After the Burnley result where Tottenham Hotspur fell flat just days after completing the double against Manchester City, an irate Antonio Conte indicated that he may not be suited for the job. It was after that February result, only three months into the Italian’s tenure, that he was publicly questioning his position.
“Maybe in this moment, I’m not so good to improve the situation”
These were the words said by the Italian at the time. However, recent videos (mainly via Conte’s interview on Spurs TV) and evidence show that the strong and pointed press conference remarks were merely just an exercise in getting a rise out of his Spurs team. In the end, the gamble worked for Spurs as they pulled a rabbit out of a hat by finishing in a Champions League place at the season’s conclusion.
Towards the end of the season, there were plenty of signs that Spurs were operating like a true, well-oiled Conte side. The wingbacks were getting acclimated to a demanding position, the team was more understanding of its patterns, the midfield grew in confidence and they were carving Premier League sides up — as indicated by the 3-0 win against Arsenal, the 4-0 win against Aston Villa, the 5-1 win against Newcastle and the 5-0 win over Everton. All this despite the fact that the Italian had not committed to the club for a second year. Quickly after the season, Conte agreed to return to Spurs. But it was earlier in the season that he indicated he would return to Spurs if the club could show “good vision” and make “big, big improvements”.
Conte’s commitment is a testament to the fact that he feels the club is moving in the right direction under his friend and Managing Director of Football Fabio Paratici. Since his arrival, Paratici has not only begun re-tooling the club’s scouting and player development, he has also brought in a bevy of young, talented players with an eye towards the present and the future. After Spurs qualified for the Champions League, the club was given a £150m financial boost by ENIC. Even so, the club have done some pretty intelligent business without spending a large portion of the capital increase.
The coming weeks will feature a variety of players leaving Spurs, so the expectation is that the club will continue to bring down the net transfer spend. Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Harry Winks and some others are all expected to be moved on and it is important to look at the little details as we think about how Conte’s project can continue to evolve at Spurs.
Conte has never been a manager with a long-term vision at his clubs. His longest stay was a three-year period at Juventus, where he took his team from seventh to a Scudetto in just his second season. So while it could appear that Spurs are truly going for it next season under Conte before he moves on to something new, the reality is that there are tea leaves here that suggest Conte could stay longer at the club as long as the club match his ambition and back him like none of their other managers before. Here are some of the reasons I believe Conte’s stay at Spurs could be longer than most people think.
1. Keeping Harry Kane
In the summer, Conte was reported as a possible hire for Spurs. Eventually the club looked elsewhere for their managerial appointment, but it was heavily rumored that Spurs’ deal with Conte fell through in the summer in large part due to Kane’s protracted transfer saga with Manchester City. After Spurs held firm and kept their most important asset, the rumors said this impressed Conte and that Kane staying in the team was a big reason why Conte agreed to come into the fold in early November.
Since getting his ambition and drive back, Kane has once again looked like the world-class player that we saw under José Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino. He is looking fitter and more complete. With a full preseason under Conte, it should not come as a surprise if Kane ends up as one of the best players in the league once again. With two years left on his deal, talks have already begun concerning a Harry Kane contract extension.
2. January transfer window
The January window was quite a busy one for Spurs and is known amongst the football world as an extremely difficult time to do business. Conte knew that Spurs needed to chop and change the squad — out went Dele Alli permanently and the duo of Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso were sent out on loan. Paratici brought in two players in Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur that Conte was familiar with during his time in Serie A. While Spurs became a bit thinner in the window by losing some bodies, it was the first sign that Spurs and Paratici were willing to placate Conte — which leads me into my next point.
3. The relationship between Conte and Paratici
So many footballing clubs in the world have an awkward structure at the top and often at times, managers and directors of football can butt heads. That is not the same at Spurs where the club seemingly has two minds but one vision. While Conte may not be bigger than Spurs’ squad as a whole, he more than likely knows his worth and understands that Spurs know they need to meet his demands and match his ambition to keep him happy. By having Paratici take the lead on transfers with chairman Daniel Levy focusing (mostly) on the financial side of the club, Conte has a much more trustworthy relationship and a healthier environment for him work — something that was an issue when he was at Inter and Chelsea. Conte ultimately flamed out of both managerial appointments in large part due to his vision clashing with the board’s vision.
4. Spurs’ finish in the 2021/22 season
Tottenham finished extremely strong down the stretch as the squad became more accustomed to Conte’s tactics. In fact, there may not have been a team playing better in the league than Spurs by the end of the season. Spurs ended up with the third-highest points total in England behind City and Liverpool since Conte was appointed on November 2.
After months of upping the fitness levels and physicality in the squad, Conte was starting to get out of the squad what he was putting in. Even before Spurs finished off the season in style with a manhandling of Norwich, Conte even admitted himself after the Aston Villa match weeks prior that the squad was getting used to his ideas and patterns. This was a direct reference to when wingback Matt Doherty (playing on the left at the time) assisted right wingback Emerson Royal for a goal.
