In defence of Antonio Conte

Tottenham sit fourth in the Premier League and still control their European destiny in the league, but continued inconsistency this season and a failure on other fronts has left the Italian headmaster on the brink of breakdown and likely out of a job

In the aftermath of one of the most explosive managerial press conferences in Premier League history, Tottenham headmaster and former Italian international midfielder Antonio Conte did not hold back in his criticism of his current employers after Spurs suffered a late 3-3 draw against relegation-threatened Southampton at the weekend.

The ‘big-six’ side had fought to a 3-1 lead on the south coast but ultimately were made to watch Saints icon James Ward-Prowse slammed home his penalty past friend and former Saints colleague Fraser Foster to send St. Mary’s into rapture after many were prepared to witness yet another defeat.

Conte’s elongated rant, which circulates across social media and through every major news outlet like wildfire, could quite possibly be the final nail in his coffin in north London as Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is widely expected to send the 53-year-old packing, with Fabio Paratici possibly in-tow.

Despite the disappointing result, Spurs are still fourth in the table and very much in the thick of the fight to secure Champions League football in 2023-24; their only route to the competition after crashing out in the round of 16 at the hands of AC Milan.

But from a broader perspective, Conte has done a credible job since his return to England, with only Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool securing more points than Spurs since November 2021.

At the very least, Conte has been able to sustain Tottenham’s status as a top-four club, but the capital outfit has not truly been able to kick on under his command to a level that he is accustomed to across a playing and managerial career in Italy that is flooded with major honors.

Beyond the twelve major honors Conte accrued at Juventus as a vital piece of the puzzle for the Old Lady, including six Serie A titles and a Champions League win, his managerial track record in the top flight of Italian football was equally polished while in the technical area in Turin as well as in the black & blue half of Milan. Moreover, his short stint with Chelsea between 2016-18 yielded a Premier League title and an FA Cup win.

In truth, however, there is no denying that many fans have been left disappointed after countless expected Conte to mold the club into a genuine Premier League title contender; but can that reality fall solely on the Italian’s shoulders?

Tottenham certainly has spent in the market since he came into the club, dolling out nearly £200m on fourteen players; marks that eclipse both the José Mourinho and Nuno Espírito Santo reigns at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. In that light, it is hard to suggest that the club has not - at least on the surface - supplied Conte with personnel, but even minimal added context can produce results that show that Levy hardly consistently targeted players that both Conte and Paratici would have wanted.

Moves for Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur, Fraser Forster, Ivan Perišić, Destiny Udogie, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison, Clément Lenglet, Djed Spence, Arnaut Danjumam and Pedro Porro are largely good - or very good - moves for base value. But the reality as such is that only Kulusevski, Bentancur, Perišić, Udogie, and Porro were exclusively targeted by Conte and Paratici.

Antonio Conte and Tottenham Hotspur’s marriage has finally come to an end, and both parties can find themselves culpable for its failure. Firstly, the Italian should never have been appointed by Spurs; why bring in a win-now manager when you’re unwilling to give him the specific tools he demands? Meanwhile, the failure to add in defence has been a major issue as to why Conte’s team has failed to ever really control a game this season. The next manager could well run into the same problem. How do you play a high line, look to play on the front foot, and take the game to the opposition when you can’t trust your foundation?

But on Conte’s part, his failure to ever commit to Spurs, his constant belittling of the club, his tactical inflexibility, and his treatment of certain players have ultimately led to his downfall at Spurs.

—  Jamie Brown - 101 Great Goals & Daily Hotspur (founder)

This frustration was compounded by the fact that Spurs are in desperate need of upgrades in central defense given Conte’s preference to operate in a back three. The only reliable center-back at the time of writing remains Cristian Romero; a player that came in before Conte, while the Italian was never able to bring in any other option in that position. It is perhaps no surprise that his system has been far leakier in the back than during his periods with Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter Milan.

While Conte’s pedigree is undeniable, the biggest consideration for a manager must always be whether or not he fits the club; not just tactically, but in terms of its overall operational remit. In that light, Conte and Spurs was never a match made in heaven when it became clear Levy was not prepared to back the Italian in the market to give him the pieces he needed, while instead, opting for club targets that had no correlation to the Italian’s tactical schematics.

In the end, Conte’s outburst - though largely riddled with truth - was too much for public consumption and was better off being unleashed behind the closed doors of the changing room or Hotspur Way. And with Levy’s hand now forced, the question of whether or not Conte’s likely dismissal will serve as yet another cautionary tale for the club when they begin the process of finding another man for the job. For their sake, it needs to be the right one.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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