Tottenham left in a mess after failed attempt to make Antonio Conte their new manager

Former Inter Milan and Chelsea coach was never the right fit for either side

Antonio Conte guided Chelsea to the 2016/17 Premier League title in his first season at Stamford Bridge. PA
Antonio Conte guided Chelsea to the 2016/17 Premier League title in his first season at Stamford Bridge. PA

Well, it was nice when it lasted. For a day or two, it seemed as Antonio Conte was bound for Tottenham. He appeared proof of their pulling power.

A team that laboured to a seventh-place finish could have its potential unlocked by a tactically brilliant manager who had inherited sides which had come seventh, 10th and fourth respectively and taken them to league titles in either his first or second seasons. Or both.

If Conte could win the Premier League with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, what could he do with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min?

And yet the breakdown of their talks, with each side suggesting they had withdrawn from them, underlined how improbable it had been. Conte and Tottenham had felt a complete mismatch. The feeling was that neither had done their due diligence.

Spurs may have wanted the coach but not the character; managers who forever demand more money and more players and are constantly at war with their boards tick very few of Daniel Levy’s boxes.

Clubs who have a £1 billion ($1.41bn) stadium to repay, who have a limited budget and who may lose their best player, in Kane, scarcely figure on Conte’s wishlist. This did not require someone to compromise as much as to do a complete U-turn but Conte can be uncompromising; Levy too.

Circumstances may have initially promoted a rethink. When Jose Mourinho was sacked, Conte was still engaged in his successful quest to win Inter’s first Scudetto since 2011.

His transformation of Chelsea in 2016-17 was one of the great managerial feats in recent Premier League history. He is the manager Mourinho used to be – combustible, demanding, short-termist but with a guarantee of glory – and the one Levy may have thought he was hiring when stardust blinded him to the Portuguese’s decline.

Perhaps the prospect of a coup, of getting a worthy rival to Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, meant it was logical to explore the option of Conte. But it is no secret that he is not a manager for times of austerity. He left Inter because they were cutting costs. Tottenham are unlikely to find next season’s Europa Conference League hugely lucrative.

Spurs 2020/21 season ratings

And it is only three weeks since Levy issued a rare mea culpa, admitting Tottenham had lost their way – references to Mourinho and the European Super League were implied rather than implicit – but where he talked of a “return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining – while continuing to embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our academy.”

It scarcely sounds like Conte. Indeed, the blueprint for a Mauricio Pochettino-style manager both highlighted what Spurs were looking for and, along with the Argentinian’s apparent unhappiness at Paris Saint-Germain, prompted talk of another reunion in a summer of managerial returns.

If the French club keep their man, however, it leaves Spurs in a mess. Targets have gone elsewhere – Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern Munich, Hansi Flick to Germany – or pledged their loyalty to their existing employers, like Brendan Rodgers at Leicester.

It will be hard to present whoever Spurs eventually appoint as even their second or third choice; nor, when they have veered from their original idea to pursue Conte, to offer much evidence of a plan.

They have at least secured Fabio Paratici’s as sporting director and he was instrumental when Juventus established a reputation as savvy recruiters (before, in a parallel with Spurs, regressing with poor decision-making in recent years).

It will be required; so, too, a manager with the capacity to revive the careers of the talents who declined under Mourinho, conjure improvement from young players and form a more compelling, coherent team.

But in a period when many other clubs – Bayern, Inter, Real Madrid, RB Leipzig – have contrived to find a new manager, Spurs haven’t. Mourinho’s reign was a waste of 18 months. The time since his sacking feels a waste of seven weeks. Their search goes on.

Published: June 6, 2021 06:47 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one