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- Italian association football player and manager
Go back to late October and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who felt overwhelmingly optimistic about Tottenham in 2022.
Everyone at Spurs was braced for a difficult period of transition, led by a head coach whose philosophy was at odds with the club’s and whose track record and personality inspired little confidence. It felt like the best Spurs could hope for under Nuno Espirito Santo was that the Portuguese would steady the ship and begin laying the foundations for success at the end of another three or four-year cycle; 2022 looked set to be another year of painful rebuilding.
What a different seven weeks makes. Or, rather, what a difference having Antonio Conte in charge makes.
From looking ahead glumly, Spurs’ players, supporters and staff are now brimming with enthusiasm about the future under the new head-coach.
The club’s seemingly-inexorable slump is over and Spurs feel like they are back on the up again.
Conte is among the top five coaches in the world and his appointment has the potential to do for Spurs what Jose Mourinho was supposed to: haul them over the line to silverware and truly cement their position among the European elite.
It is still early days but Conte is already justifying the hype. The draw against Liverpool on December 19 was particularly encouraging, as Spurs went toe to toe with a top side for the first time in what felt like years. Jurgen Klopp’s comments afterwards, where he sniped at Spurs’ style but accepted a point was not a bad result, felt like a compliment and suggested the rest of the top flight is already more wary of Tottenham with Conte in charge.
Conte has been careful to preach about patience, insisting that building a foundation is currently more important than targeting trophies, but he has a reputation for winning – and winning quickly. Although the side and a number of individual players are already showing the benefits of working under him, Conte knows Spurs still need to significantly improve the squad, and he will want Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici to waste no time.
The January transfer window will therefore be revealing and may offer some indication of how quickly Conte could get Spurs challenging at the very top.
Already, a return to the Champions League next season and a tilt at a domestic cup (or even the Europa Conference League, if the club are successful in any appeal) feel within Spurs’ grasp in the short-term. Beyond that, Conte will want to be challenging for the very highest honours, including the League.
Conte has won five titles in his last seven seasons as a coach but there are no guarantees for Spurs, especially given the fierce competition in the Premier League and their rivals’ superior resources. There is also the lingering risk of a clash between the combustible Italian and Levy, whose managers have generally grown frustrated at working with him after a while. At least managing director Fabio Paratici offers a useful buffer, and a stacked contacts book.
All things considered, the future appears bright for Spurs, who, with one astute appointment, have shifted perceptions and given themselves a great chance of a successful 2022 and beyond.