Antonio Conte and Daniel Levy need united front if Tottenham rebuild is not to crumble

Antonio Conte and Daniel Levy need united front if Tottenham rebuild is not to crumble

The home defeat by Aston Villa was the nadir of Tottenham’s season so far, a performance lacking quality and intensity, and provoking an angry backlash from the terraces.

Daniel Levy bore the brunt, with chants for the chairman to “get out of our club”, and there was also frustration at Antonio Conte’s decisions, as fans booed one of his substitutions and ironically cheered another.

Any hope that the World Cup break would provide Spurs with a welcome reset has quickly been extinguished, with the 2-2 draw at Brentford following a familiar pattern and Sunday’s performance the poorest yet in a season of unconvincing displays.

The result leaves Conte under pressure ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Crystal Palace and raises fresh questions about the direction and very identity of the club. The mood is not being helped by Arsenal’s runaway lead at the top of the table and, ominously, the Gunners make the short trip up the Seven Sisters Road on January 15.

Arsenal’s form should also be a source of inspiration for Spurs, offering proof of what can be achieved by backing a manager over a sustained period and riding out rough spells of results. After all, Conte has repeatedly said that he can only be successful with quality investment over a number of transfer windows, like Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and now Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, and on Sunday the Spurs head coach repeated his well-worn call for “patience and time”.

In hindsight, Spurs pipping their rivals to fourth place last season painted a false picture of the state of the clubs’ respective rebuilds.

While Arsenal are more than three years into Arteta’s project, Conte has been at Spurs for 14 months and, in fairness to him, the squad is clearly not at the required level (they did not have a single attacker on the bench against Villa).

After the same amount of time in the job, Arteta’s Arsenal were ninth in the table, seven points outside the top four, amid fluctuating form.

After 14 months in charge, Klopp’s Liverpool were battling for a top-four finish and eventually finished the German’s first full season 17 points shy of the champions.

There are legitimate questions about Spurs’s performances, as well as Conte’s tactics and man-management, but in the context of a painful rebuild, the bigger picture is hardly disastrous, with the club in the hunt for consecutive top-four finishes and preparing for a Champions League last-16 tie against AC Milan.

 (PA)
(PA)

The bigger questions should not be over Spurs’s short-term form, which should pick up with the return of injured players and the easing of the schedule, but the long-term viability of the project.

In the cases of Klopp’s Liverpool and Arsenal under Arteta, both club and coach were fully committed to the process, but there are doubts over whether the same is currently true at Spurs.

Conte is still refusing to commit to the club beyond the end of the season and maintains the air of a coach who is concerned above all with managing his own reputation while he waits for a better offer.

Perhaps Conte’s wavering on his future is part of a clever strategy to keep Levy on his toes, but it makes it almost impossible for the club to fully buy into his vision and leaves his constant preaching about the need for “patience and time” feeling hollow. There is also the question of whether Levy will maintain an appetite to continue down an uncertain road with such a high-maintenance coach, who could walk away at any minute.

The supporters’ backlash against the chairman on Sunday felt, in part, like indirect support for Conte, given the widespread perception among fans that Levy does not sufficiently back his managers and the Italian’s repeated calls for investment, but, ironically, pressure on Levy only weakens Conte’s position.

If Levy is feeling the heat, he is far more likely to make a change in the dugout than drastically alter the club’s transfer policy or suddenly sell up.

With the transfer window now open, Conte will expect further improvements to his squad, but Levy and managing director Fabio Paratici are faced with both having to back the boss with players he wants, while simultaneously Conte-proofing the squad in the event that he follows through with his veiled threats to walk at the end of the season.

Spurs and Conte always felt like a strange marriage, but so far it has largely worked and this season could still be a hit. Plainly, though, the partnership can only be successful in the long term if both manager and club are fully committed to each other.