Conte gone from Spurs: The best bits of the inside stories, from bored players to a p*ssed-off academy
Spurs have parted with Antonio Conte and the inside stories on the Italian’s demise have been revealed, from bored players to an annoyed academy and more.
The inevitable was confirmed on Sunday evening: Conte is no longer manager of Spurs. And a departing manager means inside stories. And inside stories mean someone needs to collate all the inside stories to get the ultimate inside story. And this is that. Or something.
Here are the best bits from the finest Tottenham-adjacent journalists out there.
That press conference
The Southampton post-match press conference is understandably cited as a key factor in Conte’s departure.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Sami Mokbel claims that players ‘were furious with the outburst’ from the manager and ‘huge concerns’ were ‘raised at board level over how the rant affected the squad’s morale’.
In The Guardian, David Hytner adds that ‘most of the players were happy for him to leave right away’ after the 10-minute rant, which was ‘not lost on’ Levy.
Reporting for Sky Sports News, Michael Bridge “was told that some players did actually take it on board, that Conte made some good points, that he was right”. But the general reaction was that of anger and frustration.
‘Key players left for the international break convinced Conte would not be in charge when they returned,’ claims Tom Allnutt of The Times. How right they were.
Squad morale, training and tactics
This all bleeds into a wider point of squad spirit, which had been ebbing away before reaching a new low.
While ‘the club grew increasingly weary’ of Conte’s deployment of media interviews as a weapon with which to attack the club (Allnutt, Times), there had previously been an acceptance that his hardline methods were what a listing club required upon his appointment.
Mokbel reports on ‘palpable concerns behind the scenes’ about how ‘Conte’s presence is negatively affecting morale amongst the squad’.
But his waning impact on the training ground was perhaps the biggest issue with a group of players he had largely already deemed not good enough.
The Italian is described as being ‘blindsided by the scale of the job’ by Dan Kilpatrick of the London Evening Standard. He adds that ‘the players grew tired of his repetitive and gruelling training sessions’.
Expanding further, Jack Pitt-Brooke and Charlie Eccleshare of The Athletic go into immense detail on this particular breakdown in relationships, saying the squad ‘became increasingly fed up with…repetitive training and restrictive tactics’.
It is said that the general atmosphere was even worse than in Jose Mourinho’s last days in charge, when even Nuno Espirito Santo seemed like an upgrade.
In terms of training sessions, Pitt-Brooke and Eccleshare say that while players ‘loved it’ at first, Conte’s nature often left players unsure as to what was expected of them, while things became ‘predictable’.
That feeling flowed into actual games, with the squad feeling ‘that they would rather play with more freedom’ instead of a ‘rigid’ 3-4-3.
The irony of when Conte’s exit was confirmed will not be lost on some, as: ‘It was a common complaint from players that they would actively look forward to international breaks just so they could finally do something different.’
That will certainly be the case upon their return to north London this week.
Misery behind the scenes
As much as the players were ‘physically and mentally worn out, fed up and bored,’ Pitt-Brooke and Eccleshare explain how the negativity spread far beyond the players and seeped into the wider running of the club.
There was discontent at how Conte gave ‘very little notice for when training sessions would take place’. There was frustration in the medical and sports science departments at being in the dark about their work schedules. This even prevented Spurs from joining most of their Premier League rivals in arranging a warm-weather training camp during the World Cup, ‘because all the best venues had been booked by clubs who planned ahead’.
The issues were not restricted to the senior side either.
Hytner says ‘morale was on the floor’ in the academy and Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail refers to ‘frustration’ at how Conte completely eschewed younger players in favour of more experienced bodies. It was diametrically opposed to Mauricio Pochettino’s approach and that was soon noted.
Conte should’ve dropped players for hungrier young ones..
Hungrier young players from where? That woefully incompetent spurs academy that gets battered every week?
— A (@ak_thfc) March 18, 2023
Conte cannot be blamed for every problem, however. Two huge factors contributed to his own mood deteriorating, even beyond the physical health issues posed by gallbladder surgery.
The distance between himself and wife, Elisabetta and daughter, Vittoria had, according to Gary Jacob of The Times, been ‘playing on his mind’. As Conte ‘did not want to disrupt his daughter’s schooling,’ his family remained in Turin. This situation was workable with the manager or his family flying back and forth for visits whenever possible, but it soon ‘became an increasing factor in wanting to return’.
