Antonio Conte is desperate to leave Tottenham and Daniel Levy should cut ties on a pointless tenure
Antonio Conte may limp on at Tottenham for a few more weeks or matches, perhaps even until his contract is up at the end of the season, but Wednesday night’s Champions League exit felt like the end-game of his underwhelming tenure.
The only positive for Spurs from a pedestrian draw with AC Milan, who deservedly progressed to the quarter-finals, is that at least now there should be clarity.
If Harry Kane had scored a stoppage-time header — Spurs’s best chance in 173 minutes trailing to the Serie A side — and Spurs had found a way to progress through extra-time or penalties, it would only have prolonged Conte’s pointless and draining tenure.
As it is, there is obviously nothing left for anyone to gain by Conte remaining in the job any longer, although he is due to take Friday’s press conference as usual and be in the dugout for Saturday’s home game against Nottingham Forest.
For the best part of a year, Conte has appeared to want a way out, refusing to commit beyond the end of this season and radiating an ‘I’m too good for you’ energy, the manner of someone ashamed of their partner and prone to talking them down in public.
Sooner or later, he will get his wish. The only question is when Daniel Levy will act, which is likely to depend on whether the chairman still believes Conte is the best man to secure another top-four finish — the only remaining target for the club after exiting two cup competitions in seven days.
Conte is plainly done, and it was easy to wonder if he was speaking hopefully when he admitted on Wednesday night that the club could sack him before his contract runs out.
His decisions on Wednesday suggest he scarcely cares any more. He must have known how supporters would react to the introduction of Davinson Sanchez for Dejan Kulusevski with Spurs still needing a goal, but made the change anyway, and after the game he suggested that Spurs did not have the pedigree to compete with a side like Milan. Incidentally, Tottenham have won four Champions League knockout ties to Conte’s one.
Just as in the domestic cup defeats by Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, Spurs have more than enough quality to beat this Milan side, or at least make them sweat. But Conte’s approach, briefly so effective and so thrilling, has long since ceased to be either.
There is obviously nothing left for anyone to gain by Conte remaining in the job any longer
Spurs were worked out by opponents months ago, and the only surprising thing about Conte’s selections is his insistence on picking out-of-form players. Really, though, none of the squad should be blamed for under-performing when the tactics are so tired, and the players no longer look like they are enjoying playing for the Italian.
His contain-and-counter set-up, which is still just about effective against a handful of sides, like Manchester City, was plainly ill-suited to exploiting a Milan team leading the tie through Brahim Diaz’s goal at the San Siro, and with absolutely no incentive to leave the necessary space for Spurs.
At times, it was genuinely possible to wonder if Conte and his players were aware that they were 1-0 down. The fans, many of whom once regarded Conte as the elite coach finally capable of dragging the club over the line to silverware and publicly hold Levy and the board to account, have also definitively turned.
Supporters did their very best, raising the decibels on the few occasions Spurs attacked with tempo, but it is hard to get geed up for such tepid football, and the atmosphere was largely lifeless and apathetic. There were more boos at the final whistle.
While Conte remains in charge, it seems unlikely that the team, the atmosphere or his own rhetoric will improve, leaving Spurs sleepwalking towards the end of another wasted season, apparently still persisting with a partnership that no one wants.