Chelsea's Antonio Conte given Man United shirt as 'present from Mourinho'
LONDON -- Antonio Conte was the victim of a surreal prank in his Friday news conference when an Italian man posing as a journalist presented him with a Manchester United shirt "as a present from Jose Mourinho."
The man, believed to be Stefano Corti, co-presenter of Italia 1 satirical show Le Iene, got out of his chair and approached the front desk where Conte was sitting, requesting that the Chelsea head coach respond to a question in Italian relayed via his tablet.
It quickly became clear, however, that something was amiss as Conte stared with a frozen smile at the camera mounted on top of the device, and the man then produced a signed United shirt to his countryman as what he claimed was a gift from his bitter rival.
In the message on the tablet, Corti's fellow pranksters said: "Antonioooo, we sent you a messenger. A present for you from your brand new friend, Joseee Mourinhoooo. He told us he loves you. Look at what he has written on the present he sent out for you... 'Your friend, Jose'.
"Can you promise us that next time you play against him you will share a sign of peace? Come on, Antonio...you will be friends forever! What do you say, mister?"
Placing the shirt on the desk, Corti then added: "This is a present for you. It is signed by Jose Mourinho... 'To my friend Antonio'. Long live friendship...shall I leave it for you?"
Conte replied: "No, you can take it with you. Keep it, you will give it to me later."
Steve Atkins, Chelsea's head of communications, swiftly intervened to ask the man to sit down and once the cameras were switched off, he was escorted off the training ground.
Last month Corti and co-presenter Alessandro Onnis approached Mourinho outside the Lowry Hotel in Manchester and got him to sign the shirt, which they then revealed had Conte's name and No. 1 on the back. Mourinho laughed off the prank and proceeded to answer questions from the pair, but Conte did not look as amused at Cobham on Friday.
Tensions between Conte and Mourinho have escalated in recent months, with Chelsea's head coach calling the United boss a "little man" with a "very low profile" and a "fake" after his side's FA Cup third round goalless draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road in January.
Sources told ESPN FC that Chelsea were unfamiliar with Corti's identity as a prankster and his intentions when he was accredited for the press conference. Aside from the nature of the stunt, questions in other languages are not permitted during Cobham press conferences.
The episode is an embarrassing one for Chelsea, and Conte's reaction will only increase anticipation for Blues' visit to Old Trafford to take on United on Feb. 25.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.