Having won seven major trophies, including three Premier League titles, in two stints as Blues boss, statistically-speaking Mourinho is without any shadow of doubt the London club’s greatest manager — a fact the Portuguese was swift to remind the small section of Chelsea supporters who taunted him during their side’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
Cries of “Judas” and worse emanating from the normally sedate East Stand behind the technical area, where Mourinho spent an increasingly agitated 90 minutes, were countered irately by the 54-year old with a three-fingered reference to the league titles won and postmatch comments that until this record was broken “Judas is No. 1.”
Predictably this led to an apocalyptic meltdown on social media where Mourinho has become an increasingly divisive figure among Chelsea supporters since he took the job at Old Trafford.
Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the man once revered as the “Special One” by Blues fans the world over was the architect of his own downfall at the Bridge when he was unceremoniously sacked midway through last season, Mourinho retained the respect, loyalty and love of the Chelsea populous to whom he had brought so much joy.
When Antonio Conte was appointed as his full time successor, few, Mourinho included probably, could have imagined the remarkable impact the Italian would have — not only in terms of resurrecting Chelsea’s fortunes, but also by way of reinventing the way football is played in the English top-flight.
The Blues were only two league games into their Premier League record-equalling 13-game winning streak when Mourinho returned to the Bridge for the first time as Man United manager. The occasion saw him given a cordial reception with no trace of malice from the home crowd and it was down to the business on the pitch.
Chelsea steamrollered United 4-0. A breathtaking performance that made a bold statement about Conte’s new regime. The Italian’s unbridled touchline passion had already secured him the affection of Blues fans and, with his team beaten out of sight, it got to the United boss who had words with his successor after the whistle about over-celebrating.
It seemed like a case of sour grapes. That and hearing the home fans repeatedly chanting “Antonio, Antonio, Antonio” must have been chastening for Mourinho, but that’s football. Just as in real life, the world moves on.
Rather than leaving it at that and focusing on his job as Manchester United manager, for reasons unbeknown to anyone but himself, from time to time since that defeat Mourinho had slyly veiled digs at Chelsea.
Be it the supposed “defensive” style of play Conte apparently advocates, the fixture schedule that helps the Blues, or the quality of support at the Bridge. Such remarks are water off a duck’s back for many fans who recall his sledging style when he was the lord of SW6 and put it down as typical pandering to his new audience, But, like rust bubbling away beneath a bright shiny surface, for others there is a corrosiveness which has started to tarnish his outstanding legacy.
The Premier League table which sees Chelsea top by 10 points and 17 points clear of sixth placed United doesn’t lie; nor does the fact that it is the Blues and not United that have progressed to the semifinals of the FA Cup. Surely this should be enough for Mourinho to give up the goading and realise that until he can get the better of Conte it makes him look foolish.
Sadly this seems unlikely to happen. With Chelsea due at Old Trafford for a league fixture next month there will no doubt be more vituperation and associated supporter squabbling.
Conte has the ability and desire to suggest he could surpass Mourinho’s notable feats as Chelsea manager, but he has yet to win a trophy with them. Mourinho has already won the EFL Cup for Man United, but he knows he has to deliver more and will forever be desperate to put one over on his former employers.
Like all grand love affairs that come to an end there can be a bittersweet element. In the fullness of time, maybe when Mourinho has departed England, perhaps Chelsea supporters will unify to reminisce fondly about their love for the “Special One” and the silverware-lined glory of his madness. Right now though, it’s all about Conte — a new passion, a new true love. And true love conquers all: including Mourinho and Manchester United.
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