Antonio Conte grumbles cast shadow over huge week for Tottenham
Antonio Conte often cuts an agitated figure on the touchline but the Tottenham Hotspur manager has sounded especially restless ahead of a big week for the club.
In interviews that emerged on Wednesday, Conte aired his frustration at the quality and quantity of signings Spurs made in the January transfer window. The Italian also hinted at a deeper disillusionment with the club’s plans and put Tottenham’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League at “one per cent”.
As far as rallying cries for Saturday’s trip to Manchester City go, it left something to be desired and only revived questions about Conte’s long-term future in north London.
“What happened in January was not easy. We lost four important players for Tottenham, and we brought in only two. So even just in terms of numbers, rather than reinforce the squad, on paper we weakened it,” he told Sky Italia.
“[Rodrigo] Bentancur and [Dejan] Kulusevski are ideal prospects because Tottenham are seeking young players they can develop and grow, not players who are ready. That is the issue.
“If you want to be competitive more rapidly you need players with a lot of experience, because they also raise the experience level of the overall team. But I have realised now that this is the vision of the club.”
A trip to City is always momentous but this one feels particularly big for Tottenham’s chances of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.
Although they have games in hand, Spurs are currently trailing in what appears to be a five-horse race for fourth place. Should they lose to City on Saturday evening, Conte’s side could be 10 points adrift of the last Champions League spot by the end of the weekend.
Momentum is not on their side. They have lost five of their last eight matches in all competitions and three in a row in the league. The last time Tottenham lost four top-flight games in a row was November 2004, when Martin Jol had just taken over as manager and Conte had not long hung up his boots at Juventus.
Champions City, by contrast, are in scintillating form, having won 19 of their last 21 fixtures and thrashed Sporting Lisbon 5-0 on Tuesday.
Spurs can, however, take some comfort from their record against City, which is better than most. They beat them on the opening weekend of this season, have only lost one of their last five meetings in the league and memorably knocked them out of the Champions League on their way to the final in 2019.
There are other reasons to take heart. Prior to their current wobble, Spurs looked to have hit their stride under Conte, taking 17 points from a possible 21. Harry Kane has shown improvement and been reunited with Son Heung-min, who has scored seven times against City.
Spurs are still in the FA Cup and have a winnable trio of Premier League fixtures following this weekend, against Burnley, Leeds United and Everton. They could even have climbed as high as fourth by the end of the month, if they rediscover their winning touch against City and other results fall their way.
Perhaps that would be enough to placate Conte and change the mood music.
“In the past I always said I only have to feel a one per cent possibility to win the league,” he told BeIN Sports this week. “For sure here the situation is strange because maybe I feel the one per cent possibility to have the ambition to finish fourth.”
The next few days should determine whether Conte’s assessment is accurate or overly pessimistic.