Antonio Conte has occasionally been unfairly accused of needing to spend to succeed but, in reality, he is skilled at maximising his resources and making the best of difficult situations.
These qualities have been increasingly clear in the last few days, when a number of Tottenham’s fringe players – some of whom almost felt beyond hope before Conte’s appointment – have offered timely reminders of their quality.
Conte has explained that he needs to “exploit” every possible situation, how ever difficult, to improve Tottenham’s level, including the disruption to the League caused by Covid-19.
When an outbreak decimated Tottenham’s squad, Conte used a fortnight without a fixture to work intimately with his remaining players and the result has been encouraging and surprising performances from Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Matt Doherty and Bergwijn in the games against Liverpool and West Ham.
“These two weeks, when many players had Covid, helped me and helped Steven Bergwijn to understand very well what I want from him and what I want from the other 11 players we had in training,” Conte said after the win over West Ham set up a semi-final against his former club Chelsea. “Don’t forget, for many days we trained with only 11 or 12 players.
“On one hand, it was very difficult. On the other hand, we exploited this situation to improve the players.”
Back at the start of last season, there was speculation that Jose Mourinho might be the perfect coach for ‘pandemic football’, using his experience and well-worn tactics to make the best of the strange conditions, when squads were tireder and managers barely had a preseason with their players.
But after starting well, Spurs gradually slipped down the table and talk of Mourinho being the best man for the conditions was forgotten.
Now, though, Spurs really do appear to have a manager who is adaptable and skilled enough to exploit the unusual circumstances, and they are already reaping the rewards.
Bergwijn’s match-winning performance against West Ham was another boost to Conte and may be the first step towards the winger saving his Spurs career.
Only a week ago, Bergwijn was still among the players Spurs were exploring moving on in January – also including Dele, Winks and Doherty. Now, in the space of a few days, all four players have demonstrated their value – at least as squad players who can be relied upon – and possibly changed their futures.
There has never been much doubt that Bergwijn is capable of moments of quality, evidenced by his brilliant goals against both Manchester clubs shortly after he joined Spurs, and is capable of being tactically disciplined.
But he came to feel like a broken man last season, his confidence crushed by a succession of big misses, notably in the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in December.
Watching him against West Ham was to witness the 24-year-old’s confidence flooding back and, as he left the pitch to a standing ovation in the second half, he looked like a player reborn.
For Bergwijn, the game may genuinely prove a turning point in his stuttering Spurs career but he may never have got the opportunity if Spurs had not been impacted so badly by Covid. Conte may have understandably continued to play his most trusted and in-form players and Bergwijn may have quietly been allowed to leave in January.
Bergwijn’s reprieve is a great example of Conte “exploiting” a difficult situation and it is reassuring to know that with the Italian in charge, any negatives like injuries or absences, could actually be turned to their advantage.