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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Tottenham Hotspur will be the biggest challenge of Antonio Conte’s managerial career

Antonio Conte Spurs
Turning Spurs around would be an impressive feat, even for Antonio Conte. Sean Dempsey/EPA.

Antonio Conte is a winner. It’s one of the qualities most commonly associated with him as a manager, and with good reason given his track record of winning multiple titles across Europe. Indeed, Conte is one of the best coaches of his generation and underlined this standing by winning the Serie A title in only his second season at Inter.

Now, though, Conte has taken on his biggest managerial challenge by joining Tottenham Hotspur. The 52-year-old has built winning teams before, but the obstacles he will face in North London will be greater than anything else he has overcome in his career to date. Spurs won’t make Conte, given all that he has already achieved in the game, but it could break him.

While Conte was able to demand top tier transfers at each of his last three clubs (Chelsea, Inter and Juventus), he might have to settle for a lower calibre of player at Tottenham. They simply don’t have the resources of some of their Premier League rivals and are now saddled with £600m of debt related to the construction of their new stadium.

Spurs will likely enter the transfer market in January to strengthen their squad and satisfy some of Conte’s demands, but the club’s scouting and recruitment departments will be tested as will the Italian’s coaching skills. He will have to maximise everything he has inherited to carry Tottenham up the Premier League table.

Tottenham Hotspur certainly have the potential to be one of English football’s biggest clubs. Under Mauricio Pochettino they established themselves as permanent members of the Premier League’s top four and even made the Champions League final for the first time in the club’s history in 2019.

Since then, though, the two Manchester clubs plus Chelsea and Liverpool have flexed their financial muscle and opened up a gulf at the top of the English game. Spurs have spent big over the last two years as well (see the £60m paid for Tanguy Ndombele), but their wage stricture limits them in the way the aforementioned rivals aren’t.

There is quality already at Tottenham for Conte to work with. Cristian Romero was one of the best defenders in Serie A last season and so it’s likely Conte already knows what the Argentine centre back can offer. Spurs fans still haven’t seen the best of Ndombele, a player whose energy and drive could make him a favourite under the new manager.

Then there’s Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, whose partnership could emulate that of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez’s for Inter. However, Conte might have to convince Kane that his future still lies in North London if he is to revitalise a player seemingly still pondering his failed transfer to Manchester City in the summer.

“Stability and offensively, to be dangerous, to create many chances to score,” Conte replied when asked after Tottenham’s goalless draw against Everton what he wanted his team to be. “Today, we made many mistakes with the last pass and the last decision, and the last pass can give you the opportunity to score, or to take a counter-attack. Now, we need to work. We need to improve step by step the physical condition because if you want to bring intensity on the pitch for 95 minutes, we need to improve in an important way our physical situation.”

As Conte suggests, it will take time for his ideas to be absorbed by his new players. What’s more, Tottenham’s squad will need a certain physical level to play in the way the former Chelsea and Inter boss favours. This is another area in which progress will have to be incremental for the time being.

Conte will initially be given some leeway as he cleans up the mess left behind by Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. With Tottenham currently languishing in ninth place in the Premier League table, a top six finish would be considered an achievement in the short-term. Conte can count on being afforded patience this season.

At some point, though, there will be a moment of reckoning for Conte as Spurs boss and it’s not yet clear what he can achieve at the club. The Italian is a winner, but winning isn’t in Tottenham Hotspur’s DNA, at least in terms of their modern track record. Either Conte will make Spurs more Conte or Spurs will make Conte more Spurs.

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