If you were a Tottenham Hotspur fan that was online late in the day on Wednesday, you might have seen some quotes that Spurs manager Antonio Conte gave about his new team. They were part of an Italian language interview with Sky Sports Italia, and the excerpted quotes that leaked seemed to suggest that Conte was having a moan about Tottenham’s business in the transfer window, specifically implying that Tottenham had actually hurt itself by letting four “important” players leave in January while only bringing two new players in.
Here’s how the quotes were depicted on social media last night.
Antonio Conte “What happened in January was not easy. We lost four players in January. Four important players for Tottenham, and we brought in only two.— Lilywhite Rose (@Lilywhite_Rose) February 16, 2022
“So even just in terms of numbers, rather than reinforce the squad, we on paper weakened it”. https://t.co/HupEigcAwA
Tottenham fans on social media, predictably, overreacted. Takes on Twitter ranged from irrational fear that this was a coded message that Conte was getting ready to rage-quit the club because he wasn’t being backed, to suggestions that he was upset with the way that Fabio Paratici handled the January transfer window, to blind spitting range (sometimes of the anti-semitic variety) at ENIC and Daniel Levy over how they have run the club, and even to navel-gazing doomerism over how the club is shit and how nothing good ever happens to Spurs and why do we even bother with this dumpster fire of a club ffs even Conte can’t fix it.
It was, to put it mildly, exhausting.
And, it wasn’t even accurate! The excerpted quotes were translated from Italian and were both (slightly) mistranslated and taken out of the context in which they were intended.
Here’s what Conte actually said about his Tottenham team, as per Football.London (with the caveat that it is still translated from Italian, but presumably more accurately).
“I am certainly happy with the way we are working. I think we are doing a lot but I am realising being inside the situation that it will take time and patience because there are many young players even at their first experience in the Premier League who need to grow, gain experience and raise their level.
“Surely when you take the job in a team that hasn’t won for a long time it is inevitable that you will lack confidence. The confidence is down and many times at the first obstacle you throw yourself down and many times the negativity increases even more, sometimes you grant goals that you struggle to accept.
“This has been happening to us in the last period. This is part of a process of a team that has to grow a lot to try to be competitive. Right now we are one of the many teams that are in the middle, they need to work a lot and this does not scare me at all.
“It is inevitable that certainly the situation compared to the past for me [at Inter Milan] is very different in terms of perspectives, ambitions, in terms of fighting to win. I realized that it’s a totally different situation anyway.
“When you are outside you can never make certain assessments. So from the outside it may seem something different when you take over a situation it is inevitable that taking over in the current year is never easy. I promised myself not to do it because I only did it once and I promised myself not to do it.
“Then there is the desire, the desire to always question oneself even in very very difficult situations such as this one of Tottenham, because Tottenham has been in the middle of the table for so many years. But here this did not scare me, I glimpsed situations that could have developed, then when you enter the situation you understand that something, however, what happened in January is not easy.
“Four players left in January. Four important players for Tottenham, two have arrived. So even numerically instead of reinforcing yourself in quotes you may have, on paper, weakened.
“Then precise choices were made for many reasons, but I certainly never expected that in January four players who I still considered important would change their shirts for a thousand reasons. This shows the difficulty. Tottenham in the last session of the summer transfer market and in January changed eight players.
“It is inevitable that in January it is very difficult to get two players like Bentancur and Kulusevski to sign who, I repeat, are the ideal prospects for Tottenham. Because Tottenham is looking for young players, players to be developed, not ready players. This is the speech.”
The bolded excerpts above were the ones that, in isolation, caused so many Spurs fans to freak out Wednesday night. But the quote in the tweet is missing a word or two, and in the context of the rest of Conte’s interview, the meaning clearly changes. Conte doesn’t seem upset that the four players — Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Dele, and Bryan Gil — left the club, and in fact the reporting up to this point was clear that these were players that Conte felt needed to leave either in order to get more experience or because they no longer fit into his plans. Conte also seems to allude to that there were different reasons for the players to WANT to leave the club, and it’s not just that Spurs were ready to dump them because they weren’t playing well, or enough.
Here, Conte perhaps is marvelling that Spurs needed to do as much turnover as they have to pull the club out of its slump, and even more surprised that that turnover included two clearly talented players who were signed just two years ago. That makes his job more difficult, unquestionably. But nowhere in these quotes do I read anything that seems to suggest that he’s upset, is complaining about his situation, or feels like he’s been mislead by the scope of the project ahead of him. By contrast, these quotes are in tone thematically similar to ones he’s been making all along since he joined the club — it’s a big project, it’s going to take time, I understand the issues, we’re working hard, we need patience to turn things around.
Contrary to breathless (and sometimes unhinged) social media takes, I don’t read this as an Antonio Conte who feels wronged or ignored by Daniel Levy, or a man who was duped into taking the job. Nor do see Conte as someone who seems likely to rage-quit the club for any of the aforementioned reasons. Conte seems clear-eyed about the scope of the project, and especially about how the club’s financial status means it wants to develop players instead of buying expensive ready-made talents. I find it unfathomable that he would have accepted the job without a full understanding of this, and that it would be a different managerial project to anything he has undertaken before.
Antonio Conte is not quitting anytime soon. I’d be utterly flabbergasted if he quit during the summer, regardless of where Spurs finish in the table. Conte comes across in this interview as someone who is speaking “home truths” but is using them to both explain where Spurs are presently and also detail a vision for where he wants to take the club in the future.
Some of you have read this far and are already talking to the screen, wondering why I’m writing an article about Tottenham doomerism on Twitter and (hopefully kindly) suggesting that I should just get off the platform if I hate it so much. And you’re right! Social media sports takes are, generally speaking, garbage and my life would certainly improve if I never ever thought about Twitter again.
But here’s the thing: this social media meltdown is emblematic of a deeper problem where online football fan communities (including this one!) are far too quick to take the worst possible interpretation of any one quote, incident, or results. It’s a natural reaction to want to gravitate to the worst scenario — this is what fans do — but sports in general and football in particular has had an increasingly strong lens focused on it over the past number of years. Fans have more detailed and easier access to players, managers, and clubs than they have in the past, and with that access comes increased scrutiny. And when a club like Spurs has a bump in the road, it becomes all too easy for fan perception to get caught in a doom spiral where things not only never get better but every single action becomes a reinforcement of just how bad things are and continue to be.
This first season under Antonio Conte reminds me a little bit of the first year under Mauricio Pochettino. Poch struggled with his team in the early days, taking 20 points from his first 14 games, but by the end had started to turn things around to finish fifth. The football wasn’t always pretty, and impatient fans grumbled about his tactics and his style of play. Pochettino also had to deal with players who didn’t buy into his methods — the Kaboul Cabal — and did a fairly ruthless clear-out of a number of players the following summer.
The following two seasons Spurs finished in their highest ever Premier League table positions and were in the running to win the league.
It’s hard, I get it. But as a fanbase, the simplest and best thing we can do for our own sanity and for the club is to take a step back. Not everything is a signifier. Not every quote indicates Conte is going to leave Spurs for another club. Sometimes a manager can say things that are hard to hear, but that doesn’t always mean that they’re ready to give up. We need to give Antonio Conte, and the club, time to adapt, to change, and to make plenty of mistakes along the way. Conte seems willing to be patient and work to get Tottenham to the mountaintop. Why aren’t we?