Jacob points out that Conte remained in Italy after returning too soon from surgery to take to the touchline for the Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat to AC Milan: a game he was determined to be visible for ‘to remind Italian clubs of his potential availability this summer‘.
Beyond this was the effect that the deaths of three close friends had on him. Spurs fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, former Serie A defender Sinisa Mihajlovic and old Italy teammate Gianluca Vialli all passed within three months of each other, around the time of Conte’s own physical problems.
Ventrone’s death in particularly was ‘perhaps the greatest blow,’ says Barlow. It ‘had a profound impact’ on Conte and, in the words of Hytner, made him ‘question his work-life balance’.
Conte’s frustration with Tottenham’s transfer dealings were well-known; he made no effort to hide them. All inside stories refer to the arrivals of Djed Spence and Arnaut Danjuma as key factors in annoying the manager, who publicly distanced himself from the deals.
Also referenced is the season-long loan of Clement Lenglet when Alessandro Bastoni of Inter Milan was deemed unattainable. When the desired right wing-back was finally delivered, it was in Conte’s final transfer window with Pedro Porro.
The contract situation
One final aspect of Conte’s downfall was the volatile nature of his contract. Spurs appointed the Italian in November 2021 on a deal which lasted until summer 2023, with the option of extending it a further 12 months.
After qualifying for the Champions League by finishing fourth in his first season, the hope was that a more long-term arrangement could be found but while talks were periodically held over an extension, Conte seemed to deliberately run that contract down instead of tying himself to a job beyond his capabilities.
Kilpatrick says that it initially worked in Tottenham’s favour, as the carrot keeping Conte at the club ‘motivated his players last season’. But it soon became ‘a distraction’ which Jacob says created ‘instability’.
He adds that Conte ‘dragged his feet’ during early December negotiations ‘as he wanted to see what they would do in the January market’.
Pitt-Brooke and Eccleshare write about talks recommencing on December 12, even though ‘Conte’s mind was already close to being made up’ by that stage.
Why, then, with several issues bubbling away below and often above the surface, was there such a delay in Spurs confirming Conte’s mutually agreed departure?
In a word: compensation. Mokbel says that the two parties were ‘locked in talks’ for a week and ‘complexities over those discussions’ led to the hold-up.
A final figure of around £4m has been reached to release Conte from his deal. Spurs had hoped to drag it through until the end of the season but matters had reached a point where a change was necessary, the impending threat to Champions League qualification proving too much.
For the rest of the season, Cristian Stellini will be Acting Head Coach with Ryan Mason as Assistant Head Coach. Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph stresses that Conte ‘gave his blessing’ for the former to stay.
Kilpatrick echoes that sentiment but confirms that the 53-year-old’s younger brother Gianluca, a technical and analytics coach, will also leave Spurs.
Beyond the end of the campaign, the search is on to find a successor. Julian Nagelsmann is the obvious favourite and Mokbel says Levy ‘wishes to talk to him’, but Law understands that the German is ‘keen to collect his thoughts’.
Mokbel names Luis Enrique, Roberto de Zerbi, Marco Silva, Steve Cooper, Thomas Frank, Sergio Conceicao, Oliver Glasner and Ange Postecoglou as candidates. Hytner chucks in Ruben Amorim and Vincent Kompany.
Then comes the elephant in the room. Mokbel says ‘there is known to be some opposition’ to Pochettino coming back; Hytner regards it as ‘unclear’ whether either he or the club would be interested in a reunion.
Thanks to Pitt-Brooke and Eccleshare for this one:
‘So it was the right sort of friction when Conte marched into the training ground offices on his first day and told staff they had a major problem: the food. He had seen one player eating nachos on his first day and could not accept it from his team. No more heavy food like nachos or sandwiches after training. No more ketchup or mayonnaise. No more cooking with too much butter and oil. Fruit was making a comeback.’
It was never going to work.
With thanks to:
Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail
David Hytner of The Guardian
Michael Bridge of Sky Sports News
Tom Allnutt of The Times
Dan Kilpatrick of the London Evening Standard
Jack Pitt-Brooke and Charlie Eccleshare of The Athletic
Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail
Gary Jacob of The Times