Manchester: Jose Mourinho intensified his war of words with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte in bizarre fashion after his team's FA Cup victory over Derby yesterday, apparently referencing a match-fixing scandal in Italy.
The Manchester United manager was responding to comments made by Conte earlier in the day in which he appeared to make disparaging statements about Mourinho.
The Italian was even interpreted as suggesting that the United manager may be suffering from "dementia" after Mourinho had made a reference, 24 hours earlier, to his own behaviour and the fact that he no longer acts "like a clown".
Initially, Mourinho appeared to be backing Conte following the furore caused by his words on Thursday -- only then to make the reference to match-fixing.
"I was asked about my passion and, you know, I was speaking about myself and then the question to the Chelsea manager was that I said he behaved like a clown," said Mourinho.
"Probably the journalist wanted to say that but didn't have the courage so he said 'Mourinho said you behaved like a clown'.
"I don't blame the Chelsea manager at all and I understand his reaction. I was speaking about myself, saying I don't need to behave like a clown to show passion."
Mourinho referred to his managerial antics earlier in his career and said he had not lost his passion.
"I celebrated goals running 50 metres, I celebrated goals sliding on my knees, celebrations jumping in the crowd. I'm not free of that, especially if we score a winning goal in a specific moment I am not free to have an out-of-control reaction.
"What I was trying to say that I behave bad a few times and this moment I control myself better. It doesn't mean my passion is not the same. So wrong question and obviously a strong answer and I don't blame."
The United boss – no stranger to controversy – then changed tack and referenced match-fixing.
"What has never happened to me and will never happen is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and it will never happen."
The surprising reference to "match-fixing" drew a follow-up question as to whether it was directly aimed at Conte.
The Chelsea boss was acquitted of sporting fraud charges in 2016. Prosecutors had requested a six-month suspended sentence following accusations he failed to report episodes of match-fixing while in charge at Serie B side Siena in 2011.
The former Italy manager – who has always denied any wrongdoing – served a four-month ban in relation to the affair in 2012.
But when mention was made of the accusations against Conte, Mourinho said: "Did he? Not me."
Mourinho's reference to that controversy was just the latest twist in a verbal spat between the managers that seemed to have reached a climax earlier in the day when Conte was quizzed by reporters.
The most contentious of Conte's comments came when he used an Italian expression, "demenza senile" – senile dementia.
"I think he (Mourinho) has to see himself in the past, maybe he was speaking about himself in the past, yeah?" said Conte.
"Maybe sometimes, someone forgets what they said or his behaviour and sometimes I think there is, I don't know the name, 'demenza senile', when you are a bit..."
Conte tapped his temple as he spoke, and was asked to clarify his comment. "It is like amnesia, when you can't remember things," he said.
Chelsea later tried to distance Conte from claims he had suggested his rival has dementia, saying he simply meant amnesia.