If there were any questions remaining about Antonio Conte’s influence and how good he can be, Matt Doherty is the answer to those questions. We all knew the stories of Conte being the wingback whisperer, but to watch it happen in real time as Spurs push for Champions League football is welcome and refreshing.
In a piece by the Daily Mail, Doherty explains how rough it’s been at Tottenham prior to the arrival of Antonio Conte. In short, there was a time he wasn’t even allowed off the bus until a match started because of COVID protocols but also because Mourinho knew he wasn’t going to be involved in the squad, despite traveling.
Prior to this season, arguably our best moment with Doherty wasn’t even on the pitch. It came in the form of a humorous social media post where he deleted pro-Arsenal and anti-Spurs tweets given he grew up a fan of the Gunners.
Doherty arrived in north London in the summer of 2020 for a fee of £15m from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Spurs needed depth at fullback and Doherty had experienced a purple patch at Wolves, primarily as an attacking wingback. Despite being 28 at the time of the signing, it was a deal that seemed pretty low-risk for some quality depth. Unfortunately, playing in Jose Mourinho’s system proved to be problematic for the Irish international and getting minutes was difficult. Doherty did log 2300 minutes in his first season, but there were multiple times he was left out of the squad and the aforementioned story wouldn’t be fun for anyone.
Mourinho wanted to send a message after successive defeats so named some of the club’s youngsters on the bench, 16-year-old pair Alfie Devine and Dane Scarlett. Doherty was the one travelling player to be left out.
‘I went to get off the bus and Ledley [King], who was the coach at the time, said to me: ‘You’re not allowed in the changing room, you’ve got to stay on the bus’,’ says Doherty. ‘It was Covid, so you weren’t allowed in the changed room if you weren’t in the squad.
‘Once the game started, I was allowed to go into the stands. I was just sat on the bus on my own. It was the international break straight after and, genuinely, I was so close to just getting in a car and going to the international, you know? I think we were meeting in Manchester anyway. I didn’t in the end, I decided I’d stay and watch the game and then go.
That’s rough. Yes, COVID played a part of it but imagine being in that situation knowing you just traveled and had no chance to get into the squad.
His luck didn’t change under former manager Nuno Espirito Santo, despite having played under him at Wolves. There were plenty of supporters calling for his sale last summer given he had been lackluster in many appearances, but now? He may be as vital of a piece to the puzzle as anyone. Conte has unlocked him once again and he seems undroppable at this point, even when slotted onto the left side of the pitch like he was against Newcastle on Sunday. He’s dangerous going forward and providing defensive support when needed, and the Daily Mail piece talks about what’s changed. Short answer? Maybe Conte’s crazy attitude toward sauces has merit.
‘So many things that he’s made all of us have little improvements on already and he’s not had a full season yet. He’s not even had a pre-season. So you can imagine with a full pre-season what kind of shape and what kind of state of mind we might be in. That is exciting.’
And it’s not just by banning ketchup. Gone are Doherty’s saucy pastas, replaced by plain old rice and chicken. He’s drinking more water too. ‘It’s just in your head. At home, you don’t dip into that sweet drawer that everyone has in the house. You want to be switched on, you don’t want to give him any excuses, and you want to be ready for him because he gives everything for us so we have to give everything for him.’
You can see it in shots of Doherty now versus a few months ago. He looks leaner and seems quicker. Every little bit helps and watching him these past several weeks has put Spurs supporters at ease instead of sitting on pins and needles seeing his name in the starting XI. Conte deserves a lot of credit for transforming this side and getting them to play well, but players have to buy in and Doherty has made it clear he’s all in.
Doherty has one year remaining on his three year contract, and if he keeps this up, talks of a new deal are sure to pop up even though he’s 30 years old. If Conte sticks around this summer, which is a story for another time, there’s no reason not to give Doherty a short extension if he helps Spurs make the Champions League once again.