By now, we’ve heard plenty of variations on the same theme — Antonio Conte can take Tottenham Hotspur to the highest levels of English football and beyond, but only if he is given enough money to build a team that matches his vision. Conte reiterated that again recently, in quotes printed in the Evening Standard.
Conte was asked about his future at Spurs, and specifically if he could engineer a turnaround the way Jurgen Klopp has at Liverpool. Klopp was appointed in 2015 to replace Brendan Rodgers and has taken Liverpool from mid-table to three Champions League finals in seven seasons and a Premier League title. Along the way, Liverpool has been transformed into one of the best clubs in world football, a destination team that regularly attracts, and signs, top players season after season.
Can Conte be that kind of transformational manager for Tottenham Hotspur?
“I don’t know but if I was sure that type of situation could happen, I’d sign [a new contract]!
“But the time for Liverpool was easier than now. When Liverpool started this work with Jurgen, they were a top team but not in a way they are now - consolidated with an important manager, always the same team, big investment, big money spent in the transfer market.
“They had the right space to improve and reach this level. Now, in my opinion, it is more difficult because the space [for improvement] is not so big. To reduce this gap, you need to spend a lot of money because you need to buy important players. You have to know this otherwise you cannot reduce this gap and hope always for a miracle.”
Conte’s not wrong. One of the things that has always put Spurs at a disadvantage in comparison to the other top Premier League clubs is that Tottenham never had the finances to be able to sign the best players. Some of that is structural — Spurs have bootstrapped their way to the big boy table in the league without an owner (or sovereign wealth fund) willing to pump billions of pounds into the team. But Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has been roundly criticized by supporters in the past for being too financially prudent and not spending money to push Tottenham over the top.
All signs are, however, that this summer is going to be different. There have been multiple reports over the past weeks and months that Levy and Tottenham are committed to doing everything they can to appease Conte and give him the backing, and the players, he needs to be successful.
However, Conte has never been a manager that stays at his clubs for long. In fact, he’s never lasted more than three seasons at any one club. Contrast that with Klopp, who just this week signed a new contract extension that will keep him at Liverpool through 2026. Conte seemed to suggest that he’d be open to an extended stay at Spurs, but in order to do so, the club can’t stand still.
“First of all, it depends on the desire of the club. When Liverpool put Jurgen in charge seven years ago, they wanted to build something important. If you want to create something important you need time and you need patience, especially if you start working with a team that starts behind the top positions. It is not easy.
“In these seven months, we did a really good job with the club and in January signed two good players to improve the quality of the team. We did a good job but for sure you need time.
“Liverpool is a clear example. They struggled at the start of Klopp’s path to qualify for the Champions League. Maybe they needed four years before they started to win. In England, it is more difficult because you find in this moment, four teams that if they don’t have a bad season, fight for the Premier League, the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup and Champions League or Europa League.
“It is not simple because you have a master in front of you, you need time, you need a big investment because you have to spend a lot of money if you want to be competitive and try to reduce this gap. Otherwise you have to accept to stay in the middle.”
This isn’t a new sentiment from Conte, but once again the point is clear: Tottenham need to stop pretending to be a big club and start acting like a big club — because they are one. With the new stadium in place, Spurs have laid the foundation for increased investment in the football side of operations. The club took a hit with the timing of the pandemic and without a bottomless money pit it will always be difficult to compete with the likes of Manchester City and, eventually, Newcastle United.
But we’ve heard that before, and Spurs are in a unique position now to take the next step forward. Tottenham have a new stadium, are already close to a return to Champions League football, and have one of the best managers in football at the helm. Now is not the time for half-measures. Conte is arguing that this is the time to invest, to take a chance. It’s time to put up, or shut up and accept Spurs’ previous role as the almost-club in the Premier League.