Antonio Conte’s classy management means Chelsea supporters have moved on from Jose Mourinho for the first time in a decade, according to Jamie Carragher.
The former Liverpool defender, now a pundit, believes Chelsea fans had always yearned for Mourinho since his first spell in charge of the club came to an abrupt end in 2007.
But after watching Blues supporters goad the Manchester United boss for the second time this season in Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final victory, he thinks the ghost of Mourinho has finally been banished from Stamford Bridge.
“Would there have been a point in those early months when a section of the Chelsea support hankered for Mourinho still being their manager?” Carragher wrote in The Daily Mail.
“You always felt after Mourinho left the first time, in September 2007, that Stamford Bridge yearned for him to come back.
“When he returned with Inter Milan in March 2010 and knocked Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea out of the Champions League, they pined for him even more.
“The hankering continued last season even after Mourinho was sacked, as the crowd turned on Chelsea’s players. Now the yearning is over. Monday night was the line in the sand.
“Conte has not allowed himself to be bullied and it felt like a huge moment on Monday when he stood up to Mourinho on the touchline as Chelsea knocked United out of the FA Cup.
“In many ways, it could be the moment Conte cemented his place in the affections of Chelsea’s fans.
“What Conte has proved in the last six months is that it was naive to think he would play second fiddle to the battle for supremacy between Pep Guardiola and Mourinho. This, make no mistake, is one of the finest managers in the business.
“Chelsea’s last Italian manager won the double in his first year, but that success – along with all the rest between Mourinho’s first spell ending and his second starting – felt like it had something to do with the Portuguese. The spine of that team was his team.
“Now, though, Chelsea are moving into a different era and never did change feel more in the air than when the Stamford Bridge fans had a go at Mourinho during the FA Cup quarter-final.
“This feels like Conte’s Chelsea now. Not only has he shown himself to be a special manager, but he has banished the ghost of Mourinho.”
Conte says his contract situation remains the same as every week – it’s just important to focus on reaching targets for this season. #CFC
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 17, 2017
Carragher feels Mourinho has failed miserably in his attempts to rile Conte this season, adding: “Mourinho had tested Conte before, goading him and sniping at him.
“It all started on the afternoon Chelsea dismantled Manchester United 4-0 in October, when Mourinho shouted down the Italian’s ear at the end of the game and accused him of lacking respect.
“There were other issues, not least on February 11 when Mourinho said, ‘Chelsea are a very good defensive team and defended well with lots of players’. There was another dig last week, when Mourinho said he was, ‘Surprised by the way Chelsea play’.
“It is nonsense to say Chelsea are defensive. There is a huge difference between being a defensive team and being very good defensively. Conte’s Chelsea are the latter.”