MATT BARLOW: Antonio Conte’s Tottenham tenure has unravelled at speed with one setback following another… after a promising start he leaves the club no further forward than when Jose Mourinho took over
- READ: Tottenham have announced the departure of Antonio Conte as manager
- Things have gone downhill very quickly for Conte at the club this season
- As he departs, Tottenham have made no progress since hiring Jose Mourinho
Only 10 months have passed but the jubilant scenes in the East Anglian sunshine have long since faded from memory.
Tottenham scored five at Norwich to finish fourth above Arsenal and Son Heung-min claimed a Golden Boot. Antonio Conte spoke of a ‘miracle’ and the ‘biggest challenge’ of his coaching career to revive a team wallowing in eighth to reach the Champions League.
Then flew back to Italy and informed managing director Fabio Paratici he was ready to commit to another season, the rest of his contract.
Paratici delivered a blaze of early summer signings and all seemed positive but things have a habit of unravelling at speed where Conte is concerned and so it has proved to be the case again in a season to forget.
Setback after setback culminated in the March meltdown, one win from five games, dumped out of two cup competitions and the post-match eruption at Southampton where Tottenham turned three points into one by leaking two late goals.
Antonio Conte’s reign at Tottenham unravelled quickly after a promising start
Conte launched a furious tirade at his own players after Spurs drew 3-3 at Southampton
Conte has now headed for the exit door at Tottenham and those who said it would never last were right again.
What seemed to be a bold and ambitious appointment by Daniel Levy, spending big on a demanding manager with a winning pedigree, ends up looking like a waste of time, very much like the bold and ambitious move for Jose Mourinho.
On reflection, Conte’s second season started to go wrong almost as soon as it started when Fraser Forster and Yves Bissouma, two of the six new recruits, contracted Covid on the pre-season tour of South Korea.
They spent all week in their room and stayed behind in quarantine as the rest of the squad flew back to London after two games. For Bissouma, who cost £25million from Brighton and failed to fight his way into the Spurs team, it would prove a bad omen.
Other injuries littered the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison spent time out. Son’s goals vanished and the football was far from fluent.
But perhaps the greatest blow to Conte was the sudden death of his close friend, confidante and Tottenham’s fitness guru Gian Piero Ventrone at the age of 62, in October, days after he asked to be excused from the Champions League tie at Eintracht Frankfurt because he felt unwell.
The loss of Ventrone had a profound impact on 53-year-old Conte and there would be aftershocks when close associates Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli died, within weeks of each other in December and January.
Then came Conte’s own health scare. Abdominal pains in January and an operation to remove his gallbladder on February 1. He rushed back too soon, determined to prepare for the Champions League tie against AC Milan but after two games on the touchline was advised to step away from his work once more to help his recovery.
It was an ambitious appointment from Daniel Levy, but has ended up being a waste of time
Conte has had to deal with one setback after another on and off the pitch at Tottenham
By the time he returned for the second time, for the second leg of the Milan tie, it was becoming increasingly likely he would be leaving Spurs when his contract expired in June.
There had been talks during the World Cup break to extend his deal on improved terms but they were unresolved and the strain of his personal problems, with his wife and daughter still living in Turin was a further obstruction to the idea of extending his tenure.
Even on purely footballing terms, this second season has also been difficult. Unspectacular to watch, dry counter-attacking football with yet another prolific campaign for Harry Kane the only true beam of light.
Frustration simmers inside the academy, meanwhile, because Conte is interested purely in the quick fix of experience. The development of young players, the lifeline when Mauricio Pochettino arrived in 2014, has stalled.
Fine victories against Manchester City and Chelsea were neutralised by comprehensive defeats home and away against Arsenal, and the disappointment of domestic cup defeats to Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.
Conte’s gamble to rest players in ties he expected to win backfired. He grumbled all the while about the quality and depth of cover in his squad. He was quick to point out Djed Spence was not his signing and barely played the right back, signed from Middlesbrough in a deal worth up to £20m.
In fact, he claimed the six summer recruits were only actually two because two were free transfers, Clement Lenglet was a loan from Barcelona and then there was Spence.
The two were Richarlison and Bissouma but he did not seem entirely satisfied to be picking up his big signings from Everton and Brighton when rivals Arsenal were signing Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City.
These fears have since become reality with Jesus and Zinchenko key to Arsenal’s transformation and title challenge. Let’s be fair to Conte, whether you like his style of not, he knows a winning mentality when he sees it just as he can tell when it is absent.
Tottenham’s 3-3 draw at Southampton was the last straw for Conte as he hit out at his players
Conte leaves the club no better off than they were under former boss Jose Mourinho
Richarlison has suffered one injury after another and grumbled about Conte’s selection after the Champions League exit at the hands of Milan and Bissouma having failed to break into the team is injured and expected to miss the rest of the season.
Trophies slipped out of reach and there were more points squandered, and all of this frustration and emotion reached its boiling point at Southampton 500 days into his reign.
The withering assessment about selfish players and the culture of failure inside the club after more than two decades under Levy’s rule was extraordinary, and though it contained an uncomfortable truth or two, it was only going to end one way.
And Conte’s exit leaves Tottenham no further forward than they were when they hired and fired Mourinho. Two of the great coaches of the modern era have been and gone leaving next to no impact on the club.
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