Belfast Telegraph

It's personal between me and Mourinho, I'll never forget feud: Conte


By Nick Purewal

Antonio Conte has insisted his feud with Jose Mourinho is personal and that nobody should intervene.

The Chelsea boss has vowed he "won't forget" Mourinho's criticism, after the Manchester United manager hit out at Conte over the match-fixing scandal in Italy.

Conte branded Mourinho a "little man" after Chelsea's goalless FA Cup third round draw at Norwich on Saturday, and has now stood by those comments.

The former Juventus boss insisted he has no regrets over hitting back at Mourinho, but moved to shut down any further discussion of the two managers' falling out.

"Do I have the look of a person with regret? I don't think so," said Conte. "I think we both said things, and we'll see what happens in future."

Mourinho escalated the war of words with Conte by claiming he would never be "suspended for match-fixing" in a clear reference to the ex-Italy boss' four-month ban.

Conte was hit with a four-month suspension at Juventus in the 2012-13 season for failing to report match-fixing at previous club Siena.

Asked if the League Managers' Association (LMA) should now step in to try to repair the damage between Conte and Mourinho, the Chelsea boss said: "It's not important.

"He has used serious words. And I won't forget this. This is not a problem for the club, it's a problem between me and him. Now I stop. Stop."

Conte is expected to field a strong side for tonight's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg clash with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

Ross Barkley is unlikely to be involved however, though Conte hailed the new recruit for settling quickly to his task following his transfer from Everton.

"I think it is too soon for him," said Conte of Barkley. "But we must be pleased because his physical condition is good, and he has started to train with us and understand our football.

"I think that we must be pleased, but he needs a bit of time to work on the physical and tactical aspects. His condition is good, very good."

Asked when Barkley would be ready for action, Conte continued: "I don't know, it's very difficult to say now. But at the same time I'm very positive, because the player is a good guy, he's shown great will to work, great desire to help us very soon.

"And I think it's very positive. I'm very happy to have Ross with us for the rest of the season."

Meanwhile, Conte has confirmed that Virgil van Dijk was a target for Chelsea before he moved to Liverpool, and it is understood that the Premier League champions are still looking for a centre-half.

One issue for Chelsea in the pursuit of the player is that they were always unwilling to pay more than £50m, £25m short of what Liverpool eventually paid, and that it was already long known that the 26-year-old wanted to work with Jurgen Klopp.

"This is football," Conte said. "This is life. He was our target but as you know this is football. We can have a lot of targets but you must be able to reach those targets. The transfer market is not simple for any club."

The signing of Van Dijk is one reason why Conte thinks that Liverpool will not really be weakened by the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.

"Liverpool bought Van Dijk to reinforce their defensive line, and I think Van Dijk is a top defender," he said.

"And they spent £75m for this player. At the same time, they sold Coutinho (to Barcelona for £142m) because when you sell a player for this amount of money, then you have the rest of the money to invest, to improve your team.

"But I think the transfer market is not simple, it's not simple, especially when there is this amount of money.

"It's not simple, but the best way to look after ourselves, to try to find the best solution for us, is don't look at anyone else.

"But I have great respect for the other teams, for the other managers, because behind every operation there is a programme, there is a plan and I have great respect for every manager, every team."

Belfast Telegraph

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