Expect plenty of intrigue on Saturday when Tottenham Hotspur and AS Roma meet in a preseason friendly on Paramount+. After all, Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son will be clashing against Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala. And while the star players might garner much of the attention, all eyes should be on the touchline. Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho have a long history of competing against each other and managing similar clubs. Both managers have won league titles with Chelsea and Inter Milan and have a long history of competing for the highest honors.
Tensions were high during Mourinho's spell at Manchester United with the managers exchanging barbs in press conferences over spending, player treatment and even jabs over apparent hair transplants, which led to one of the best managerial rivalries in soccer. Those days might be behind us, but it's notable to remember that because of Nuno Espirito Santo's fourth-month, short stint at Tottenham, Conte basically took over Mourinho's old team. Mourinho, meanwhile, in his first season in charge of the Serie A club. So what else has changed between the two?
First Super League manager to get sacked
To set the stage, we have to rewind to the Super League discussion in April of 2021. Spurs were in the middle of a disappointing season despite Mourinho leading them to the EFL Cup final against Manchester City with a chance to secure the team's first trophy since 2008.
For a manager that has a great track record in cup finals, it seemed logical see what kind of magic Mourinho could muster up against a powerhouse City team. After all, there wouldn't be any logical external options available in April. But only six days before that final, Mourinho became the first manager to be sacked during the short-lived Super League "era," ending a 17-month stint with the club.
The firing may not have had anything to do with the Super League, but there were reports once the league was formed, Mourinho refused to conduct training before being let go. Either way, the results on the pitch weren't great with Spurs sitting in seventh at the time and struggling to score goals due to way-too-conservative setups. While the holes in the squad were well known, COVID-19 and opening a new stadium without fans kept club chairman Daniel Levy from being able to back Mourinho in the way that was needed.
After a managerial shuffle that included Ryan Mason and eventually Santo, a member of the Mourinho coaching tree, Conte was appointed manager in November of 2021 with the task to turn the team around and set up a new training regiment. He added Dejan Kulusevski in January to help secure a top-four place and a platform for Spurs to build upon as they prepare for Champions League play this season (on Paramount+). Heading into this season, Conte has gotten the backing that Mourinho wanted to add Richarlison, Clement Lenglet, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence, Ivan Perisic and Fraser Forster.
Taking over Rome
As Conte was in London in search of ending Spurs' trophy drought, Mourinho managed to lead Roma toward a UEFA Europa Conference League title in the inaugural season of the competition. Prior to last season, the Giallorossi had never won a European trophy and was in the midst of a 14-year trophy drought.
The Italian side went all in on Mourinho's management, not only providing him with reasonable options but also reaching outside their means to capture Paulo Dybala this offseason. Mourinho has landed at a stable team that has carried out its plans start filling up the trophy cabinet, similarly to Spurs.
Roma are in a position to take advantage of Napoli being picked apart this summer. And while they're not ready to challenge AC Milan for the Scudetto just yet, reaching Europa League this season is a good way to gradually rise back into the top-four of Italian football supremacy, especially if Mourinho can continue his success.
It's a transition that has gone well so far for Mourinho. But that isn't to say that Spurs are missing Mourinho in any way now that they have Conte at the helm. It's a transition that shows that breakups can be good for both parties involved as the separation has seen Mourinho and Spurs enter better places.
Heading into their friendly Saturday, Roma and Spurs have gotten positive results during preseason and seem like they'll begin the season right where they left off. Roma will play one more friendly before opening the season on Aug. 14 away to Salernitana (on Paramount+) while this is the final tune-up for Spurs before facing Southampton on Aug. 5. Mourinho will have a better chance at lifting a European title than Spurs with Roma taking part in Europa league, but progress is the name of the game in London.
Conte has a squad that's more than capable of going on a domestic cup run to end Spurs' quest for silverware. And if he can do that while securing another top-four finish, the season will be nothing but a success for Spurs. Roma would be ecstatic with a Champions League place in Italy, but their ceiling might end up being a Europa League berth if they don't win the tournament. Hopefully, they find a way to secure a Champions League place as things are better when these two top managers square off.
How to watch Spurs-Roma
- Date: Saturday, July 30 | Time: 2:15 p.m. ET
- Location: Sammy Ofer Stadium -- Haifa, Israel
- TV and live stream: Paramount+