Neil Humphreys: Spat with Luiz may bite Conte
Chelsea manager can't drive away all his key title winners
Only one Manchester United player escaped the hairdryer treatment during those distant days of empire.
Sir Alex Ferguson had one rule for his squad and another rule for Eric Cantona, because there was only one Eric Cantona.
For Ferguson, his delicate handling of the fragile Frenchman was his finest example of man-management. It's a lesson that Antonio Conte seems reluctant to learn.
The Chelsea manager is losing too many title winners.
John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa have already gone. David Luiz could soon follow. If Conte loses the Brazilian, he could be accused of losing the plot.
Title-winning sides constantly evolve and upgrade to remain competitive.
But the sudden decision to dump Luiz looks like another example of personal prejudice overruling football pragmatism.
Luiz has always polarised. The frizzy-haired funster has long walked a tightrope between impregnable and farcical.
He's an elegant, intelligent centre back, but one who's just a brain fade away from being a viral YouTube clip.
I must take the best decision for the club, not a single player. It is only a tactical decision. It’s normal. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on why he left out David Luiz against Man United
Conte dropped him against United, promoted Andreas Christensen and Chelsea earned victory. The gamble paid off.
Still, Conte's post-match comments were perplexing to say the least. He didn't know if Luiz had a future at Chelsea.
In April, he was calling Luiz one of the best defenders in the world.
Conte couldn't have won the title without the Brazilian. His improvised decision to switch to a back three only worked with Luiz at the heart of the tactical tweak.
And yet here we are. One bad night in Rome, one bad morning on the training ground and it's Groundhog Day at Stamford Bridge.
From indispensable to irrelevant in a week, Luiz risks joining a motley crew of Conte rejects, the latest superstar to feel the wrath of the Italian's forked tongue.
In a way, Conte's hardline approach may look practical in an age of player power and greedy agents reminding managers of their clients' worth to rival clubs.
But this isn't a one-off.
Age had obviously caught up with Terry, but his motivational antics were popular within the camp and much missed now.
His departure displeased the Chelsea romantics, but considering the 36-year-old's salary demands, his move was understandable.
The losses of both Matic and Costa, on the other hand, are almost unforgivable.
A TAD EXTREME
Phil Neville recently said that allowing Matic to leave Chelsea for United was a sackable offence.
A tad extreme, but the reasons for Matic's exit remain as hazy as they are inexplicable.
Luckily for Conte, Matic picked his return to Stamford Bridge to have an off-day as N'Golo Kante returned from injury and Tiemoue Bakayoko settled in midfield.
Alvaro Morato also scored a terrific header to alleviate the pressure, but Costa's absence is still keenly felt.
Morata recently toiled through a six-game goal drought. The Spaniard's undoubted qualities lack the devilish streak that dominates Costa's play.
Both sinned against and sinner, Costa's performances will always polarise. He's a born whiner. He's also a born winner. Chelsea's mean streak has dissipated without him (and Matic to a degree).
Costa was shown the door after one too many heated discussions with Conte. Like a bad dose of deja vu, Luiz reportedly challenged Conte's tactics against Roma and was dropped from the squad.
Conte won't even publicly vouch for Luiz, a seemingly childish position to take in front of TV cameras.
Champions can lose one or two integral squad members. Chelsea are at risk of losing four in a matter of months.
Conte appears to advocate a dictatorship, but unlike most dictatorships, he's not really keeping control, order or any semblance of stability.
Instead, he's losing talented footballers quicker than he can replace them.
In Ferguson's prime, the United manager learnt to be more malleable when necessary.
Famously, he once issued strict instructions for the squad to wear club blazers and ties for a lavish banquet.
Every player complied, except one.
Cantona turned up in a tracksuit. Ferguson pretended not to notice.
He saw the bigger picture and got more out of the Frenchman than any manager previously.
Conte could use a little of that pragmatism now. Keep calm and keep as many superstars as possible.
Understandably, Conte wants to show who's boss.
But he won't be the boss if he persists with the dispiriting cycle of training-ground rows and public criticism.
He'll be fired before the end of the season.