Much has changed at Tottenham since the end of the 2018/19 season. After a weak start to the 2019/20 season, the architect of Tottenham’s rise Mauricio Pochetino was sacked. Jose Mourinho took over from the Argentine and despite some improvements Spurs finished the season only 6th, and thus missed out on qualification for the Champions League.
The 2020/21 season started much better for Spurs and they even led the standings for a few weeks, however as the season progressed their form deteriorated and Jose Mourinho was sacked too. Spurs, in the end, finished 7th, missing out on the top four by 5 points. Tottenham had a positive start this season also, however the team’s form deteriorated once again and Nuno was sacked by November.
Yet despite the difficulties of the previous years, the appointment of Antonio Conte brought back hope for Spurs fans. One glance at the Italian’s track record shows us that, Juventus before Conte took over there finished 7th, yet Conte turned them into champions, Chelsea the season before Conte became their coach finished 10th, though undoubtedly with a very good squad, and once again Conte turned them into champions.
Conte’s last team, Inter Milan finished 4th before Conte took over, in Conte’s first season they finished 2nd, while in Conte’s second season they became runaway champions.
So if our question is can Conte turn an underperforming or average side into champions, the answer is an obvious yes, as he did it three times already. In the following, I will try to predict the future by looking into the past and analysing the pros and cons of the Conte-Spurs marriage.
First of all, I think everybody agrees that as things currently are Tottenham are miles away from challenging the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. The best Spurs fans can hope for and realistically expect of Conte is 4th, and even that will be a struggle. Nonetheless, the current Spurs squad, with a few additions in January, coached by a manager of Conte’s ability, in my opinion is good enough to finish 4th.
Conte’s favourite formations are the 3-4-3 and the 3-5-2, this Spurs team is capable of playing both. With a front two of Kane and Son or a front three of Kane, Son and Lucas Moura goals should be expected of Spurs. The future of Harry Kane is a matter of speculation, but even if he leaves Spurs the fee which Spurs will receive for him will be more than enough to replace Kane, as Dusan Vlahovic is rumoured to be the target if Kane departs.
The defence is another matter, Conte is rumoured to be interested in signing centre backs Stefan de Vrij and Mathijs de Ligt, either of them would improve the defence of Spurs, the two in tandem especially so. The wingbacks are also vitally important in a Conte team, both Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses played superbly in Conte’s title-winning Chelsea. Sergio Reguilón and Emerson Royal were the two wing-backs of Conte’s first two Premier League games, however, the jury is still out whether they are good enough for the demanding Italian.
Midfield also played a key part in Conte’s title-winning Chelsea, Matic and Kante both performed superbly in protecting their centre backs, and with all respect to Tottenham’s current midfielders, none of them is at the level of these two. Franck Kessie of Ac Milan is rumoured to be one of Conte’s targets, however, one wonders if it is a realistic target or just wishful thinking.
Despite the obvious weaknesses of the current Spurs team, Conte is well known for improving his players. One good example of this is Victor Moses who markedly improved under Conte, David Luiz also played his best season under Conte.
At Inter he used some players who were believed finished by the giants of Europe. Conte and his team put Romelu Lukaku on a new diet which led to Lukaku becoming slimmer, quicker and overall a much better player. Conte also used Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez at Inter, all players who were discarded by their previous clubs. Young Italian players Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolò Barella also become key figures at Inter under Conte’s guidance.
Conte was approached by Tottenham after he resigned from Inter Milan, yet at the first time of asking he turned them down. Some pundits believe that Tottenham was not willing to give the guarantees Conte may have demanded, and his acceptance of the job after Nuno’s sacking means that these demands were accepted.
The pundits believe, in my opinion rightly, that these guarantees included the signing of numerous players whom Conte believes would improve the team. Many players are tipped as possible transfer targets to Spurs, however, Conte’s track record shows that he can improve his teams without spending zillions of Euros, and if I was a Spurs fan, I would expect a much-improved performance from the current roster of players.
While there are plenty of positives Conte can bring to any team, the Italians volcanic temperament and uncompromising style can lead to conflicts, as we have witnessed at Chelsea. Despite a brilliant first season, Conte’s second Chelsea season was very turbulent.
Conte’s relationship with people from the club’s hierarchy and some of his senior player’s deteriorated, Chelsea finished a disappointing 5th in the Premier League. Conte also walked away from Juventus and Inter after winning titles when he felt the club’s hierarchy was blocking the way for further improvements.
All in all, I believe Tottenham stumbled upon a diamond, however, this diamond has its rough edges and needs to be carefully managed. Given time and support from the board, I am convinced Antonio Conte can turn Spurs into title contenders, however, if the Spurs board fail to give Conte the support he believes he deserves, he will have no qualms about walking away from North London.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Andrew Szekler