Evening Standard chief football correspondent Dan Kilpatrick has claimed that there are no upsides for Tottenham in sticking with Antonio Conte even a day longer, urging the club to pull the plug on the project immediately while also suggesting the head coach is desperate to leave.
In the days preceding Spurs’ second leg against AC Milan, multiple outlets (The Daily Mail and The Athletic) had reported that Conte’s time at the North London club looks likely to come to an end in the summer.
The club’s elimination from the Champions League has seemingly ended any hopes that Conte had of turning things around at N17, with the Italian himself raising the possibility after the final whistle that Tottenham could sack him before his contract runs out in the summer (Prime Video via Fabrizio Romano).
Kilpatrick believes that the one silver lining for Spurs with Wednesday’s result is the clarity that the club now have regarding the futility of prolonging the inevitable.
The journalist wrote in his column for The Evening Standard: “Antonio Conte may limp on at Tottenham for a few more weeks or matches, perhaps even until his contract is up at the end of the season, but Wednesday night’s Champions League exit felt like the end-game of his underwhelming tenure.
“The only positive for Spurs from a pedestrian draw with AC Milan, who deservedly progressed to the quarter-finals, is that at least now there should be clarity.
“If Harry Kane had scored a stoppage-time header — Spurs’s best chance in 173 minutes trailing to the Serie A side — and Spurs had found a way to progress through extra-time or penalties, it would only have prolonged Conte’s pointless and draining tenure.
“As it is, there is obviously nothing left for anyone to gain by Conte remaining in the job any longer, although he is due to take Friday’s press conference as usual and be in the dugout for Saturday’s home game against Nottingham Forest.”
Kilpatrick also suggested that Conte himself sounds like a man who now wants to be put out of his misery.
The journalist continued: “For the best part of a year, Conte has appeared to want a way out, refusing to commit beyond the end of this season and radiating an ‘I’m too good for you’ energy, the manner of someone ashamed of their partner and prone to talking them down in public.
“Sooner or later, he will get his wish. The only question is when Daniel Levy will act, which is likely to depend on whether the chairman still believes Conte is the best man to secure another top-four finish — the only remaining target for the club after exiting two cup competitions in seven days.
“Conte is plainly done, and it was easy to wonder if he was speaking hopefully when he admitted on Wednesday night that the club could sack him before his contract runs out.
“His decisions on Wednesday suggest he scarcely cares any more. He must have known how supporters would react to the introduction of Davinson Sanchez for Dejan Kulusevski with Spurs still needing a goal, but made the change anyway, and after the game he suggested that Spurs did not have the pedigree to compete with a side like Milan. Incidentally, Tottenham have won four Champions League knockout ties to Conte’s one.
“Just as in the domestic cup defeats by Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, Spurs have more than enough quality to beat this Milan side, or at least make them sweat. But Conte’s approach, briefly so effective and so thrilling, has long since ceased to be either.”
Kilpatrick also asserted that the responsibility of Tottenham’s slide this season should lay squarely on Conte and his tactical approach.
He added: “Spurs were worked out by opponents months ago, and the only surprising thing about Conte’s selections is his insistence on picking out-of-form players. Really, though, none of the squad should be blamed for under-performing when the tactics are so tired, and the players no longer look like they are enjoying playing for the Italian.
“His contain-and-counter set-up, which is still just about effective against a handful of sides, like Manchester City, was plainly ill-suited to exploiting a Milan team leading the tie through Brahim Diaz’s goal at the San Siro, and with absolutely no incentive to leave the necessary space for Spurs.”
Spurs Web Opinion
I disagree with Kilpatrick’s assertion that Conte does not care and that he is looking to get sacked. The Italian and his coaching staff do care deeply about turning the project into a success. However, it has been clear for many months the project is not heading anywhere, and that Conte is not tactically flexible enough to try different things.
I cannot see the 53-year-old lasting until the end of the season. I suspect Levy would already be reaching out to potential replacements and I would not be surprised if the Italian is let go over the coming days and Ryan Mason is installed as the interim head coach.
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