What went wrong for Antonio Conte at Tottenham?
One of football’s worst kept secrets has finally been confirmed – Antonio Conte has been sacked by Tottenham Hotspur.
The Italian was given his marching orders on Sunday night, over a week after criticising his players’ commitment having let a two-goal lead slip late on in their 3-3 draw at struggling Southampton.
It had long been expected that Conte would not stay at Spurs beyond his contract which was set to expire at the end of the season, but with results and performances continuing to trend downwards, chairman Daniel Levy has opted to take immediate action and make a change in the dugout.
The 2022/23 season has been hugely disappointing for Tottenham and it begs the question – why did Conte fail?
While Conte certainly falls into the bracket of a win-now short-term coach, there were reasons to believe he could be a success at a club like Spurs.
One of the Italian’s biggest strengths is the ability to squeeze every last drop out of players who could be deemed average or unexceptional. Tottenham have quite a few footballers who fitted that bill.
In his first season, this proved accurate – the likes of Emerson Royal, Eric Dier, Ben Davies, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Ryan Sessegnon all stepped up to help Spurs secure an unlikely top four finish.
By the summer of 2022, Tottenham were viewed as a fast, direct and streetwise team. A frontline of Dejan Kulusevski, Harry Kane and Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min was considered one of the most formidable in Europe, while they had gone toe-to-toe with Manchester City and Liverpool in months prior.
Spurs’ summer window was considered good-not-great at the time, and for various reasons it has not aged well.
Managing director of football Fabio Paratici and co. were unable to convince Alessandro Bastoni – their top centre-back target – to leave Inter, and had to fall back on Clement Lenglet. Yves Bissouma and Richarlison are proven Premier League players, but unlike January 2022 signings Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur, had not been trained in an Italian/Serie A style before and have had rough debut seasons.
Ivan Perisic was Spurs’ first signing of the summer and seemed to be a signal that the club were willing to change their transfer strategy for Conte. The veteran Croatian started out well in north London, but with so many miles on his legs, his form has dropped off a cliff, which is always the risk with these win-now transfers for older players.
Conte teams have always struggled to balance heavy schedules, and with this season a particularly condensed one, Spurs have played at a much lower intensity than last year. He failed to necessarily rotate, allowing squad members outside of his core group (such as the aforementioned Bissouma and Richarlison) to stagnate and come into the team lacking sharpness and awareness.
In addition, Conte has suffered a number of personal grievances – fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, Serie A legend Sinisa Mihajlovic and Italian icon Gianluca Vialli have all passed away over the course of this season. This is an aspect which can’t be understated and almost certainly will have contributed to any mental fatigue.
When Conte had to undergo emergency gallbladder surgery at the start of February and was twice ordered to recover at home in Italy, it seemed plausible that he and Spurs could mutually agree a separation. He returned to work only for on-field results to worsen.
At the time of Conte’s sacking, Spurs do still occupy a spot in the Premier League’s top four, perhaps the best testament of his ability to grind out results when it felt like the club’s world was collapsing.
His disrespect for Tottenham – whether directly or not – as well as this season’s underperformance means Conte won’t be revered in the same manner as a Mauricio Pochettino or even a Martin Jol or Harry Redknapp. But he was not an outright failure and shouldn’t fall into the same bracket his direct predecessors Jose Mourinho or Nuno Espirito Santo.
This is a parting of the ways which both sides needed in order to find themselves again. Conte can now return to Italy and take some much-needed time off, while Spurs can focus on finding a head coach for the long-term.
On this edition of Oh What a Night, part of the 90min podcast network, Sean Walsh & Jude Summerfield discuss the issues at Tottenham Hotspur and who is to blame for where the club find themselves. If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!
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