Antonio Conte is eager for Chelsea fans to give Jose Mourinho a warm welcome on his return to Stamford Bridge with Manchester United on Sunday.
Mourinho won seven major honours with Chelsea across two spells as manager, including three Premier League titles.
But his latter stint in charge ended in ignominy last season, as Chelsea’s title defence unravelled spectacularly for them to languish narrowly above the relegation zone when the Portuguese was sacked before Christmas.
His installation as United boss, with both clubs having endured high-stakes tussles for top spot in England over the past decade, was not uniformly welcomed by Chelsea’s fan base but Conte is keenly aware of his predecessor’s influence in west London.
“I think that he was an important manager for Chelsea, with the club and with the players he wrote a part of their story,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“He won three championships and I think he was an important man for the club.
“He deserves a good reception because, I repeat, he wrote with the club and with the players and his staff a part of history.
“When you win three championships you remain in the heart of the fans. It is normal and he deserves this.
“This season, like the players of Manchester United, he is an enemy, but only in the sporting aspect.
“Sure, I have great respect for him. He is a great manager and has won a lot during his career. I think he deserves maximum respect.”
Conte will enjoy his own reunion with Paul Pogba, who has thus far failed to recapture the stellar form he enjoyed under the Italian at Juventus since returning to United in a world-record transfer in August.
“He came back to England because he was born in England in the football aspect,” Conte said.
“I remember when we took him from Manchester United, such a great player – a fantastic player of the maximum level.
“He deserves everything. For him to come back to Manchester United was, I think, his dream.
“I wish for him the best… but only after the game.”
United played out a dogged and often uneventful goalless draw against previously free-scoring Liverpool on Monday at Anfield and Conte is not averse to playing his part in another highly tactical encounter this weekend
“I watched the game and it was a very tough game between two good teams. I think they [Liverpool and United] will fight for the title until the end of this championship,” he added.
“It was a tactical game because we saw two teams that pay a great attention when they were without the ball.
“Also on Sunday it will be a tactical game. Usually when two great teams face each other, like Manchester United and Chelsea, it is important to prepare the tactical aspect – the offensive and defensive situations.
“The only advantage that we can have is that we play at home, with our fans. They are very important for us.”