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- Italian association football player and manager
Speaking after a particularly dispiriting defeat, Antonio Conte pulled no punches about the quality of his squad and the club’s difficult situation.
“These players haven’t won anything and lack experience,” Conte fumed. “We have too limited a squad...in terms of numbers and quality.
“Some players have to be on the field constantly and in the long run, you do pay for that. I am furious, because this cancels out all the good work.
“We are in an emergency situation with only three players injured, whereas other teams have injuries and don’t even notice. We notice.
“We can’t let our current position in the table disguise the problems that are there.”
Conte’s comments could easily apply to Tottenham in 2022 but actually came after Inter Milan’s 3-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in November 2019.
Eighteen months later, Conte would lead Inter to their first Serie A title in over a decade, breaking Juventus’ nine-year stranglehold on the Scudetto.
As the head coach cranks up the pressure on Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici to improve his squad before the end of the month, it is worth remembering that Conte’s frustrations with his working conditions are not unique to his current job.
Dramatic statements about the quality of his players as a way to apply pressure to decision-makers are an established part of the Conte playbook, as Levy and particularly managing director Paratici, who worked with the head coach at Juventus, should be aware.
That is not to say, though, that Spurs should take Conte’s warnings lightly, particularly given his history of acting on his frustrations, but no-one should be at all surprised by the Italian’s recent diatribes about the state of his squad.
Inter responded to Conte’s demands by signing Christian Eriksen and Ashley Young in January 2020 before a bumper summer spending spree, including the arrivals of Achraf Hakimi, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to ready their title push.
The danger is that Spurs are not in a position to recruit a string of superstars and, clearly, there is a risk the situation could become messy if Conte is not backed in the market.
Reports this week suggested some players already fear Conte could walk away from the club if they do not have a successful window and, while reneging on his reported £15million-a-year contract is a remote possibility, Conte is perfectly capable of causing a stink if he feels promises have been broken.
The 52-year-old effectively sulked his way through the summer of 2017 at Chelsea, as the club missed out on a succession of his preferred targets, before an expensive divorce a year later.
Having signed an 18-month deal with Spurs in November, Conte could easily make the rest of his contract an uncomfortable experience for Levy and Paratici.
These are still purely hypothetical scenarios of course, but Conte’s recent comments suggest he was unprepared for the scale of the rebuild at Tottenham.
“When you’re into the club, you have the opportunity to understand very well the situation because you have the possibility to work with the players everyday, to see the structure, to see everything about the club,” Conte said ahead of Wednesday’s defeat to Chelsea. “And [from the] outside, it’s difficult.”
Whatever the reality of the situation inside the club, supporters would likely overwhelming back Conte if his tenure turns sour over transfers, which only adds to the pressure on Levy and Paratici.
Encouragingly, Conte is unbeaten in eight League games but defeat to Chelsea over two legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final exposed the deficiencies in his squad and the gaping chasm to the League’s top clubs.
His demeanour on the touchline and in press conferences has become markedly more downbeat, adding to the sense of foreboding, although there is a danger in reading too much into the body language of a coach who hates losing and was missing four of his most important players because of injury on Wednesday.
Conte’s mood will significantly improve if Spurs beat a depleted Arsenal in Sunday’s north London derby, a game which feels a much more relevant barometer of Spurs’ progress and prospects than the meetings with the European champions.
Despite Conte’s concerns, the match is the first derby since the feisty 1-1 draw in March 2019 when Champions League football feels a genuine possibility for both clubs.
Last season Spurs finished seventh and Arsenal eighth, and although they were only five and six points from fourth place Chelsea, respectively, neither had the quality nor consistency to raise serious hopes of a return to the top four.
Conte’s quick improvement of Spurs and Mikel Arteta’s gradual uptick at Arsenal has both clubs – and the derby itself – sensing a return to real relevance.
But while Arsenal would surely point to their catalogue of missing players in the event of a bad result, a first League defeat for Conte would increase the alarm bells and their manager’s public frustrations going into the decisive half of the transfer window.