Costly Conte coup might be Spurs’ only way out of this mess

Dave Tickner
Spurs manager target Antonio Conte during his time at Inter

Farewell, then, Nuno Espirito Santo. Tottenham’s eighth-choice managerial target managed to last two weeks longer in the job than it took to appoint him but still departs having taken charge of fewer Premier League games for Spurs than Jacques Santini.

Still, we’ll always have that August manager of the month award. Three clean sheets! Three!

Those days are long gone now, though, and while the speed of the descent from those heady days of late summer is perhaps a surprise, nobody can truly be shocked that the outcome of Spurs’ summer-long rake-stepping pursuit of a manager has been a disaster. There can be sympathy for Nuno, a seemingly decent man who is really carrying the can for the mistakes of others, but there can also be little doubt that this is the correct decision.

The direction of travel was clear, the prospect of any upturn in fortune minimal. Why wait until the season was a total write-off before doing what needed to be done? As it is, Spurs – for all that they have been disastrously poor for many weeks now – are still in the Carabao, have their Europa Conference fate in their own hands and are only five points outside the top four.

The squad is not perfect, but nor is it as bad as accepted wisdom now has it. Jose Mourinho began the narrative and while Nuno in fairness did little to perpetuate it, the general view has remained that Spurs just aren’t very good.

I guess we’re about to find out.

Because The Great Spurs Manager Search: Search Spursier is now under way. And remarkably the early favourite appears once again to be Antonio Conte.

Now we’ve been here before, and no doubt come Wednesday we’ll be writing another 800 words on the new odds-on contender Paulo Fonseca or Eddie Howe or Graham Potter and by next week we’ll all be stroking our beards and wondering whether Ryan Mason doesn’t deserve at least the season to show what he can do.

But for now, all roads lead to Conte. This would arguably represent even more of a coup now than it would have in the summer, but if Spurs have had any kind of encouragement that he might be interested, you can understand why Nuno has been given no stay of execution or chance to turn things round. It is a no-brainer.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer smiles

Conte is the leading contender for the Manchester United job, and if three months of Nunoball and a harrowing home defeat to United is what it takes to convince Daniel Levy to go all out for Conte while he remains available then it may well be worth it. This season can still be saved.

Leaving aside the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer producing a result that not only saves his own job but potentially takes his biggest threat out of the picture is another act of high-wire genius from the Norwegian, this does all still require Levy to swallow a quite hefty quantity of sh*t before it can go through.

Because Conte has been the leading contender before, and while all the reasons in favour that are still in play, the reason it all broke down in the summer was the cost of bringing him in.

Levy will now have to accept that the cost of not bringing him in has been far greater. Buy cheap, buy twice as they say. Although buy cheap, buy 15 times might be more apt.

And while Conte will undoubtedly be an expensive option for Levy in more ways than one, he is also in many ways the only viable candidate if Spurs are to avoid a more widespread demolition job on the current set-up.

Fabio Paratici only arrived as director of football in the summer, and he was apparently integral in the hiring of a defensively-minded manager despite Levy’s earlier declaration that the next manager would not be that.

This creates problems for everyone. Paratici is extremely lucky to survive the Nuno farce, but if Paratici was to get the boot so soon, where would that leave Levy himself?

Conte is not a perfect choice for a Spurs manager  – he is, for one thing, yet another former Chelsea boss in an ever-lengthening list of those (SPOILER: the previous ones didn’t go that well) – but he is a genuinely elite manager with credentials that tally with where Spurs are and where they would like to be. What he achieved in Italy with Inter is by some degrees both more impressive and more relevant than anything Paratici accomplished at Juventus.

Spurs (and by extension Levy himself) in their current forlorn yet still salvageable shape would clearly be immensely fortunate to land a manager of Conte’s calibre.

And as much as anything else, that’s because he is perhaps the one and only available and apparently willing (if costly) manager who can fit within Paratici’s narrow parameters of acceptability without prompting an uprising from the club’s fans.

Levy and Spurs have to take their medicine from a costly and embarrassing episode. They cannot risk another false economy. Conte is a premium option who will have a price tag to match, but the possible costs of attempting another make-do fudge could be far, far higher in the long run.