“Football is passion.”
– Antonio Conte, pre-match press conference vs Watford
Tony Conte finds his teeth grating once again as he finds a familiar foe lying in wait with his full assortment of booby traps, on the occasion of his arrival at the south of the Watford gap. There will be no love lost, and certainly, the hospitality on show will be nothing more than the levels of bordering rudimentary civility. To the new Chelsea boss, it might seem like Walter Mazzarri’s elongated shadow seems to have been chasing him everywhere he goes, like in those old Italian crime Noir feature films – turn upon turn, alley upon alley. The scene is set to add yet another encounter, and perhaps even some strafing in the technical area of Vicarage Road.
Conte didn’t take kindly to the fact that Mazzarri suggested the fact that his fiery Italian peer was mooching off his hard work. Conte, then at Juventus, changed from his signature 4-2-4 to an adopted 3-5-2 formation that was the jet fuel in Napoli’s engine, shooting them up to the topmost strata of Italian football.
It didn’t quite stop there, nor did it start there. Conte, a young manager, by all means, was a surprise choice for the Juventus job, which as the narrative would have it, was prized by Walter Mazzarri, after the departure of Luigi Delneri in the autumn of 2011.
Conte’s rise saw Juventus win back-to-back-to-back Serie A championships, embellishing one of the titles with Arsenal’s once seemingly improbable feat of going through an entire league campaign – a new Serie A record at that, also one on most points won. Despite all his successes, Walter Mazzarri always got an ire out of Tony Conte whenever they shared the touchline.
“Mazzarri? Haha! We didn’t speak. We didn’t even shake hands, never, never, never. I can assure you that we didn’t we even look at each other. Each to his own bench, it’s always better that way.”
– Tony Conte, 2011, after his side’s 1-1 draw vs Napoli.
Fortunes have differed – Tony Conte has never looked back from his achievements at Juventus, and then staunchly mustering his collective motivational strength to stitch together one of the most talentless, bankrupted Italian team into a fully functioning, cohesive unit that went as far as the quarter-finals of the European Championships 2016, tactically laying waste to Spain and Belgium on their way to that berth. For Walt, the general direction of Inter Milan (downwards) was marked and looked irretrievable, he was doomed to fail which he did, and now finds his extensive talents being employed by Watford.
Essentially almost alike in their guiding philosophies and personalities – but different enough to have their differences be irreconcilable. It has been the better part of two years that Conte and Mazzarri find themselves embroiled themselves in a war of Italian football 101, you’d think they’d bury the hatchet – but as we know, football has reputation of holding grudges and keeping score. And in the stoic nature of one-upmanship, they’ll do their talking, vicariously, out in the open, like in ancient Italy, as their gladiators fight for their glory.