As the final whistle blew at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 21 November, with a 2-1 win against Leeds, the start of Antonio Conte’s managerial career at Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) truly began. Conte is the club’s fourth manager (José Mourinho/Ryan Mason/Nuno Espírito Santo) since Mauricio Pochettino’s departure in 2019 after being the club manager since 2014. What does the future have to hold for the London club and will Conte last longer than the last three managers at the club?
Just four days after the win against Leeds, Spurs suffered a rather humiliating loss to the lowest-ranking side in the Europa Conference League, NS Mura. It is without a doubt that consistent performances are in dire need for Spurs, which certainly sounds obvious. Across this season it has seemed that Spurs cannot go a full 90 minutes playing at a similar level of intensity and unity. The first 45 minutes against Leeds were flat and lacked a coherent offensive attack and yet, after half-time, the Spurs that remerged had a fire that was lacking in the first half. It has seemed for the past few seasons that Spurs games end up in a reactionary fashion (falling behind poorly and needing to recover the loses) rather than inherently controlling the game as a team of their standing should do. Conte brings his own intensity to the pitch that adds an impetus to the play. His ability to stir up the crowd at the Leeds game, though a seemingly small gesture, did help to diminish a layer of nervousness before the final whistle. The 2-0 victory against London rivals Brentford on 2nd December was a tidy display of attractive football that they continued in their match against Norwich on 5 December. There are still substantial weaknesses in their play that need to be resolved rapidly.
Conte has lofty ambitions for each player and the somewhat shattered culture of belief in the club feels like it is being repaired
Spurs need to finish this 2021/22 Premier League season in the top four to qualify for next year’s Champions League. It is no doubt that this is a key focus of Antonio Conte. After finishing seventh last season, Spurs must show improvement to keep hold of key players and attract valuable new ones. It is certainly achievable though it will be difficult. West Ham United, after some rocky seasons, are still enjoying success this season as are Arsenal (despite some recent losses.) Manchester United, though currently below Spurs, also have a point to prove and need a spot in the Champions League as much as Spurs do. Part of the fight in the table will also require Spurs to score some more goals… vital in all areas of the game. Currently, Spurs have scored 16 goals to the 17 conceded, whereas Chelsea, who were at the top of the table coming into the last weekend, have scored thirty-five and only conceded nine. The difference is startling and an area that Conte certainly knows needs changing. A successful FA Cup run this season would perhaps be a consolation for Spurs fans this season but another year without Champions League football would be disappointing.
The January transfer market may be a good opportunity for Conte to bring in new players to the squad. Defensive veterans Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld brought an experience and calm to the back line which has been somewhat unstable since their departure. Liverpool have Van Djik, Chelsea, Azpilicueta, Spurs need the stoic base in defence, as well as stability across the pitch. Conte, however, does seem to already be bringing back the best in the current squad of which there are definitely standout assets. Son Heung-Min continues to impress and Højbjerg remains irreplaceable in midfield. Harry Kane, who’s future was one of the most spoken about in the entire Premier League at the start of the season, is beginning to find his feet again. Conte has lofty ambitions for each player and the somewhat shattered culture of belief in the club feels like it is being repaired.
As Antonio Conte said himself when joining the club in November, “the fans deserve to have a competitive team with a will to fight.” This “will” appears to be returning and it seems that most fans are on board with the new philosophy. Conte will not be wanting to reflect the trajectory of the previous managers since Pochettino’s reign and he’s already working hard with the club. I do believe that Conte has re-energised the team and he understands what needs to change with the club. I think Conte could be the manager to provide Spurs with the stability they need and help guide the club to success. As ever with the world of football and its revolving door of managers, expect the unexpected…