“You are finding an alibi, another alibi,” Antonio Conte said when asked about his future, his voice slowly going up a few decibels in his press conference after Tottenham’s 3-3 draw with Southampton.
Spurs had inexplicably – well, perhaps not inexplicably, which is the crux of the problem – thrown away a two-goal lead away at the Premier League’s worst team with 15 minutes of the game remaining.
“You try to find an excuse for the players. OK, continue to do this, to find an excuse for the players. You do only this! You do only this. Excuses for the players,” Conte exclaimed to the several journalists in his presence at St Mary’s, insisting this collapse was not his fault.
“‘But the players, maybe, my future, then we lost confidence, they lost spirit, they lost being a team’. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. Try to protect them every time.
“Bah. Come on, come on, come on. We are professional. The club pay us a lot of money. The players receive money, me receive money, you understand? Not to find excuse or not show spirit or show a sense of belonging or don’t show a sense of responsibility because we are showing this. For me this is unacceptable because for me this is the first time in my career to see a situation like this. Until now I wasn’t able to change, not to change but compare to last season the situation went to become worse.”
The head coach throwing his players under the bus is just one telltale sign that someone wants out of their job. But heading after the club’s owners is a rarer sight, a hidden gem among meltdowns.
“Why [is this happening]? Because they are used to it here, they are used to it,” Conte continued. “They don’t play for something important yeah. They don’t want to play under pressure, they don’t want to play under stress. It is easy in this way. Tottenham’s story is this. 20 years there is the owner and they never won something but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stay here? I have seen the managers that Tottenham had on the bench. You risk to disrupt the figure of the manager and to protect the other situation in every moment.”
At the end of a headline-making and legacy-breaking monologue, Conte retorted: “I’m really upset and everyone has to take their responsibility.
“Not only the club, the manager and the staff. The players have to be involved in this situation because it is time to change this situation if Tottenham want to change. If they want to continue in this way, they can change the manager, a lot of managers, but the situation cannot change. Believe me.”
It was football’s worst kept secret before that Conte was on his way out of Tottenham at the end of the season. Now it’s a mystery that he’s even still in the job.
After a strong end to the 2021/22 season – one in which Spurs displayed an entertaining ruthlessness that led to suggestions of a title push this year – Conte has undone a lot of his good work. Tottenham’s results have regressed in tandem with their newly prehistoric style of play, dumped out of three cup competitions by three sides they really should have beaten.
Conte’s criticisms of the playing squad and ownership are valid. It’d be foolish to try and battle back against them. The problem is the position from which he is speaking and running away from, as much a problem and detriment to the club as any of the other factors he blamed, named and shamed.
While Tottenham somehow sit fourth in the Premier League table, they are stuck in reverse and it is a false position. They have a non-committal head coach, a roster underperforming and sapped of confidence, a director of football who could soon be banned from the game, a chairman – rightly or wrongly – growing more unpopular by the day.
Where Jose Mourinho’s tenure simply fizzled out with apathy two years ago, Conte seems determined to go out in a blaze of anti-glory and is hell-bent on taking everyone down with him.
Therein perhaps lies the only positive of this mess. After four years of failure in the post-Mauricio Pochettino era, it’s now undeniable that Spurs have failed in their attempts to replace him. They must recognise they were a top-four club in need of rebuilding to reach the next level and that’s still the case.
Tottenham must take some steps back if they’re to move forward again and accept that these flirtations to fast-track to silverware were egregious. They’re a few months away from the transfer window – step one must be about identifying a suitable head coach to lead and reunite the club.
Conte and Mourinho were not suited to the needs of Spurs, but their failures are not ones of ambition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Daniel Levy is on record saying that he thought the enigmatic Portuguese was still ‘one of the two best managers in the world’ at the time of his appointment, a serious indiscretion for someone at that point in charge of footballing operations.
His decision to bring in Conte was more understandable considering his more recent success and ability to raise the floor of teams without star quality in every position. But they shouldn’t have banked on him to stick around for the long-term, for them to be the club where he finally moves on from his short-term preferences.
The good news for Tottenham is that there are still a number of top-level coaches who would be interested in succeeding Conte – Luis Enrique sounds like he’s keen, Pochettino’s desire to return is fairly obvious, and this shouldn’t be a situation like in 2021 when the job fell to Nuno Espirito Santo.
Ralf Rangnick famously insisted last year Manchester United needed ‘open heart surgery’ after their worst ever Premier League season, and the right managerial appointment was followed by swift and uncharacteristic action in the transfer market. Spurs are in crisis and trending downwards but it won’t last that way forever, and doesn’t even have to for much longer.