Antonio Conte is a gamble Tottenham Hotspur can’t afford not to take
“It’s time to stop being so crap,” was Tottenham Hotspur manager-in-waiting Antonio Conte’s rallying cry to the Juventus squad he inherited, according to his former player Andrea Pirlo.
A similar sentiment would not be inappropriate at Spurs if, as expected, Conte is named the successor to Nuno Espirito Santo, who was fired after just four months today.
That speech, just over a decade ago, may not have been poetic, but it was effective. Conte turned a Juve side that had finished seventh into unbeaten Italian champions in his first season.
In fact he is the closest thing in elite European football management to a sure-fire winner; none of his last four jobs can be classed as anything other than a success.
At Juventus, the side he represented as an industrious midfielder, he won three consecutive Serie A titles that laid the foundations for a decade of domestic dominance for the bianconeri.
From there he took over the Italian national team and led a squad of whom little was expected to an eye-catching run to the Euro quarter-finals, featuring wins over Belgium and Spain.
At Chelsea he shook up a team that had finished 10th months earlier, striking on a winning 3-4-3 formula that gleaned 13 wins in a row and, ultimately, the Premier League title.
And at Inter Milan last season he finally ended the Juve stranglehold that he had initiated 10 years earlier, delivering Inter’s first Serie A crown since Jose Mourinho in 2010.
Each job showcased what Conte is about: taking a team that is seen to be underperforming, putting a rocket up them and turning them into champions – or a good side, at the very least.
Conte fits the bill at Tottenham
In that sense, he fits the bill at Tottenham. Since the club’s high of reaching the Champions League final in 2019, they have gone backwards at an alarming rate.
The departure of Mauricio Pochettino and hiring of Mourinho did not stop the rot that had set in and Nuno never looked like being the man to reverse that trend. So it proved.
Spurs desperately need an experienced hand who knows how to deliver and will demand more from a squad that has looked nothing like the sum of its parts for two years or more.
Conte does come with some strings attached, however. He doesn’t tend to hang around for long – his three years at Juve was his longest of eight managerial jobs – and he is highly demanding.
That can mean players find him abrasive – at Chelsea, he alienated Diego Costa to the extent the striker fled to Brazil – but it can also affect his relationships at board level.
He left Inter during the summer following their title win after failing to receive assurances about transfers, despite seeing more than 20 players sign for the club in his two years.
His departure from Juventus in 2014 was marked by similar complaints, while talks with Spurs earlier this year are reported to have stalled over the squad investment he wanted.
Conte himself doesn’t come cheap, either. After giving him an improved contract for delivering the title, Chelsea sacked him with a year left on the deal at a cost of £26m.
His appointment would be a gamble, and a potentially expensive one at that. But if it delivers a return to the Champions League, and the revenue that entails, then it will have been worth it.
And in a season when the top three are streets ahead but fourth place is up for grabs, chairman Daniel Levy might argue that it’s a gamble that Tottenham cannot afford not to take.