A New Hope

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In another universe, Nuno’s Tottenham scraped to another fortuitous 1-0 victory, this time over a beleaguered Manchester United, and it is Ole Gunner Solskjaer who gets the sack. 

Antonio Conte, watching from afar, is sounded out to return to England, and assumes the mantle of Manchester United manager. 

It was a sliding doors moment for both clubs, but incredibly, Tottenham’s incompetence — for once — actually worked in their favour. The manner of defeat, the sheer hopelessness of the performance, and of course, the anger permeating through the stands, precipitated a change that in the end was unavoidable. All but the most naive of observers will know that the performance on Saturday did not happen in a vacuum; this was no anomaly. It was a culmination of years of rot and decay that had long begun to fester within the squad — and indeed the football club as a whole. Conte’s arrival was the end product of a long, protracted series of decisions, dating back to the Pochettino era. 

Had the Argentine simply been backed, as he had repeatedly pleaded for, the likelihood is that he would still be here, and that Spurs would have picked up silverware by now. Alas, trophies and glory didn’t fit with the ENIC business model, and after firing Pochettino, the club has lurched from one disaster to the next. 

If Jose was the wrong man, at the wrong time, Nuno was footballing suicide. Driven partly by the continued obsession with on-field frugality, and partly because, quite simply, there were no other options. The former Wolves coach arrived with all of Mourinho’s footballing deficiencies, and none of his accomplishments. It was about as poor a match as one could ever have imagined, an appointment destined to fail right from the very onset. 

And fail it did, Nuno’s reign imploding spectacularly within the space of four turbulent months. One can certainly feel bad for him; after all, like all of his predecessors, he was not backed with the signings he wanted. Despite that, however, it was also clear early on in his tenure that he was severely out of his depth, and that the players never truly warmed to him. It’s difficult to say Nuno lost the dressing room, because it’s unlikely he ever had it.

All of which led Daniel Levy, the club’s embattled chairman, to this one, fateful moment. Backed into a corner, and with options dwindling by the day, Antonio Conte was the only viable option left to save face, and repair some of his own personally inflicted damage. 

When news first emerged out of Italy that Conte was being sounded out, the skepticism amongst Tottenham fans was palpable. Few were genuinely entertaining the prospect with any serious conviction. 

And yet, early Tuesday morning, to the shock of the footballing world, the Italian arrived at Tottenham. 

Why Conte Is So Important

It’s a sign of Tottenham’s recent troubles, that Antonio Conte’s biggest benefits to the club are likely to be off-field. Shackling and dampening Levy’s worst impulses, finally putting him in the uncomfortable position of having to spend big — if for nothing else, to placate an inherently volatile and combustable coach. 

Finally, Tottenham have a manager with not just the balls, but the footballing clout to actually stand up to Levy, and dictate the decisions he wants to make. Many thought Jose might be that man, but it quickly became apparent that he was as helpless and ineffectual as all those who came before. Conte is a different proposition. Mourinho’s stock was at an all time low by the time he’d joined Tottenham. The Portuguese was still a formidable name in the sport, but much of his luster had been diminished. Antonio Conte, fresh from winning the Scudetto and ending Inter’s decade long drought, arrives at Tottenham as one of Europe’s hottest coaches. Outside of Pep and Klopp, it’s difficult to think of a bigger name in world football. 

On the pitch, the squad has needed a cull for many years now. Players that Pochettino would have wanted to move on, are somehow still here, three years, and three managers later. It’s a pretty shocking indictment of the way in which the club has been run, but it’s something that Conte will almost certainly address immediately. The Italian is amongst the most uncompromising coaches in the game, and forcing previous managers’ deadwood upon him will not be well received. Levy is shrewd enough to know this — which is why the expectation for genuine change within the playing squad is realistic, even in the short term. Players who don’t show the requisite attitude or quality, even in training, will be quickly discarded.

Make no mistake, the signing of Antonio Conte is a coup. A move that has the potential to genuinely transform the trajectory of Tottenham Hotspur football club. But it’s only a beginning; the first step in the long road towards the type of success that supporters have craved for far too long. Appointing a world class manager means nothing if you’re not prepared to back him, and this is where the club — specifically Daniel Levy — need to prove themselves. After years of underinvestment and squandering prime opportunities for success, will they finally kick on and act proactively — and decisively — in the transfer market? Will they finally pay the going rate for top talent, instead of baulking whenever figures are discussed, and quietly moving on to 3rd or 4th choice targets no manager wants? All this remains to be seen. But with Conte, Tottenham have the best chance of doing so in a generation. 

With Paratici as director of football, the structure is in place for competent, cohesive recruitment. Tottenham have been here before, of course. In 2015, Pochettino and Mitchell was also a dream team, tipped to usher in a new era of success. Instead, with Levy looming large over every potential transfer, Mitchell’s “dream turned into a nightmare,” and he resigned in anger before any meaningful change could take place. Conte does not suffer fools and Tottenham fans worldwide can hope for a better outcome this time. The ingredients are there, the structure is there, all Levy has to do is let the football people take control of the footballing decisions, and stay away. On the evidence of the past 21 years, that will be much easier said than done… 

Despite the recent track record, however, there is optimism around the club — a genuine buzz for the first time in years. The Tottenham hierarchy have endured a whirlwind past few months. They’ve seen firsthand how ill-conceived, short-sighted decisions can quickly backfire, casting a dark cloud over the club that is almost impossible to escape. But they’ve also seen the capacity they wield to redress imbalances and redirect the prevailing winds around the club.  History will always wonder why Antonio Conte wasn’t just hired in the summer, to avoid writing off a quarter of the season, and paying off another manager with fees that should have been allocated towards players. But for now, Tottenham can dream again. 

Benvenuto Antonio. The Italian revolution has begun.

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