premiership the previous season, Mourinho was sacked the next one when results were not going his way and the club was closer to relegation zone than champions league position.
When journalists asked Mourinho what he thought of Conte’s comments, he ruffled his full hair and said “ I don’t know. I could answer in many different ways but I am not willing to lose my hair to speak about Antonio Conte “!! Oops.
If you recall, Conte underwent hair transplant operation in Canada before going into management in 2007.
You can surely expect more interesting games from the two managers in the coming season, both on the pitch and in the minds. May the better man win.