Antonio Conte: Tottenham and Daniel Levy’s Extraordinary Coup of an Elite Manager

Daniel Levy has his man after pining all summer for him. A concoction of events has caused Levy to spring into urgent action. Incensed irritation from home Tottenham fans in the shiny, new London Stadium during the abysmal 3-0 defeat to Manchester United. The matter of Nuno Santo never being the first choice for the job or that it had gone pear-shaped for a certain Portuguese manager just before his tenure.


Most fascinatingly though, it may have been the manager Nuno lost to on Sunday in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also teeter-tottering on the brink of receiving his P45. If the result went in Tottenham’s favor it may have been Levy’s former Super League compatriot Ed Woodward phoning Antonio Conte instead of him. 


Spurs have pinched one of the best managers in the world right from under United’s noses, leaving them next to no choice but to stick with the meandering reign of Solskjaer. In an attempt to wrestle the nosedive of Tottenham Hotspur since Mauricio Pochettino’s exit, Spurs have won the lottery with a miraculous coup of a manager who is rightfully heralded as one of the world’s bonafide best.


It has not been a great start to the season for the North London contingent, and the powerplay casino bookies have placed Spurs as +700 odds to finish in the top four — behind Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham. Even if Conte manages to get Harry Kane back to his best form, finishing in the Champions League spots may yet be a distant reality for Tottenham.


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An animal maverick, seething with fervour who demands nothing but the best, anyone unprepared to so will bear his wrath. The man who prowls the touchline barking instructions like a war general pumping his players up.


In the COVID-afflicted season last year, Conte’s voice was a constant siren during Inter games. During Inter’s 3-1 win vs Roma, after striker Lautaro Martinez seemed irritant in his substitution, Conte quipped, ‘You need to shut up do you understand? Don’t try and be a f***ing superstar’. This, was after Inter had already been confirmed as Scudetto champions. 


The man who shook Inter’s ‘Pazza’ tag into winners for the first time in a decade is now looking to disperse the tag of Tottenham being ‘Spursy’. For some reason most likely enforced by the strange world of football social media, there is a misplaced conception Conte plays ‘boring football’ or ‘isn’t the right fit for being too abrasive. After the deflated manner in which Tottenham have played probably since the peak Pochettino days, a manager like Conte is just what the doctor ordered in North London. 


Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, Milan Skriniar are all recent beneficiaries who have seen vast, significant improvement in their game under his tutelage at Inter. Then of course there is the matter of why Chelsea paid a club-record £97.5 million to lure Romelu Lukaku back to the club he left seven years ago. Returning as one of the best strikers in the world with the Italian unlocking his beast mode, contributing 23 and 24 goals in back-to-back seasons for Inter, in addition to adding to his all-around game.


The Belgian’s own words speak volumes ‘“To learn how to win is basically pushing the barrier. Every trainer has a different way of coaching, but with Antonio, we really learned how to go to the red zone. That was it.’ Quotes like this must excite Spurs fans at the prospect of what the former Juventus player can do with a disinterested Harry Kane.  


Conte has a history of increasing performance levels of players that you wouldn’t expect, what’s more, he has prominently done it in the Premier League before. Chelsea fans may reminisce of his time where Victor Moses (yes Victor Moses) and Marcos Alonso flew down the left and right as marauding full-backs chipping in 6 and 9 goal contributions each as the Blues amassed a record 30 wins and second-highest points tally in Premier League history at the time of 93.


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Only Conte and Jose Mourinho are the two managers to hit the 90 mark to match Guardiola and Klopp. Speaking of Mourinho, the lurid comparisons just don’t make sense. The only comparison that does is Conte reminding you of a prime Mourinho, not afraid to push the right buttons to get the best out of his players, whilst the once-great Portuguese coach sadly resembles more of a has-been these days who simply picks a fight with his players with no ends to justify the means. 


Even if Conte isn’t convinced of a player’s attributes at first, they’re given a chance to prove their worth as the season progresses. Saliently, in his underrated Chelsea title-winning season there was much conjecture of the use of Cesc Fabregas that year being in and out of the team, but by the end, he became a key cog in providing creation for goals, symmetrically to how Christian Eriksen last season was at first touted as a ‘flop’ signing when he arrived at Inter from Tottenham before eventually becoming the needed creative spark for the Nerazzurri. 


