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Managerial masterstroke or mismatch? Why Antonio Conte to Tottenham may not work

Antonio Conte
(Image credit: Getty)

Antonio Conte is the Tottenham Hotspur manager. It's a sentence that we perhaps expected to hear four months ago, only for several spanners to jam the works along the way.

While Nuno Espirito Santo signed a deal for two years following Tottenham's failure to land the Italian first time around, he may well be viewed as a Conte-lite interim manager. His side was similar at Wolves to the likes of Chelsea and Inter, using transitions devastatingly - it just didn't translate in north London.

TACTICS How would Tottenham play under Antonio Conte?

So while Conte is largely thought to be a good appointment for the club, is it a dead cert? Or could we be in the same position that Nuno was in later down the line?

1. The expectation for possession football

Upon hiring Nuno Espirito Santo, Daniel Levy talked up the "Tottenham way". The club won trophies in the 1950s and 60s playing an exciting pass-and-move brand of football and have never forgotten it; in the modern era, in a shiny new stadium, playing an attractive style is a necessity as much as a luxury. 

Santo struggled to adapt, though. Why didn't he revert to counter-attacking with three at the back, like he had at Wolves, when he didn't have the players to play possession football? It's a puzzling quandary. Some managers just aren't cut out to play certain styles.

Antonio Conte will have a greater leash to play his way - you don't pay the kind of money that he commands without knowing what kind of football you're buying. But the substance vs style debate will rear its head again, especially if the Italian suffers a few poor results. 

Tottenham want to be entertained: and hiring a pragmatist quite so soon after Levy made a big deal talking up possession football could come back to bite them. 

2. Where's the money for new signings?

Conte originally turned down Tottenham due to a lack of transfer budget, according to reports. So what's changed, exactly?

Was Conte sufficiently impressed that Spurs had kept Harry Kane, tied down Son Heung-min to a new deal and signed the likes of Cristian Romero and Bryan Gil? Has he been promised money to spend next summer? Has the financial situation at Tottenham changed, in fact? 

Whatever's happened, Tottenham's track record in the market has been heavily criticised, ever since the much-respected Paul Mitchell left their recruitment team. The pressure is on to deliver good signings - and Conte might not be lucky enough for his employers to land him another Achraf Hakimi or Romelu Lukaku. 

"You've heard the famous line about him leaving Juventus when he said 'they wanted me to eat out in a 100 euros restaurant with 10 euros in my pocket'. They weren't delivering in the market," Italian journalist Gabriele Marcotti told the BBC."You think of all the owners in the Premier League and the most likely to be cautious with his money is Levy. It is completely counter-intuitive.

3. The lack of quality in the squad

Eric Dier

(Image credit: PA)

Conte took a Chelsea side to the title after they finished 10th the season prior. Tottenham fans may well look at their seventh-placed showing last term and rub their hands with glee at the prospect of next season; likewise, an Inter side who hadn't won a Scudetto in 11 years were transformed within 24 months by the Italian. 

But Chelsea still had the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois in their ranks before signing N'Golo Kante. Inter were not exactly weak. Tottenham have two world-class stars in Kane and Son, while Tanguy Ndombele is in need of rehabilitation. The rest of the squad? A lot of it isn't top four standard.

Hugo Lloris is ageing and waning, Eric Dier isn't the kind of defensive leader that will guarantee a title and Giovanni Lo Celso has hugely underwhelmed for Spurs. If anyone can get the best out of these players than Conte can - expect Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon in particular to thrive - but does he have enough to work with?

4. The league's moved on since Conte was last here

When Conte last won the Premier League, it was only the second time that Pep Guardiola had ever failed to win a title. The first time, Jose Mourinho beat him to it - and Tottenham tried that tactic. 

Guardiola's Manchester City side were in their infancy then and have since won three titles. Jurgen Klopp didn't have Mohamed Salah yet; Arsene Wenger was still at Arsenal. Chelsea have since won another Champions League. And that's not touching on how the rest of the table has shifted up a gear.

Brighton, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Leeds, Wolves, Brentford and Leicester would also fancy themselves to give Conte a much more difficult ride than he got from the average Prem side last time he was in the league. The coaching has never been better in England; the player quality has also stepped up, too. 

5. The last divisive figure didn't work out so well...

Jose Mourinho

(Image credit: PA)

In many ways, Conte is the modern version of Mourinho. His football is based on a siege mentality; he defends to attack, he's unapologetically abrasive when he needs to be and he doesn't stay long in a job. But he gets results.

Except Tottenham tried that with Mourinho. Conte is a much better manager in 2021 than Mourinho was in 2019 - but the style still didn't sit well with the squad. Dele Alli, Ndombele, Lo Celso, Harry Winks, Matt Doherty, Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn all struggled at different stages with Mourinho's confrontational style.

And eventually, it became too much for Daniel Levy too, who was seen as a friendly drop-in guest on Tottenham's All Or Nothing documentary but it didn't end as amicably - well, he was sacked on the eve of a final, which doesn't suggest a good relationship.

Conte has already had disagreements with Levy over the direction of the club, earlier this summer. Was it simply a sign of things to come?

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