Antonio Conte reality check turns up the pressure on the Tottenham board as season enters defining period

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Antonio Conte reality check turns up the pressure on the Tottenham board as season enters defining period
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  • Antonio Conte
    Antonio Conte
    Italian association football player and manager
  • Fabio Paratici
    Footballer

Antonio Conte gently cranked up the pressure on Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici on Tuesday, when the Spurs head coach revealed details of a much-anticipated meeting over transfers.

Placing the ball firmly in the club’s court, Conte said it is down to chairman Levy and managing director Paratici to act on his recommendations, following a discussion on Monday.

“I don’t like to tell good lies to keep a good relationship or to show me [to be] very soft or too polite,” Conte said. “It was good to tell the truth and it was a good meeting. The decisions are for the club, not for me. The last word is always for the club. The club has to decide the best way to go.”

Monday’s summit came at the start of a 20-day period that could define the scale of the club’s ambitions this season.

Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final decider at home to Chelsea is followed by League games against Arsenal, Leicester and the Blues before the end of the month, which should offer a clearer indication of whether Spurs can realistically sustain a top-four challenge.

Meanwhile, the transfer window closes at 11pm on January 31, with the emphasis now on Levy and Paratici to begin the rebuild Conte believes his squad so desperately needs.

The Italian is surrounded by evidence of Spurs’ recent mistakes in the market, from Tanguy Ndombele and Matt Doherty, who are both available to leave this month, to Emerson Royal, the £25million summer signing for whom the club are already searching for an upgrade.

Paratici pulled off a coup in recruiting his friend Conte, but the jury remains out on his signings in the summer, and Spurs are still not in a financial position to make misjudgements in the transfer market while hoping to dramatically improve.

Conte has already decided which of his players he can trust, but the spotlight will also be on his squad to repay his faith over a tough run of fixtures.

Overturning a 2-0 deficit in tonight’s semi-final second leg is a tall order and Conte played down expectations over a famous comeback, while demanding more application following a one-sided match last week.

“Despite our problems with injuries, we have to try to give everything,” he said. “To show great desire, great will to fight, great personality to play against this type of team and to show, that compared to the first game, we can improve and try to fight in the best way.”

Even in defeat, a better performance against the European champions could set the tone for the games ahead, with Sunday’s north London derby at home to Arsenal a potential six-pointer for Champions League football, before a tough away game at Leicester and another trip to Stamford Bridge.

Spurs have improved in almost every conceivable metric under Conte, but their results have nonetheless been about par, following draws with both Merseyside clubs and Southampton and wins over bottom-half sides Leeds, Brentford, Norwich, Crystal Palace and Watford.

They impressively matched Liverpool last month, although both sides were missing players, and Conte clearly felt that last week’s defeat to Chelsea was a more accurate reflection of the gap between his side and the League’s top clubs.

For the first time, there is also a bit of scrutiny on Conte, who might have been braver with his selections at Chelsea last week, and will want to record a first landmark result to accelerate Spurs’ progress since his appointment.

The manager’s task is made harder by the absence of Heung-min Son, who is sidelined until February with a hamstring strain, so the onus is on other players to step up.

In some respects, there is still plenty about Tottenham which feels unclear, including their spending power in a post-pandemic market and the true level of Conte’s squad.

By the end of this period, when Spurs have begun their buying and selling and played four European rivals, their short-term prospects should have become clearer.

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