He is masterful in arriving at colossal clubs lingering in the lurch and turning them around, this is something you can’t deny at each of his jobs. Beginning with managing the club he played for, Juve were still reeling from relegation to Serie B after the Calciopoli scandal.


Conte began a period of dominance as Juve marched to nine straight scudetto winning three on the bounce with Conte from 2011-2014, along the way moulding a star in a young Paul Pogba and embarrassing AC Milan at getting the best of Andrea Pirlo’s swansong years. The midfield metronome said ‘I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve found myself saying, ‘Hell, Conte said something really spot-on again today’.’


Conte seems to have gained a hardened reputation of ‘pain in the ass’ the gesticulating incumbent, but isn’t that what rapacious billionaire club owners need? Someone to vehemently remind them that results on the pitch matter too. This is possibly why Manchester United were hesitant, the Glazers would like an easier control of their attempt to ‘Disneyfie’ the English club rather than appoint someone who is never afraid to speak his mind.


Case in point a quote from early in his Inter tenure when he was wrestling with personal issues and aggravation in making the leap from Turin to Milan ‘This year was extremely stressful and difficult, but the guys managed to rally, despite all the problems. For months we had to eat shit and no help.’


Of course, the Glazers wouldn’t want a manager speaking of eating shit in an interview; he would consistently expose the commercial approach the club has veered toward in under the Americans. Conte is able to speak with a confrontational, onerous aura because he has displayed his obvious managerial abilities without always having the best resources.


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In the most competitive league in the world, where the language was not his mother tongue he added only two signings in N’Golo Kante and David Luiz for a maiden title, no excuses or talk of ‘adapting’.His biggest transfer at Juve? Alessandro Matri for a paltry £13.5 million. Then there is his reign for the Italy National team never afraid to back down from a challenge, a team that attacked in Euros 2016 with Emanuelle Giacherenni, Eder and Graziano Pelle.


The most recognised stars were the famed trio of Barzagli-Chielleni-Bonucci. Italy were only knocked out in the quarter-finals on penalties but in such a short period, the Conte effect was easy to bear witness, he had developed such a strong connection with the team there were tears when he had left his post to go to England. 


The Klopp-Guardiola axis is the toast of the managerial world, every single club in their tenure is a resemblance of their football ideology, Conte is no different, watching a few games of his teams indicates it is fresh from the Conte factory of football. Tottenham and Levy have pulled a rabbit out of the hat in a virtuoso appointment.


Now, I don’t want this to sound like a Conte fanboy love letter because it isn’t, I’m merely stating the Italian’s undeniably impressive record. This is still Tottenham Hotspur (sorry Spurs fans) it could implode, Conte won’t be afraid to speak about things that he is unhappy with and with a chairman who isn’t famed for putting his hand in his pocket it could be recipe for disaster, just ask Mauricio Pochettino. 


These are also a group of players who have looked uninspired since pushing Pochettino out before never looking that hungry under the two managers after, they may react sourly to the change at the helm after the sheen wears off and exhaustion comes in to play. Contrary to a popular myth, however, Conte never fell out with his group of players at clubs.


At Juventus, he wanted to challenge for Europe and quipped ‘You can’t eat at a 100 euro restaurant with 10 euros’ at Chelsea he was a victim like many of the revolving doors despite being successful, he even took the London club on in court and won a claim for unfair dismissal.


It became swiftly apparent the Chinese owners Suning of his last club Inter Milan did not have the funds they had been using so freely. Something he saw coming when he refused to speak to the media towards the end of last season until his future was clear. 


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Disagreements have arisen at his clubs but they have been with the top-ranking hierarchy involved. This is where the biggest risk lies in the appointment with a chairman so famously stubborn. Regardless of this occupational hazard, it is nonetheless a magnificent appointment spurred on by Levy recognising and attempting to wrestle the downward trajectory of Spurs. He has delivered his ace in the hole.


In a league with Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel there is bafflement of Spurs being the club to land the man who can make a genuine claim to be in their league. I have included quotes from pillar to post of figures in football talking about Conte on purposes, as when all is said and done his work is impossible to ignore. You simply cannot argue with Conte’s glittering career, just like it is hard to argue against Spurs appointing him.


By: Dharnish Sizlak

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto