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Is Antonio Conte using Tottenham as a stop-gap?

Antonio Conte
(Image credit: Getty)

Tottenham gave Mauricio Pochettino a contract to manage them until 2023. Then they gave Jose Mourinho a contract to manage them until 2023. Then they gave Nuno Espirito Santo a contract to manage them until 2023. Then they gave Antonio Conte a contract to manage them until 2023. 

It does not mean they have the managerial version of a supergroup, each in the dugout at the same time. It does not suggest Daniel Levy is the superb strategist he has sometimes appeared. 

But it does feel odd that the Italian – arguably the finest manager of the quartet now, though Mourinho’s past gives him more silverware in the argument – has signed the shortest deal of all four. Admittedly, Conte’s contract has an option to extend. He is not guaranteed to be leaving London at the end of next season.

But the brevity is nonetheless interesting.

Whereas Nuno’s two-year contract was a vote of no confidence, Conte’s still shorter deal, which is five times shorter than Alan Pardew’s infamous eight-year contract at Newcastle, has the potential to suit him. Perhaps Tottenham’s coup of landing Conte feels lesser when he could be gone relatively soon. Or maybe it is a case of Levy’s famous frugality proving clever: Conte’s last three jobs have all been two-season affairs and he and his staff ended up with a £26 million pay-off from Chelsea. Spurs have spent enough paying off sacked managers in the last couple of years. 

One conclusion, however, is that Tottenham are on trial. They have to sell themselves to him, not vice versa. Conte surprised some by accepting the offer from the club sitting in eighth, who finished seventh last season, who are in the Europa Conference League. Suffice to say that his long-term ambitions do not lie there. If he is to stay for longer, they may have to persuade him.

He can be a short-termist manager and this may be a short-term move, occupying him in the meantime. Given his interest in Manchester United, he had presumably concluded that he was unlikely to be appointed at Old Trafford in the immediate future.

But perhaps he believes the managerial landscape will be different in 2023. Pochettino’s contract expires then (at Paris Saint-Germain, not Spurs). So does Pep Guardiola’s, even if Conte and Manchester City may not seem natural bedfellows. Carlo Ancelotti, another whose recent spells have all been brief, will be entering the final year of his contract at Real Madrid, who may be a better fit for Conte. The managerial merry-go-round may produce other more enticing openings. The footballing economy may have recovered so that Conte, who appreciates a big budget, may find more clubs capable of supplying him with suitable funds.

Conte and Ancelotti are both retired Italian midfielders, both with Chelsea and Juventus on their CVs, but they may have little else in common. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, it is hard not to view his spell at Everton as a case of passing time until something preferable came along. The more driven Conte may be less tolerant of mediocrity but Tottenham must be anxious to avoid a repeat.

His ambition is a constant. Given his impact at each of his past three clubs, Spurs have reasons to believe Conte will have exerted a transformative effect by then, elevating them back into the European elite. But if not, he is not tied down by a lengthy contract. While Tottenham’s future immediately looks brighter, it is also laced with uncertainty. Conte may well be winning in 2024 or 2025. They might not be.

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