5. “I could be Tottenham’s [version of] Jürgen Klopp”
On May 6, Dan Kilpatrick of the Evening Standard published a piece where Conte gave his strongest indication that he was ready to commit to Spurs. In that piece, Conte mentioned Klopp’s Liverpool could be a good example to follow for Spurs. He mentioned that with the proper backing, Conte could realize his ultimate vision of getting Spurs to compete at the highest levels of the Premier League.
“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 continually referenced the importance of spending money. So far this transfer window, there may not be a more active team in the world than Spurs — leading me to my next point.
6. Spurs’ speed in the transfer window
Even before the window officially opened, Spurs were already working on making improvements in the squad. The club’s long-term transfer window thinking of “outs before ins” went out the window immediately. As of this writing, Spurs are at at five signings, soon to be six after finally getting the Djed Spence deal over the line.
Tottenham’s swift moves in the window is pointing to the fact that the £150 million capital increase was not just propaganda sent down from the board to appease fans. It is evidence that Spurs’ movement and ambition in the transfer window is showing that Spurs are identifying and quickly moving to secure talent in order to have a full preseason — something that will make Conte very happy.
7. The respect from the players
The appointment of Conte reinvigorated a Spurs squad that truly looked lost under Nuno Espírito Santo. Immediately, Kane became the player we all know him to be and every player in the playing squad was starting to push themselves and improve as they finally had no more excuses.
Under Conte, Spurs finally had a manager who could identify, and correct, player deficiencies — there is no hiding under Conte. With Nuno, you could make an argument that that the players’ overall form and fitness suffered as a direct result of the manager. But with Conte, there are simply no more excuses. Most of Spurs’ players — especially their long-tenured ones — have not won anything at the club level. Because Conte has won nearly everywhere he has managed, he immediately came with a level of respect and a gravitas that each player in the squad understood.
8. The Alessandro Bastoni & Joško Gvardiol transfers
Ok, this one to me is extremely important. In fact, it may be the “tea leaf” that is most eye-opening to me. It’s well known that Spurs were looking to make a big-money signing at the left-sided centerback position. At the top of the list were Alessandro Bastoni from Inter and Josko Gvardiol from Leipzig. Both transfers were going to be extremely difficult to pull off this summer, since both players reportedly wanted to stay at their current clubs, and their clubs were highly reluctant to sell them. Neither look like options at this point, though both players are likely to head to bigger clubs to continue their development eventually.
Spurs definitely could have opted to spend bit for either player, but you have to respect and understand both players choosing what is best for their careers. Rather than pointing to a different option further down the list, Spurs made the decision to bring in Clément Lenglet on loan from Barcelona without any option or obligation to make the loan move permanent. Choosing the option of bringing a player in on loan indicates to me that Spurs will eventually return for this position in the future. And because of that, it could mean Conte’s already looking ahead to what he can do in future seasons at Spurs.
9. Daniel Levy backed in a corner
Now going on a second decade without any silverware, Spurs supporters have been growing more and more frustrated with Daniel Levy and ENIC as a whole. After getting so close under Mauricio Pochettino, the club failed to invest when they should have — choosing to place their focus on building the new stadium and growing the club’s platform instead of refreshing the squad.
Once Pochettino was sacked and the environment and mood around the club soured under Mourinho and Nuno, it truly felt that Tottenham were slipping back down in status among the elite names in club football. That is before Conte arrived when the Italian guided them back into the Champions League and back into looking like a real good side.
Now, with Conte at the helm, there is a sense that Levy simply has no way to turn. If Spurs do not do what Conte asks, Levy will certainly take the lion’s share of the blame. Conte has done such a good job at mastering all of the talking points surrounding Spurs in his press conferences. In these interviews, he seemed to needle the Spurs’ brass and echo some of the concerns of Tottenham supporters. Because of this, Conte has fostered a positive feeling a strong relationship between himself and the club’s fans.
10. The man himself
It should shock no one that Conte is a person who needs to manage. He needs to be placed in competitive environments in challenging ventures. He is the type of figure that wants to continue to prove himself and dare his squad into winning things. It is these types of difficult challenges that he not only embraces, but truly enjoys. It is this desire and his need to win that has made him such a decorated manager over the years. Conte is seemingly the man who makes the impossible possible. This is not only a manager who is a master technician, but this is the person and figure that not only scares players but also gives assurance that he can develop them and help their careers.
Tottenham is perhaps Conte’s biggest challenge yet. A club that has rightfully been mocked and looked down upon over the years that has failed time and time again to reach that mountaintop. The club is now moving in the right direction on a variety of fronts. They not only have arguably the best stadium in the world, but they are improving their club’s status and profile, they are in a much better financial situation that most big clubs and their training ground is known as one of the best in the world. These are hallmarks of a big club, but Spurs have not yet found that right match at manager. Because of everything above, this may just be the perfect environment for Conte’s competitive nature to be fulfilled. After what felt like a relationship that would eventually sour, the evidence is starting to show more and more that Conte and Spurs may just be the unlikely marriage that is perfect after all.
Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.