The truth about Tottenham is staring Antonio Conte in the face – but he’s unwilling to accept it
This now has to be the end. After his team let a two-goal lead slip against the team bottom of the division, Antonio Conte marched into his post-match press conference and allowed 18 months of deep frustration to spill out of his mouth.
This was the football management equivalent of the famous scene in Scarface, Conte spraying bullets at anyone unfortunate or foolish enough to be caught in the crossfire.
A manager accusing players, owners, decision-makers and the club itself of letting themselves down is nothing new. But a coach deliberately picking out each of them for their own self-preservation is a sure sign of a relationship beyond repair.
His contract expires at the end of the season. It would be a sign of weakness if Tottenham allowed him to see that out, lashing out at those around him all the while. If ever a post-match interview amounted to gross misconduct, this was it.
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We have also been here before. “I have great ambition but I don’t have money for Chelsea,” said Conte in March 2018 after Chelsea had spent £240m on new players since winning the league.
“The club knows very well what my idea is, what my ambition is. That is very clear. When you decide to work with this type of coach, you must understand that you take a coach with great ambition. Not a loser but a winner. And that ambition must always be shared.”
Then, Conte stayed until the end of the season and failed to finish in the top four. Tottenham cannot risk the same happening. They are unlikely to get another season when Liverpool and Chelsea are so far off the pace and, before long, reaching the top four will be an expectation for Newcastle.
Conte’s use at Spurs was extinguished after the Champions League exit to Milan. He was appointed because he was “a winner”, a coach capable of squeezing more out of this team in the matches that mattered the most and has wholly failed to do so. If Conte believes that is due to the underperformance of those around, above and below him, he must also accept his own culpability.
Tottenham tumbled out of the Champions League because they waited until 150 minutes into a 180-minute tie before they tried to attack. After the money spent last summer and in January, this is his team playing his style. It is an inconvenient truth for Conte that he has been given greater resources than any other Tottenham manager in history.
If Conte also surmises that his players are no longer following his instructions, perhaps he might ask why that is. Is it because, as he insinuates, they are lily-livered and selfish? Or is it because they have been bruised and broken by a coach who is happy to hang them out to dry as a means of protecting his own reputation and had their creativity stymied so that the well has dried up completely? That sergeant major management methodology can probably still work in specific circumstances, but it has fitted awkwardly here.
I got this wrong. I thought that Conte might add something that this club lacked: passionate leadership. But when things begin to go awry, a leader relies upon his experience and expertise as an ingredient of improvement. A leader does not detail the ways in which that experience and expertise makes him better than those who must follow him into the next challenge.
And so Tottenham got this wrong too. If, as Conte suggests, there is a fragility within the club’s core that bars them from winning trophies, it strikes as a risky call to appoint two managers who infamously leave nothing but scorched earth when they leave their clubs. Because if you still don’t win trophies with them, every bridge between every stakeholder will be razed to the ground.