With the Antonio Conte era at Tottenham drawing to a close, I cannot help but feel he has been dealt a rough hand.
This is not excusing him of any blame, indeed he has made many mistakes during his tenure, but the root of the problems at Spurs go much deeper than the manager.
But to begin with, we must assess what he has achieved with the team in comparison to the resources he has at his disposal, and I don’t think anyone will disagree that the results this season, in terms of the football you and I pay to see, has not been pretty.
As fans we want to get behind our team, to have something to cheer. But watching the game on Wednesday I felt was a complete waste of an evening and I could have had more fun doing my tax return.
My main issue with Conte has been his seeming inability to remove the shackles from the players, some of whom undoubtedly have talent and creativity in abundance. We are so slow, with and without the ball, and we seem tentative, especially in the early stages of matches.
Plus, I do not think I could name you one player who Conte has developed and improved significantly, while the list of players who have regressed under him this season is quite alarming.
As an example of this, in the summer we signed Brighton and Everton’s best players. Neither have seen many minutes on the pitch and, when they have been included, they have been played out of position.
Bissouma has been used as a sitting midfielder, allowing others to advance, a role that does not suit him. He played predominantly on the left side of a three at Brighton, and was allowed a lot more freedom to express himself.
Richarlison has played his best football as a number nine, and I believe the only time he has played there has been for sixty minutes against Sheffield United (although it must be said he was very underwhelming on that occasion).
But the biggest disappointment for me this season has been Son. Sonny plays his best football when he is making runs in behind, playing off the last man. He is normally our furthest-forward attacker.
That is how he was played when he won the golden boot and it has seen him turn into one of the most dangerous and deadly wingers in the World.
This season, he has been dropping a lot deeper and playing with his back to goal, and also seems to stay a lot wider in attack. He has never been as good in those aspects of the game, and he would not be doing this by choice.
I think Conte has been doing this to allow Perisic to push further up the pitch, which is even more infuriating as he has been so poor. The squad is so low on confidence and there is very little freedom in the roles given to players who thrive off attacking play.
Tactically, I believe that Conte is far too rigid. He never moves away from his beloved three at the back, despite our lack of quality centre halves to fill in these positions.
I could not even begin to list the number of games in which we lose the midfield battle, and most of the top teams in this day and age play with a three-man midfield. If you look at Arsenal, City, Liverpool etc they all play with a balanced three in midfield.
We have some top-quality midfielders, and I cannot help but feel our squad is suited to a progressive 4-3-3, despite our lack of quality defensively, which of course needs to be addressed (a long-standing issue).
Substitutions and tactical changes have often been left too late in games and then fail to make an impact. For example, on Wednesday against AC Milan we were failing to create anything, but we didn’t change system or significant substitutions until far too close to the final whistle.
This saw us limp out of a competition that was our last hope of silverware for the season. It seems to have all gone a little bit stale at Tottenham, it looks like the players aren’t motivated and any momentum we had to get into the top four and stay there seems to be so stop-start.
Throughout his spell at the club Conte has been very strange when speaking to the media. There are constant questions regarding his future and commitment to the club, and rightly so, as he never seems to commit and speaks in riddles most of the time.
The earliest memory I have of this is after the Burnley game in February 2022 when Conte came out after the defeat questioning whether he was the correct man for the job and speaking so negatively about the club (DailyMail).
Why the marriage was always headed for a divorce:
This situation is not entirely his fault, however, as the club also failed to properly commit to him, and this is why the relationship between club and manager was doomed from the start.
Conte is notoriously a short-term manager who has stints in roles before an almost inevitable fallout with the club’s hierarchy.
It has happened at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter, and now looks set to happen at Spurs. The difference between us and the other clubs? The other clubs realised the type of manager Conte is and provided him with the necessary resources to win titles, which he did.
When Conte was hired, I naively thought that this marked a change in direction from the club. I thought they would have had to be insane to hire him without an intention to back him financially to the extent necessary.
You may say we spent money and this criticism of the club is unjustified, but if you look at how much we are spending compared to what the club earns and what other clubs in similar positions have spent, it is not a good look.
As an example, to improve the weakest area of our team (centre halves) we brought in just one player, Clement Lenglet, who was unwanted by a Barcelona team in disarray.
Surprisingly even he has proved to be a bad deal. He was a loan signing, so we spent a total of zero pounds in transfer fees on our weakest area in the summer.
The reason so much investment is required is because of the previous failing of the club to land top targets, meaning we have had to settle for lower quality. Plus we let our squad run dry for two seasons, when we didn’t sign a single player at the end of the Poch era.
With our current owners, who will never invest heavily like the other clubs in the ‘Big Six’, we need a certain style of manager – a top coach first and foremost, who relishes the challenge of developing young players and playing an attractive brand of football.
We had all of this in Poch and were so close to success with him. Hiring Conte, who has a ‘win now’ style, tends to favour experience over youth and a pragmatic style of football, is not going to bring success under this ownership.
Mourinho and Conte have now both proven that this approach leads to a toxic relationship that is only going to end one way.
External factors at play, and why I feel sorry for Conte:
The first thing to mention would be the tragic death of our fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, who was Conte’s great friend and loved by all the players.
Situations like this are far bigger than football and the fact that Conte came out with a brave face and carried on through his immense pain is a huge credit to him, and I will always admire him for that.
In addition to this, his recent surgery on his gall bladder has been hard for him and his family to deal with . Despite this, he showed up at Spurs much earlier than expected (and as it turned out too early) which again is testament to his strong character.
Conte’s time at Spurs looks to be nearing the end, and it can only go down as another failure under ENIC. We will change the manager, and probably rightly so in the circumstances, but the sad reality is that this ownership is not going anywhere, and under it neither are Spurs.
That is why I struggle to feel any real optimism in the fanbase currently, as everything going on at the club is sucking the life out of us.
We can hope for a Poch return, or maybe a Gallardo or an Enrique, but I don’t know how excited we can allow ourselves to get for yet another transitional period and, I feel inevitably, it will once again be hope followed by disappointment.
Honestly, if I were an agent of a manager Spurs were looking to recruit, I would probably block Levy’s number.
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