If you follow Tottenham Hotspur news primarily through social media, you might have been made aware of some “troubling” comments made recently by Antonio Conte about Tottenham’s newest signing Djed Spence. The quotes, as interpreted by some, seemed to suggest that Spence’s signing wasn’t Conte’s choice, calling into question whether Conte even wanted him at all.
If you hold to that interpretation of Conte’s comments, it is troubling, as it suggests that Djed might not be actually wanted by the Italian, but a player forced upon him by the club hierarchy. But as we know, social media is extremely unreliable as a filter for the comprehension of public comments.
So what did Conte actually say about Spence, and what can we take away from it? Here are the relevant quotes, taken from an embargoed interview held while the team was still in South Korea.
“Honestly when I spoke [to Daniel Levy] it was very simple because at the start of the conversation the club was very clear with me and said we reached an important achievement and maybe it was very difficult to think since November when I arrived to go into the Champions League but now we want to continue to grow, to grow together with ambition.
“Also, for the club, it’s not simple to go into the transfer market and sign players free like Perisic and Forster and sign players on loan like Lenglet, and to sign players with money like Richarlison and Bissouma and Spence.
“Spence is an investment of the club. The club wanted to do it. I said okay, this player is young but he showed he can become a good, important player for us. The club decided to buy him.”
So at the one level, Conte’s quotes are pretty clear — Djed Spence was not signed at his urging. And that makes sense — Spurs had been tracking Spence for over a year, possibly even before Tottenham defeated Middlesbrough in the FA Cup back in 2020. He’s been on Spurs’ radar well before Conte arrived on the scene. It’s certainly not novel to see Tottenham target young players that they can develop into future stars — it’s been the club’s modus operandi for a long time.
That said, Antonio Conte has firmly established himself as the final arbiter when it comes to Tottenham’s first team. It’s, frankly, ludicrous to suggest that Daniel Levy, Fabio Paratici, or anyone, could successfully foist a player that Conte doesn’t want onto him just because. And Conte even alludes to this mixed method of player acquisition in his comments — Conte knows Tottenham’s history of buying and developing young players, sees Spence as a player who could become a very good addition to the squad, and signed off on the deal.
However, this does provide further evidence that fans should maybe temper their expectations of Spence initially. We’ve hinted on this website before that Spence’s stats, while gaudy for the championship, don’t appear to be especially indicative that he’s going to be an impactful player in the Premier League next season. In fact, a few people in Carty Free’s chat wondered why Spurs seemed to be going so hard for Spence when there were better right back options out there, especially if Tottenham are expecting to sell one of Emerson Royal or Matt Doherty yet this window.
Tottenham social media “doomerism” is obnoxious and those using Conte’s comments on Spence as a cudgel against the club hierarchy that brought him in is reductive and unfair. Conte wouldn’t have agreed to the transfer if he didn’t think that Spence could be a plus add for Spurs, and if it takes Spence some time to adapt, well, that seems like a natural, gradual transition for someone playing in the Championship last season.
But if you’re one of the fans who expected Spence to ride in on a stallion and instantly cement a place in Tottenham’s starting XI, you might want to take a half-step back or so, because Conte has admitted that he’s not a player like Ivan Perisic that he targeted to make an immediate impact. Spence might very well explode onto the scene the way Dele did a few years ago, but he might not. Optimistically, he might be more like Kyle Walker — a young defender who took some time to adjust to the rigors of the top flight (and made a bunch of mistakes along the way) before eventually becoming one of the best at his position. That would be perfectly fine with me.