Antonio Conte's impending Chelsea exit seems odder after FA Cup glory
LONDON -- So now, Antonio Conte awaits his fate. The Chelsea manager has placed the FA Cup in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, but don't expect it to be enough to keep him in a job.
Meanwhile Jose Mourinho will get another bite of the cherry at Manchester United despite the joyless atmosphere with which he's beginning to infect Old Trafford, but Conte's time is up in that classic way that it always is with a Chelsea manager under Roman Abramovich. At least the Italian was spared the fate of Louis van Gaal after overseeing Chelsea's 1-0 FA Cup final victory over Mourinho's United.
Two years ago, the Dutchman won the FA Cup for United -- the club's first trophy in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era -- before being booed up the Wembley steps by a section of the team's supporters who had grown tired of his negative football. Moments later, Van Gaal walked into the news conference, defiantly placed the trophy on the desk in front of him and then endured a barrage of questions about his future after revelations in the Spanish media earlier in the day that Mourinho had already been lined up to replace him.
Van Gaal blustered his way through a difficult 10 minutes, but the rumours were true. He was out, Mourinho was in and a distinguished coaching career had ended in public humiliation.
Conte faced the same questions about his future on Saturday but was at least cheered up the steps and serenaded by supporters singing his name. Not that it empowered him to speak with any confidence about his future.
"I have a contract with this club," said Conte. "From the start of this season, from our first-day defeat against Burnley, there has been speculation, but my position has always been the same.
"One day I have possibility to go to the national team or a club team, but in every day, I say I am committed to this club. I made a decision to respect my contract.
"Our job is not simple, and I understand that the club can make a decision, positive or negative, but I am the first to understand because I am working for an important club in England, and it is right that the club demands a lot from me. But I showed I am a serial winner and this is the truth. There have been many difficult moments, so to win in this way means more than my other successes."
When Conte goes -- and he will -- the former Juventus and Italy coach will walk out of the door with his pride intact and with the majority of the Chelsea supporters mourning his departure. Yet it's a strange way for Conte to end it all. Champions last year and FA Cup winners this, but with Chelsea missing out on a top-four spot and Champions League qualification and a section of the dressing room not enamoured with their demanding manager, it is a case of when rather than if he goes.
There is no hint of Conte being driven out by the supporters, though. When he goes, he will simply be the latest Chelsea manager to suffer the consequences of failing to meet the expectations of owner Abramovich.
Take a straw poll of Chelsea fans on the Fulham Road, however, about whether they want Conte to stay and he would get the backing of a hefty majority. It would be interesting to see how a similar vote among United supporters would go if they were to be asked about Mourinho's future.
The positives are that Mourinho has guided the club to second, their best finish since Ferguson retired in 2013, and they reached the Cup final too, but there is little else to celebrate with this Mourinho team. Progress is hard to spot.
If a team reflects the personality of its manager, then United need help because Mourinho's demeanour and personality since arriving at Old Trafford has been anything but the bold, courageous and charismatic that the club demands. It has been downright miserable and tetchy.
Conte has at least projected the kind of passion to which supporters warm at Chelsea. The football has been hard to watch at times but Eden Hazard helps with his mercurial talent, and Conte has managed the Belgium star better than Mourinho has handled Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and countless others.
Mourinho's pointed criticisms of his players and the question marks over their commitment have also done little to earn the love and adoration of the United fans, with Romelu Lukaku the latest to be subjected to his manager's particular brand of condemnation.
"When a player tells you he is not ready to play, when he tells you he is not ready to start the game, then the question is how many minutes do you think you can play?" said Mourinho when asked whether Lukaku had a chance of starting the game.
"But how can I convince a player who tells me he's not ready to play?"
Was Lukaku really holding back, or was it another example of Mourinho deflecting eyes away from his tactics and his team's defeat? Whatever the answer, the questions about Mourinho are now becoming a regular theme, and many United supporters are growing tired of it.
So the irony of it all is that one manager, with a trophy in the cabinet and the backing of his supporters, faces the sack and the other, whose fans are losing patience and with nothing to show but second place in two competitions, lives to fight another day.
All in all, it's a strange end to a strange season.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_