Antonio Conte is begging to be sacked, and Daniel Levy should oblige

Antonio Conte is begging to be sacked, and Daniel Levy should oblige

Following Antonio Conte’s brutal assessment of his Tottenham Hotspur players, Sports Mole takes a deeper dive into the Italian’s comments and his future in North London.

When Tottenham Hotspur attacker Richarlison left the field with tears in his eyes during the seventh minute, the Brazilian’s injury would seemingly lead to the biggest outpouring of emotion during the Lilywhites’ battle with St Mary’s.

However, the travelling Lilywhites fans would have been forgiven for having a little cry themselves when their team threw away a two-goal lead against the Premier League’s basement side, who cancelled out Spurs’ 3-1 lead to rescue a point in an enthralling 3-3 draw.

Forever cutting a calm, quiet and sometimes even a shy figure during press conferences and interviews, Conte left his previous idiosyncrasies at the door when addressing a packed media room on the South Coast, letting rip in a manner that stunned fans, journalists and pundits alike.

From launching a brutal attack on his “selfish” players to questioning why the club had not won anything during 20 years of ENIC stewardship – a quote that was not entirely truthful as the 2008 EFL Cup gathers dust in the cabinet – Conte’s explosive rant was the result of several months of tension finally boiling over.

So used to winning trophy after trophy at the likes of Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan, Conte initially welcomed the unfamiliar challenge that Tottenham would bring, as Daniel Levy and Joe Lewis once again turned to a born winner in a bid to snap their wretched run without silverware.

However, many “I told you so” proclamations were out in abundance as Conte made no bones about Tottenham’s current predicament, although the notion that the Premier League and Serie A title winner is totally blameless is far from correct.

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Of course, Conte has little to no control over a multitude of factors which have contributed to Spurs’ downfall. Injuries to integral cogs in Hugo Lloris and Rodrigo Bentancur could have hardly been foreseen, and even then Fraser Forster and Oliver Skipp have deputised adequately.

Son Heung-min going off the boil is perhaps just a natural evolution for an ageing player – one who still brought up his 50th Premier League assist against Southampton and needs just one more goal to bring up a century in the Premier League – but Saints boss Ruben Selles overcame adversity with a defiance that was nowhere to be seen for those in blue.

The treatment rooms quickly filled up at St Mary’s with all of Richarlison, Ben Davies, Jan Bednarek and Armel Bella-Kotchap being forced off inside the first half, leaving Southampton to make do with an emergency defensive pairing of Mohammed Salisu and Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles, whose well-documented versatility does not extend to a centre-half role.

Even when the Saints fell 3-1 down – which Selles claimed was undeserved – the 20th-placed relegation candidates refused to wave the white flag, and Tottenham’s defensive shortcomings were exposed by an inspired Theo Walcott, who needed no added motivation to do his Arsenal boys proud.

The 34-year-old is hardly the speedster he once was during his days in red and white, but Clement Lenglet, Eric Dier and Ivan Perisic just could not live with him, displaying a sluggishness that has more or less typified Tottenham’s away-day fortunes in 2023 with Conte at the helm.

Back in the summer, the Italian’s merciless pre-season training regime saw several players collapse and others even vomit in the South Korean heat – striking images that were welcomed by some of the Lilywhites faithful who had become accustomed to their team accepting mediocrity.

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However, such methods, whether they are innovative or not, have only succeeded in getting Tottenham to challenge for a top-four place while suffering another spate of early knockout exits – going out of the FA Cup with a whimper to Sheffield United is simply unacceptable for a club of Spurs’ stature.

AC Milan were seemingly there for the taking in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 affair, but Spurs were left to rue what could have been as their side produced a toothless attacking display – almost as if they did not believe that they could turn the tie on its head – and the job of galvanising his troops rests on Conte’s shoulders first and foremost.

It is important to note that the 53-year-old has endured an exceptionally difficult year off the field – the deaths of coaching partner Gian Piero Ventrone and good friend Gianluca Vialli understandably affected him, and even he admitted that he “underestimated” gallbladder removal as he was forced to go under the knife earlier this year.

Cristian Stellini held the fort as well as he could during Conte’s continued recovery, but a plaster will inevitably disintegrate after so long, and the Italian went as far as to claim that Tottenham are “used to” not playing for anything important under the unfavoured Levy and Lewis.

Even former chairman Alan Sugar weighed in on social media, claiming that he shares Conte’s gripes and believes that Tottenham have been in the same cycle for “35 years” – one which cannot be fixed by simply throwing money at the transfer market.

Seemingly every Spurs fan and his dog has called out the powers-that-be for a lack of investment, which Levy would intend to rectify by sanctioning moves for Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence and Destiny Udogie for more than £100m in the summer.

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While Udogie continues to shine for Udinese on loan, it is fair to say that not one of those arrivals has worked out yet. Richarlison is still waiting for his first Premier League goal for Tottenham, Bissouma had failed to hit the same heights he did at Brighton & Hove Albion before his injury, and it quickly became clear that Spence was a Levy signing, not a Conte signing.

There is a difference between splashing the cash for the sake of it, and actually making astute acquisitions that will benefit the team in the long run. A new permanent centre-back should have been top of Tottenham’s agenda last summer, but only the unfancied Lenglet arrived, and the Frenchman has not exactly made waves in North London.

Pedro Porro can no doubt enjoy a long and fruitful career at Tottenham, but his fellow January signing Arnaut Danjuma has arrived for what purpose? To play 47 minutes of football in four substitute appearances. With Premier League experience under his belt from his time at Bournemouth, the acclimatisation excuse cannot be utilised in this instance.

During his animated rant, Conte was quick to point out “excuses” that are made for his players, including increased uncertainty surrounding his long-term future. While the Italian’s comments about players remaining professional in any situation are relevant, not knowing whether the coach whose methods you are trying to adopt will still be around next season cannot be helpful.

For all of their attempts at a staunch approach, Tottenham’s goals conceded column now reads an unsightly 40 – the worst defensive record of the top 12 teams – and it is now five away games without victory in all tournaments for Conte’s beleaguered crop.

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Fourth place is officially out of their hands as Newcastle United endeavour to make their games in hand count, but as we have seen with Arsenal, a brief stint outside of the Champions League or European football altogether will hardly be a bad thing – whether Levy shares that sentiment is another question entirely.

Conte added that Tottenham’s situation would not change no matter who took on the poisoned chalice, but as the international break looms large, the hierarchy can do worse than pull the trigger and let the manager go – an eventuality that benefits both parties before the Italian walks out at the end of his contract.

Taking a punt on Ryan Mason following the sacking of Jose Mourinho saw the 31-year-old win four of his seven games in charge, and the ex-Spurs man has continued to impress in a coaching capacity. With a bit of know-how under his belt and experience sharing a dressing room with the likes of Harry Kane, the positives surely outweigh the negatives for giving him another go in control of the reins.

Talk of a sensational Mauricio Pochettino return will not die down while Conte remains in his role, and having tried and failed with a number of pragmatists, reluctantly taking a leaf out of Arsenal’s book and hiring a young, attack-minded coach will be the first step towards redemption.

While reporters looked on with wide eyes, Conte showed a demeanour that had never been seen before during his time in North London, and with the water now boiling over, the time is nigh for Levy to take the saucepan off the heat.

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Author: Lawanda Damron

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