Antonio Conte only tells half the truth to signal his own imminent exit from Tottenham
As videos of Antonio Conte’s press conference began to spread, and more Tottenham Hotspur players privately declared their disgruntlement, there was a scramble at the club’s top levels. That was to decipher whether the manager had actually said anything that could be construed as directly critical of the hierarchy and whether that made his job untenable.
The view was that he hadn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily make Conte worth persisting with. The mood in the dressing room is now described as “close to toxic”.
This is the problem with Conte’s press conference, even if some are insisting it is “down to interpretation” over whether he criticised the board. He really criticised the entire club. As many have now quipped, it was essentially the “it’s Tottenham, lads” line from the actual Tottenham manager, and for 10 minutes.
Conte even echoed Giorgio Chiellini.
“Tottenham’s story is this – 20 years there is the owner and they never won something. Why?”
This isn’t quite the full story of Conte’s tenure, though, which now looks like it could well end before the season finishes. It should be acknowledged that there is of course some truth in what the Italian said, but not complete truth, and it is almost as if the strength of his argument diminished in direct inversion to the emotion with which he made it. It seemed to just become about self-preservation, in a move reminiscent of his previously bitter rival, Jose Mourinho.
Consider the self-defeating flaw to the main thrust of Conte’s argument. He was primarily going for a squad that don’t meet his standards, and there are fair criticisms to be made about how that group has been bolted together. It still seems as if Spurs have never moved on from the Mauricio Pochettino era, and are still just patching signings onto that core rather than engaging in the complete overhaul and investment they really need. That has played into a long-term staleness.
At the same time, the uncertainty over Conte’s own future is a direct contributory factor to this. How can the players – even on a subconscious level – respond to him in the way he demands if they know he won’t be there next season? The situation totally undercuts any sense of focus. That has probably then had the knock-on effect of feeding into Conte’s frustration, and leading to this explosion.
Conte has similarly argued he’s never been in a situation where he’s only competed for the top four but what did he think he was getting into? This is a club that has not had consecutive top-four finishes in 40 years, outside those four fine seasons under Mauricio Pochettino.
There are of course bigger arguments about ENIC investment but, under the current financial policy, this is the reality of the club. This is what Spurs are. They are one of the wealthiest clubs in the world but still outside that top bracket. This is what Conte should have been mindful of before agreeing.
That’s also where the main flaw in all of this lies. Conte was never the right fit for Spurs.
He is an elite manager who naturally had immediate impact, as he restored the club to the Champions League from a season that looked to be going nowhere.
The issue is that – as happened at Juventus, Chelsea and to a lesser degree Internazionale – Conte was always going to make elite demands once he felt he’d done his bit. Spurs, of all clubs, were never going to meet these.
It is probably why we have seen the extent of the explosion we did on Saturday. It also points to why the club’s best performance over the last four decades has been with an up-and-coming manager, rather than one who’s been at the top. It is a better fit for what they are right now.
It raises questions about some of the decision-making processes at the club.
The grand irony to all of this is that Spurs are still in the top four and can still make it to the Champions League. That would be another success, given everything.
It’s just Conte, of all people, may now have done more than anyone to undermine it.
Spurs may not yet feel his job is untenable but the situation is looking increasingly irretrievable. Many of the players would now prefer him gone. That was going to be a certainty at the end of the season anyway.
It now feels like it could be a sure thing before then.