After Antonio Conte departure Spurs can't afford to get it wrong again

Once he had gone so public with his scathing criticism of Spurs, the owners and the players, there was no way Conte was going to be able to take training again
After Antonio Conte departure Spurs can't afford to get it wrong again

DEPARTED: Antonio Conte has left Tottenham by mutual consent. Pic: John Walton/PA Wire.

It is deja-vu all over again at Tottenham, now that Antonio Conte has gone and the search for his successor has started in earnest.

The biggest surprise in this latest debacle to come out of London N17 is that it took Daniel Levy more than a week to sack Conte after the Italian's outburst following Tottenham's 3-3 draw at Southampton, which amounted to the managerial suicide note.

Once he had gone so public with his scathing criticism of Spurs, the owners and the players, there was no way Conte was going to be able to take training again, let alone give a team-talk ahead of their next game, at Everton on Monday.

The international break afforded Levy some time to ponder his next move and agree termination arrangements with Conte, who had returned to his family home in Turin after the Southampton game while most of his first-team players joined up with their national sides.

All week, while traditional and social media buzzed with speculation, there were conversations and negotiations in the executive offices at Lillywhite House, which adjoins the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, and at the club's training complex in Enfield.

The main participants were Levy, Conte and Fabio Paratici, the club's managing director of football. It was Paratici who identified Conte as Tottenham's number one target to succeed Jose Mourinho two summers ago, having worked with him at Juventus. Conte initially turned down the chance to manage Spurs so soon after leaving Inter, but he jumped at a second offer five months later when the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo turned out to be as doomed as most had predicted.

Levy was delighted to get one of the most successful managers in the game, who promised to get the players fit, focussed and organised after two years of drift under Mourinho and Espirito Santo.

He was as good as his word in working tirelessly to make the players fitter and more organised, with his strict 3-4-3 formation leading to a successful season finale, qualifying for the Champions League with a high-scoring team.

But there was always an uneasy fit between a demanding coach and a parsimonious owner. Levy has always looked for value in the transfer market rather than compete with the moneybags Manchester clubs or Chelsea, and the club have long had a policy of recruiting young British players to be developed, like Gareth Bale and Dele Alli, as well their own graduates such as Harry Kane.

Conte wanted proven winners, oven-ready for a tilt at the title. Even though he talked at the beginning of this season about an ambition to win the Premier League AND the Champions League, he knew neither was possible with the squad he had, and was soon making disparaging noises to that effect in public. 

At the same time, the feelgood factor from last season soon evaporated as players became unhappy with the relentless training regime and rigid tactics, the board became frustrated at Conte's constant complaining, and fans hated the football on show. Although Spurs have spent most of the season in the top three or four positions, they have hardly produced a standout performance and have been consistent only in their dullness.

At the same time, Conte was winding down the 18-month contract he signed in October 2021, with little appetite from either side to extend it.

So now he is gone, the question is what next?

The fact that most of Conte's staff are staying on, with Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason taking the helm for the final ten games, speaks volumes about how broken his relationships had become. The two coaches are popular with players to such an extent that Paratici and Levy felt they did not need to bring in a big name straightaway in order to ensure a top four finish.

But the search for a full-time successor is underway. Thomas Tuchel was a name in the frame, having had instant results at Chelsea in his short time there, but Bayern Munich noted Tottenham's interest and accelerated their own, appointing the German to replace Julian Nagelsmann last week.

Naturally Nagelsmann is now high on Tottenham's list, having been on their radar two years ago, and many will see similarities between the 35-year-old and Mauricio Pochettino, who was the last manager to succeed at Spurs.

Pochettino is the overwhelming choice of supporters to return and recreate the glory days when Spurs were not only great to watch, but runners-up in the Premier League and Champions League. One problem, however, is that Pochettino and Paratici are not necessarily compatible, with the Argentine thought to be unhappy working under a sporting director, and Paratici perhaps wary of having such a popular figure back on board.

Paratici's own situation is complicated by the fact that he is banned from working in Italy for 30 months and the Italian FA are urging UEFA to extend the sanction throughout Europe. Paratici is one of 11 former Juventus executives being charged with financial irregularities, and his position at Tottenham could become untenable if found guilty.

While he is still in charge of football at Spurs, however, it is his job to find Conte's successor, and other candidates he favours include Luis Enrique, who played attractive, attacking football as coach of Barcelona and then Spain, and Roberto De Zerbi, who has hit the ground running after taking over from Graham Potter at Brighton. Oliver Glasner, the Eintracht Frankfurt coach, was on Tottenham's radar in an earlier round of recruitment campaigning, and Thomas Frank is admired for his work at Brentford.

Levy has the ultimate say, and this will be his most important appointment since he was installed as Chairman when ENIC bought the club from Alan Sugar 22 years ago. Levy has appointed 12 managers and only two other than Pochettino have won over the fanbase – Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp, both of whom were also brutally sacked.

In his defence, Levy has delivered a world-class training facility and stadium that means Tottenham are now in a strong financial position, above Arsenal in terms of revenue, albeit with half the wage bill and spending power of the likes of Manchester United, City and Chelsea. Liverpool still spend significantly more than Tottenham, and Newcastle will soon be in a better position to spend the billions of their backers from Saudi Arabia.

Tottenham – and Levy in particular - have both a dilemma and an identity crisis. Is it time to cash in on a club that ENIC bought for around €130 million and is now valued at more than €3 billion? There are investors in the US ready to do a deal if Levy and majority owner Joe Lewis are willing to do business. Or does Levy stay and try to end Tottenham's infamous trophy drought while also winning back their disenchanted fans – and some players – by appointing a manager who understands the club's true identity as best encapsulated by their former captain Danny Blanchflower. 

“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” 

Mourinho, Esprito Santo and Conte were the antithesis of that ethos, and all failed. Tottenham cannot afford to get it wrong again.

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