LONDON (Reuters) - Arch rival managers Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte put up a united front on Friday in defending Chelsea’s treatment of Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since leaving Stamford Bridge two years ago.
The past and present Chelsea managers both addressed the subject of this season’s PFA player of the year, with Mourinho reiterating that the decision to allow Salah to leave on loan to Fiorentina in 2015 was not his alone.
Conte maintained that it is impossible to predict how players will go on to perform.
Salah has scored 43 goals in all club competitions this season for Liverpool, with his latest two strikes contributing to their thrilling 5-2 destruction of AS Roma in their Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday.
“This is not so simple because I think that we have to compare Salah from over four or five years ago, not with this Salah,” said Conte.
“The Salah in the present he improved a lot and developed a lot. He developed his football and the experience in Italy was very important for him.
“Now I am sure he is a different player compared to the past and for that reason it is difficult to have this comparison with this player.”
Manchester United manager Mourinho said he was responsible for bringing the Egyptian to Chelsea in 2014 and defended his handling of the player when he arrived.
“Everybody knows I bought Salah. I was at Chelsea, he was at Basel and I am responsible for the players I bring. I watch and I told the club to buy that fantastic young player,” he said.
Mourinho has been accused of not giving Salah a chance at a club where he made just a handfull of appearances in an unproductive 12 months during which the winger said he “didn’t talk much” to his manager.
On Friday Mourinho took responsibility for Salah’s lack of game time at Stamford Bridge but said he was provided with a pathway to develop.
“He was not playing a lot and that is my responsibility as a coach and we decided with him it was better to have a loan period to play to grow up to become stronger,” said Mourinho.
“Internally again with the board and technical director, we thought Italian football could be good for him to develop. He went to Fiorentina (on loan in Feb. 2015). After that I left and I am not responsible for the process.”
Salah returned to Chelsea from Fiorentina before joining Roma on loan in August 2015. Salah then signed for them permanently in August 2016 — nine months after Mourinho left Stamford Bridge.
He was sold to Liverpool for 36.9 million pounds ($50.88 million) last June.
“Credit to Mo, Juergen (Klopp), the team and I am very, very, very happy for him. He is a fantastic boy and he knows I have a great care for him,” said Mourinho.
($1 = 0.7252 pounds)
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Toby Davis