Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur, where the longest-serving Premier league chairman meets the much-celebrated manager Antonio Conte.
The appointment of Conte in November 2021 came as a surprise to Tottenham fans, as he had reportedly rejected them half a year earlier.
Since then, he came in and steered the club out of the ocean and back onto land, into the glorious Champions league, just as the magnificent new stadium and the loyal supporters deserve. He brought the best out of his players to get there, with consistent struggle along the way. A feat which he recently coined ‘a miracle’.
Fourteen months later and Spurs sit just outside the top four spots and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, but not all seems to be bright and beautiful.
Tottenham’s form in matches before and the first two matches after the World Cup have been below par, and the style of football has been under scrutiny by passionate supporters. Calls for the ownership to leave the club have been heard ringing around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium whilst Daniel Levy was sat in his regular matchday seat.
In their 2-0 loss to Aston Villa at home, Conte was left with no attacking options on the bench as the popular Dejan Kulusevski picked up a pre-match injury. This left Conte with a big issue, as the ‘concede first, chase after’ strategy became hard to recover from. For the tenth consecutive game, Tottenham had conceded first. However this time, despite being the ‘comeback kings’ this season, they were left without a saviour.
*Correct as of 04/01/2023 15:00
Antonio Conte in his press conference portrayed a sense of frustration and anger. They played without having Kulusevski, Richarlison, Lucas Moura and Rodrigo Bentancur available. Relying on an inexperienced Bryan Gil and an out of form Heung-Min Son was always going to be tough against a rejuvenated Aston Villa under their new boss Unai Emery. Bryan however shone against Crystal Palace, with young trio Pape Sarr, Harvey White, and Oliver Skipp also getting minutes.
Where do the problems lie?
The appointment of Conte always seemed like a change of his usual policy for Daniel Levy, but then so did the arrival of Jose Mourinho previously. Similarities between the two managers can be found; both world class managers who demonstrate a real desire to win. Mourinho failing to achieve at Tottenham led some to believe that the Conte appointment would follow the same path.
In his recent interviews Conte has given mixed messages; sometimes calling for patience from the fans with regards to the project, and other times seeming at a crossroads with the club, hinting he would be ready to leave if things don’t go his way.
Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, the ongoing issue seems to be a battle of time. Conte wants upgrades to his first-team and the board seems reluctant to give him the signings he desires in January. It is simply a difference of timescales. Conte is very much used to the fast track rebuild, that brings instant success, the like of which he achieved at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan. Tottenham, on the other hand, are known for their policy of preferring to buy younger players and developing them into reliable first-team players.
Another key issue is Conte’s contract. It seems that he is trying to deploy it as leverage over the board, to say that he is able to leave as he wishes, and that the board must convince him about the project, as opposed to the other way around. Conte speaks often like he really wants it to work, but is unsure if he can be patient for now and wait maybe a year or more to build a squad.
There is a general consensus amongst football enthusiasts that Conte won’t stay for too long at Spurs as this isn’t the norm when the Italian is involved. Long projects aren’t usually what Conte has taken on over his illustrious managerial career. However, as he insists himself, he realises it will take time to change the mentality around the club.
In the summer, Conte said: “To be competitive and to fight to be a title contender and to try to get a place in Champions League you need at least three transfer windows more to improve and to be in the same level as the other clubs.”
This clearly indicates that the Italian does understand that there isn’t a quick fix at Tottenham and he is no super glue to the problems. However, this is just the first transfer window since he said that. With the window having only just opened, Tottenham do have plenty of time to negotiate for who they want.
Why the drama then?
I hear you ask! Conte knows there is slow work to be done and has announced that multiple times, but the fans booing the owners and Conte having not signed a new contract as of yet doesn’t quite portray the calmness that maybe is required. The mood at Tottenham is definitely far from upbeat currently. This may be due to a build up of frustration from the last couple of decades, the lack of silverware, missing out on signings because of seemingly minor differences in valuation, or rivals snatching potential players in last minute deals.
Fans are growing more and more impatient with every new manager, and it seems having Conte at the club is no different. Conte acknowledges that Tottenham is different and that it will take a couple of seasons to be competitive, and the Spurs board seemingly aren’t in a hurry to speed up that process. Conte has called for patience from the supporters as he says he is fully focussed on the task ahead of him. He wants the club and supporters to be together and leave the matter of his contract between him and the board.
Truth be told, Tottenham aren’t likely to get an upgrade on their managerial position if Conte leaves; there are not many available that have achieved what Conte has in the sport. Regarding those who are at a similar level to him, why would they risk their reputation at a club where plenty of others have failed?
Is it time for Tottenham fans to accept this is a different Conte project to those he undertook previously, and have more patience, or are the concerns about the clash of ideas too much for the Lilywhite faithful to bear?