For some Tottenham Hotspur fans, the aftermath of the Burnley match was an emotional nadir. Spurs lost that match 1-0 at Turf Moor thanks to a late header off of a set piece, and afterwards a visibly shaken Antonio Conte went in front of multiple groups of press and publicly questioned whether he was the right person to lead Tottenham Hotspur back to the top of the Premier League. It sent Spurs fans, some of whom were already tottering over recent losses, into a doom spiral, while the press breathlessly exhorted that Conte could walk away from the club the following day.
It didn’t happen, of course. Conte came out the following day and clarified his comments, reassuring fans that he was here for the long haul, and explaining that he just really, REALLY hates losing football matches. Fair enough! Spurs went on to comprehensively thump Leeds on the road, winning 4-0; afterwards Conte talked about how his methods were finally starting to show signs that they were working.
Tottenham now travel to Middlesbrough for the fifth round of the FA Cup. In comments given to the press yesterday and embargoed until late last night, the Spurs head coach further clarified his Burnley outburst, suggesting that far from it being a symptom of an overly emotional coach and a difficult loss, his comments were #actually part of the plan all along, calling them “strategic.”
“I think that you have to understand when there is a strategy or not and not only an emotional moment. Maybe I can explain to you, every time we have a press conference there is a strategy behind it, not an emotional moment.
“I understood that was the right moment, after four defeats in five games and following the win against Manchester City three days ago, to send the right message, a clear message to myself, the club and also the players.
“We have to know we are here to enjoy football, at the same time to improve ourselves, to ask ourselves for 100 per cent commitment and desire and also to underline that a team like Tottenham does not exist to lose four games in five.
“If someone understood that my words were from an emotional moment, no.
“In that moment I sent a specific message to the whole environment and it has happened in the past, when I want to push the situation and the environment in the same direction, because I am seeing we can do better, it is not because it is an emotional moment, it is because there is a strategy behind.”
LOL. OK, Antonio.
Look, I just don’t buy this at all. It’s not unprecedented for managers to do or say outlandish things to the press in order to motivate a team. Hell, Jose Mourinho has made a career out of his “tough love” approach with players by throwing them, or his team, under the bus to light a fire under their butts. (Whether that tactic has been effective is a topic for another time.) That’s not what I think is happening here.
First, we know that Conte has a history of wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He’s done it numerous times in his past managerial appointments. In fact, Spurs fans more or less knew that outbursts like what happened at Burnley were part of the package — you get one of the best football managers in the world and a good chance of winning things, so long as you’re willing to accept that he’s a bit of a crazy person. The reason his comments after Burnley hit so hard was that it’s the first time it’s happened to us.
But more directly, it’s really difficult for me to understand how going in front of the press and publicly questioning whether you’re suited to a job that you just started four months ago is going to convince a football team to play better. I suppose you can argue that threatening to walk away could conceivably get players to swallow hard and buckle down because they’re afraid another manager is going to walk away, but that’s not a motivational tactic, that’s an emotional hostage situation. If that’s really what Conte is doing, then in that way he’s no better than Jose.
Still, I don’t believe it. To me, this smacks of a cover story, a half-baked way of explaining that Conte just got too far over his emotional skis after a tough loss in horrible weather conditions against a club at the bottom of the table. Actually, I can understand being emotional in that situation. I can understand hating to lose so much that you lose your shit in front of the press and fly off the handle. Intuitively, I get that. What I don’t get is taking time and actually thinking about the situation, and then coming to the conclusion that it’s better to emotionally blackmail your players by threatening to leave.
I’m pretty convinced that what happened after Burnley isn’t the last time that we’re going to see Conte have an emotional reaction to a bad loss while at Spurs. Heck, I can practically guarantee that it isn’t. What will be interesting is when the next time it happens if he continues to try and explain away his outburst as just him playing 4D chess rather than losing his cool. I have a feeling that this is a trick that only works once.