Antonio Conte was hired to change Spurs. They are as Spursy as ever | Tottenham Hotspur

when Antonio Conte took over at Tottenham a little over 12 months ago, it felt like the dawning of a new age for the club. Following the debacle of Nuno Espírito Santo’s five-month reign, Spurs had finally landed the world-class manager they craved. Daniel Levy had tried to appoint Conte the summer Nuno took charge, but the Italian had opted against taking the job. Spurs finally got their man at the end of 2021.

Initially, results were positive. Spurs backed Conte in the transfer market last January, bringing in Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus. The pair fitted in quickly and helped Spurs secure a top-four finish, but it still felt like Conte needed more tools to work with. Over the summer, Spurs invested heavily, spending big on Richarlison and Yves Bissouma as well as bringing in the vastly experienced Ivan Perisic on big wages following his release from Inter.

Given their strong finish last season and investment in the summer, Spurs looked like they might challenge for the title, even though they had missed out on a top-quality centre-back and a creative midfielder. And yet, as we approach the halfway stage of the campaign, Spurs are fifth in the table, five points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and a whopping 14 behind local rivals Arsenal. They have already lost five matches in the Premier League this season: more than Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle combined.

Their 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday means Conte has overseen a run of just two wins in their last seven league games – and both of them were late victories against relegation candidates Bournemouth and Leeds. Spurs conceded first in all seven of those games – that run stretches to 10 in all competitions – and they have shipped at least two goals in those seven matches, their longest such run since November 1988.

“The goal that we conceded killed us in confidence,” said Conte after their home defeat to Villa. That goal came from a Hugo Lloris mistake. Spurs have now committed more errors leading to an opposition goal (five) than any other team in the league this season. Conte was supposed to strengthen the team defensively. Now it looks weaker than the wrapping paper between a child and their present on Christmas morning.

An air of discontent has started to engulf the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Supporters rightly demand more from a team overseen by one of the game’s most successful managers, but Conte isn’t devoid of blame in the ongoing malaise. The primary reason Spurs sought Conte was because of his lengthy list of medals. He was supposed to turn this team into mentality monsters, a group that refuses to give up in the face of adversity, but everything seems a bit, well, Spursy.

Emiliano Buendía puts Aston Villa in front after Hugo Lloris had spilled a Douglas Luiz shot.
Emiliano Buendía puts Aston Villa in front after Hugo Lloris had spilled a Douglas Luiz shot. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters

Some supporters feel that Conte transmits the attitude that he is doing them a favor by being at the club, and this has irked sections of the fanbase. The issue is that Conte knew what he was getting into when he was appointed. In previous roles, he has demanded big-name signings instantly to guarantee immediate success. The approach at Tottenham is more about signing younger players, developing them and selling them on at high prices further down the line, which is the polar opposite of the way Conte works.

It is not as if he hasn’t been backed in the market, though. Spurs spent more than £170m on permanent signings over the summer, including the fee paid to Atalanta to turn Cristian Romero’s loan move permanent. Conte has complained about some of the recruitment – ​​for instance, he says the signing of Djed Spence was “an investment of the club” rather than his own decision – but Conte should be able to coax better performances out of the players at his disposal.

Spurs have been extremely slow starters this season. They have only led at half-time in two of their last 18 games in all competitions and, if matches were to end at half-time, they would be 11th in the Premier League this season. They finish games strongly, but often after they have left themselves with too much to do.

Admittedly, Spurs were hamstrung by injuries to Bentancur and Kulusevski for the Aston Villa debacle, while Richarlison’s absence after the World Cup has not helped, but the squad should be able to cope better. The absence of three players, one of whom would be on the bench if the others were available, should not completely derail the team. Spurs only had one shot on target against Villa and they showed no signs of recovery after the visitors took the lead.

So where do Conte and Spurs go now? His contract expires at the end of the season, though the club are trying to tie him down to a new deal. His desire for him to stay will be affected by how Spurs act in the market this month. He complained after the Villa defeat that other clubs invest more money than Spurs, pointing out that anyone who thought they would be title contenders this season was “a bit crazy”.

Conte wants another central midfielder and a new right wing-back, while another centre-back wouldn’t go amiss. Spurs tried to bring in a central defender over the summer but were rebuffed in their efforts to sign Alessandro Bastoni from Inter and Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig, before the club plumped for Clément Lenglet. The Frenchman has not been terrible but he is not of the caliber of the aforementioned pair, both of whom have since been linked with big-money moves elsewhere.

If Spurs do not back Conte over the next few weeks, supporters may soon see the back of the Italian. That being said, just as Conte should have known what he was signing up for when he was appointed 13 months ago, Spurs should have expected him to act this way if things don’t go well. Both Conte and former manager José Mourinho share similar traits in that, when the going gets tough, they have a tendency to shift blame to either the players or blast unrealistic expectations, which in truth are set due to their winning pedigree.

Conte is making noises in an attempt to coax Levy into backing him in what he should be experiencing a crucial window in Spurs’ season, but even that is a risky game. Everyone knows how Levy operates. Having two strong personalities clashing off the pitch does not bode well for the club.

If Levy is hellbent on keeping Conte happy, though, then backing him fully this month is of the utmost importance. Just as it seemed Spurs were set for a period of stability, that may well unravel over the coming weeks, with Conte struggling to get the best out of the players at his disposal of him and banking on reinforcements in January. Supporters may as well strap in for yet another rollercoaster ride at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – one that might come off the tracks entirely.

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